100 Must-Read Almost-Prize-Winning Books

I had this problem a few years ago where I accidentally read and loved a few Pulitzer Prize-winning novels (Empire Falls and Middlesex) and then, because I’m a little bit stupid, I decided that if two of them were good then they must all be good. And if they were all good then I should read them all!

So I did read them all but, surprise!, they were not all good. In fact, some of them were very ungood and the process was painful and tedious and aggravating. So many white men! I mean, like, LOTS of white men!

When I finally finished the challenge I thought to myself, “Whew, great job, here’s some cookies and ice cream, now never do anything like that again!” and I assured myself I would never do anything like that again, obviously.

But a few weeks later I read this book called Birdy and I loved it and it turned out it had been shortlisted for the Pulitzer and lost out to The Executioner’s Song, which was a pretty good book but was really more creative nonfiction than a novel, so what the hell was it winning the Fiction category for, you know? And then I thought, “Damn, self, this book was a lot better than the winner. What if all the shortlisted books are better than the winners? You should probably read them all to find out.”

And then I did. Like I said, I’m a little bit stupid.

The good news is that many of them were very, very good and now I get to pretend that I’m some sort of expert on Pulitzer-winning/almost-winning novels but in real life I’m just a person who’s a little bit stupid and likes to create aggravating reading goals for herself.

The other good news is that I’ve compiled a list of books that almost won major awards so you can create your own aggravating reading goal! You’re welcome! I included the Man Booker, National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize, and Lambda Literary Awards. And then a few other random selections because they’re great and I like it when people read great things.

  1. A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
  2. A Five-Year Sentence by Bernice Rubens shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
  3. American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell shortlited for the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award
  4. American Woman by Susan Choi shortlisted for the Pulitzer
  5. An Insular Possession by Timothy Mo shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
  6. An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine shortlisted for the National Book Award
  7. Anthills of the Savannah by Chinua Achebe shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
  8. Astonishing Splashes of Colour by Clare Morrall shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
  9. Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart by Joyce Carol Oates shortlisted for the National Book Award
  10. Beyond Deserving by Sandra Scofield shortlisted for the National Book Award
  11. Bitter Fruit by Achmat Dangor shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
  12. Blue Angel by Francine Prose shortlisted for the National Book Award
  13. Brick Lane by Monica Ali shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
  14. Briefing for a Descent Into Hell by Doris Lessing shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
  15. Chromos by Felipe Alfau shortlisted for the National Book Award
  16. Clear Light of Day by Anita Desai shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
  17. Come to Me: Stories by Amy Bloom shortlisted for the National Book Award
  18. Doc and Fluff by Patrick Califia shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award
  19. Drawing Blood by Poppy Z. Brite shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award
  20. Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina García shortlisted for the National Book Award
  21. Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit by Storm Constantine shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award
  22. Evidence of Things Unseen by Marianne Wiggins shortlisted for the National Book Award
  23. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff shortlisted for the National Book Award
  24. Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski shortlisted for the National Book Award
  25. Fledgling by Octavia Butler shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award
  26. Florida by Christine Schutt shortlisted for the National Book Award
  27. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn shortlisted for the National Book Award
  28. Generation Without Farewell by Kay Boyle shortlisted for the National Book Award
  29. Gorgeous Lies by Martha McPhee shortlisted for the National Book Award
  30. Gossamer Axe by Gael Baudino shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award
  31. Highwire Moon by Susan Straight shortlisted for the National Book Award
  32. Holy Skirts by Rene Steinke shortlisted for the National Book Award
  33. Hummingbird House by Patricia Henley shortlisted for the National Book Award
  34. I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita shortlisted for the National Book Award
  35. Ideas of Heaven: A Ring of Stories by Joan Silber shortlisted for the National Book Award
  36. In the Garden of Dead Cars by Sybil Claiborne shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award
  37. Jam on the Vine by LaShonda Katrice Barnett shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award
  38. Jigsaw: An Unsentimental Education by Sybille Bedford shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
  39. Kaaterskill Falls by Allegra Goodman shortlisted for the National Book Award
  40. Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat  shortlisted for the National Book Award
  41. Last Letters from Hav by Jan Morris shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
  42. Last Words of Montmartre by Qiu Miaojin shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award
  43. Le Divorce by Diane Johnson shortlisted for the National Book Award
  44. Lessons in Murder by Claire McNab shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award
  45. Loitering with Intent by Muriel Spark shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
  46. Look at Me by Jennifer Egan shortlisted for the National Book Award
  47. Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award
  48. Many Mansions by Isabel Bolton shortlisted for the National Book Award
  49. Mean Spirit by Linda Hogan shortlisted for the Pulitzer
  50. Mighty Good Road by Melissa Scott shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award
  51. Moses Supposes by Ellen Currie shortlisted for the National Book Award
  52. Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
  53. Mundane’s World by Judy Grahn shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award
  54. Our Kind by Kate Walbert shortlisted for the National Book Award
  55. Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
  56. Praxis by Fay Weldon shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
  57. Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
  58. Refund by Karen Bender shortlisted for the National Book Award
  59. Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award
  60. Sue Slate: Private Eye by Lee Lynch shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award
  61. Swimming Home by Deborah Levy shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
  62. That Night by Alice McDermott shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award
  63. The Big Mama Stories by Shay Youngblood shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award
  64. The Black Prince, and Other Stories by Shirley Ann Grau shortlisted for the National Book Award
  65. The Body of a Young Man by Mildred Walker shortlisted for the National Book Award
  66. the bull-jean stories by Sharon Bridgforth shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award
  67. The Catherine Wheel by Jean Stafford shortlisted for the National Book Award
  68. The Cherokee Rose by Tiya Miles shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award
  69. The Collected Stories of Grace Paley shortlisted for the National Book Award
  70.  The Dollmaker by Harriette Simpson Arnow shortlisted for the National Book Award
  71. The Essence of the Thing by Madeleine St John shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
  72. The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
  73. The Giant’s House by Elizabeth McCracken shortlisted for the National Book Award
  74. The Good Doctor by Damon Galgut shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Commonwealth Writers Prize, and  International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
  75. The Green Equinox by Elizabeth Mavor shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
  76. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson shortlisted for the National Book Award
  77. The Healing by Gayl Jones shortlisted for the National Book Award
  78. The House on the Lagoon by Rosario Ferre shortlisted for the National Book Award
  79. The Illusionist by Anita Mason shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
  80. The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich shortlisted for the National Book Award
  81. The Lighthouse by Alison Moore shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
  82. The Lost Father by Mona Simpson shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
  83. The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
  84. The Puttermesser Papers by Cynthia Ozick shortlisted for the National Book Award
  85. The River Beyond the World by Janet Peery shortlisted for the National Book Award
  86. The Road to Lichfield by Penelope Lively shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
  87. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey shortlisted for the Pulitzer
  88. The Strange Children by Caroline Gordon shortlisted for the National Book Award
  89. The Surrendered by Chang-rae Lee shortlisted for the Pulitzer
  90. The Turner House by Angela Flournoy shotlisted for the National Book Award for Fiction and  the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction
  91. The Witch Diggers by Jessamyn West shortlisted for the National Book Award
  92. The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
  93. They Call Me Mad Dog by Erika Lopez shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award
  94. This Place Called Absence by Lydia Kwa shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award
  95. Trance by Christopher Sorrentino shortlisted for the National Book Award
  96. Unlocking the Air and Other Stories by Ursula K. Le Guin shortlisted for the Pulitzer
  97. Vanished by Mary McGarry Morris shortlisted for the National Book Award
  98. Varieties of Disturbance: Stories by Lydia Davis shortlisted for the National Book Award
  99. What Night Brings by Carla Trujillo shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award
  100. Who Do You Love: Stories by Jean Thompson shortlisted for the National Book Award

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