I recently read The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead for the first time. It was an amazing story about Cora, a young slave, who runs away on an actual train hidden underground during the height of American slavery. I absolutely loved reading it and I’m looking forward to reading more by Colson Whitehead. But even before I read the book and then while I was lovingly petting it for being a great read, I noticed the sticker on the cover of my book. It says that it won a Pulitzer Prize.
There’s something about Pulitzer Prize winning novels that irks me when I read them. I don’t know what it is, but perhaps my expectations for the book goes up when I see it’s won a prestigious writing award.
I’m not usually reading heavy literary fiction. Don’t get me wrong, I like to read literary fiction every once in a while. A lot of the books I read are also heavy with thematic elements, diverse stories, and plot devices. Some stories are super heavy and I like those better than Pulitzers.
But when I see a book has a Pulitzer Prize, my brain goes into skepticism mode. Why does this book have an award? What makes this book the best out of all the books? Why do awards like this bother me?
Whenever I think of the Pulitzer Prize winning novels I’ve read it the past, all I can say are my feelings are middle of the road. They’re meh. The stories were captivating, but they weren’t enough for me to remember the story. They’re definitely not stories I’m recommending to my friends and I’m not gushing every time someone asks me what my favorite book is.
I guess because it has that moniker and that sticker saying it’s so good that it won a prestigious award that in my mind I’ve chalked it up to the greatest book in the world. I just don’t get that feeling when I do read it. Perhaps it’s my own bias. Perhaps this bleeds into my thought process and I don’t appreciate the novel as much as I would not knowing it won an award.
And I think that’s the issue. I imagined books that win prizes are books that are loved by everyone. Sadly, it’s books loved by some elite group of readers and those readers really don’t represent the people I know and met in the book community. Reading is an individual experience. One book can be loved by all, hated by all, or even mixed between the two. Depending on the type of person you are as well as the type of reader you are, you’re going to love or hate something you read.
This is why I don’t take prizes seriously. I love that books are winning awards for their writing and someone out there believes it’s a good book. But my mind always believes that you’re the deciding factor on a good book. What you read is what makes a book good and there are so many good books out there that rarely see the light of day regardless of being up for a big award.
Sometimes you read a book with that sticker on it and your life changes. That’s what happened for me and The Underground Railroad. While I may not love every book that wins a Pulitzer Prize, it’s good to know that I can get past my own biases and enjoy a book for what it is; good.