Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Pulitzer Project

I sent a text message to my literary compatriot last night, informing him that the new and improved Pulitzer Blog was up and running and ready for use. In his haste to see the new blog, he neglected to jot down the URL and, thus, couldn't remember where to look for it. So after entering "Pulitzer project blog" into Google, thinking it would return with my blog, he was shocked to find something radically different than what I was referring to, but something incredibly similar to the project we are pursuing.

He called me and said, "Drew, I have a problem with your blog."

"Yeah?" I asked. "You don't like it?"

"Well it has to do with The Project..."

"Uh huh...?"

"Think of the worst-case scenario for this project."

"Um. I don't know, we don't finish within 52 weeks?"

"Worse than that."

"We don't finish at all...?"

"What if someone already did what we're doing?"

I chuckled at the thought of it. What other sane person would read 82 books in one year, just as a social experiment? I replied, "You know, Josh -- I really don't think we have anything to worry about."

He returned with, "Well, that might be true. But what if I TOLD you someone already did what we're doing...


"...And what if I TOLD you that I was looking at THEIR blog right now?"

"Wait, what!?"

He told me the URL of the blog that he haphazardly stumbled across and I raced over to my laptop to see this thing. Apparently, for the past couple of years, people out in the blogosphere have been reading Pulitzer Prize-winning novels and writing reviews about them. And, by the looks of it, this seems to be a whole online community -- scores of bloggers, committing to a common goal and gathering together at this particular URL and sharing their stories and reviews of their reading progress, keeping each other accountable to their goals.

While still on the phone with Josh, we sat in silence for a few moments, gazing at our separate laptops, trying to take this discovery in stride. He interrupted the silence and asked, "So, what now?" Needless to say, the wind had been taken from our sails; when I had this idea, to read all of the fiction Pulitzers in one year and write a memoir about it, I thought it was one of the most original ideas I'd ever had.

To be candid, I suspected that other people had, at one time or another, challenged themselves to read as many of these books as they possibly could; I suspected, even, that perhaps someone had started a reading club and discussed these books together, like Dead Poets Society or The Jane Austen Book Club. But I never would have imagined that people had gone to this extent with their reading; I honestly didn't think other people had committed to reading all 82 of them.

So, here we were -- Josh and I, wide-eyed and eager, just setting off on this journey, and we had already encountered our first conflict. We talked for twenty or so minutes, reasoning with each other. Both of us, upon learning that my idea had turned out to be unoriginal, were ready to throw in the towel, give up. I found it ironic that both of us were so willing to tackle this project, reading through 82 novels, fighting and struggling alongside each character as they battle through their inner and outer conflicts, developing emotional attachments to these characters in spite of their fictitious natures, forging through the malaise and weariness from reading so much. We were so willing to become characters, ourselves, in the narrative of our journey and when posed with our first conflict, we, like so many of the characters in the hundreds of books both of us have read, were ready to give up.

But what kind of story would that have been?
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived two young paupers who yearned to become princes of the Land of Reading. A path, leading to the Land of Reading, originated in their homeland and stretched out before them, winding through dark, mysterious woods, wide, open plains, treacherous mountain ranges. If they were to travel this path, they would face many dangers -- many conflicts, toils and snares. They would be attacked by their friends and family, they would be attacked by their enemies and their critics, they would see others walking similar paths that were much easier to traverse and long to be on those paths, they would constantly be tempted to surrender and turn back, giving up on their dreams and remaining paupers for the rest of their lives. When faced with that reality, they decided it wasn't worth the effort. The end.
I did some more reading on The Pulitzer Project's blog and was relieved when I concluded that their project, although very similar to mine, isn't perfectly identical. Sure, they're reading Pulitzer-winning novels and writing about them; sure, they've got a whole community of bloggers discussing these books and keeping each other accountable; but they're not reading every single novel in one year. Furthermore, they're not writing a memoir about their experience and, most importantly, their only goal is to read these novels for kitsch value. These are people who recognize the importance these 82 novels had throughout the 20th century and want to expand their learning by reading them; not because they want the novels to transform them as people, not because they wanted to fill their lives with a great adventure, but because they felt like they should -- because these novels are classics and have been woven into the fabric of American literature.

And, allow me to be candid, there's nothing wrong with that. Acknowledging the significance of authors and/or their works and participating in maintaining their legacy, learning from them to come to a fuller knowledge of cultures and eras are great and important things. The Pulitzer Project is doing a wonderful thing. But what they're doing is only a small part of what Josh and I are doing (though, I will admit, we need a better name for our journey -- The Pulitzer Project is pretty damn catchy). Our little project isn't for kitsch value, or ego value, or even educational value (well, maybe it is in some ways, it is) -- but we're trying to go a littler deeper than that. We're keeping a record of our lives and a record of our journey and gauging whether or not these novels had any life-transforming power over us. We are going to determine if these novels gave us a new filter through which to view the world around us.

And so, upon encountering our first inner conflict, -- the struggle to find the wherewithal to continue forward -- we have decided to persevere, despite the odds, laughing in the face of danger, with wild, reckless abandon. Tally-ho!


  1. This sounds like an intriguing idea, Drew, a more intellectual version of the Julie and Julia blog-that-turned-into-a-movie, but with the same passion to immerse youself in the 'greats' as a journey of self-discovery. One of my few regrets in life is that I didn't journal the books I read when I was your age, and I admire your ambition not only to do this, but to share it online.
    I'll be especially interested when you blog the Pulitzers I've read, and from what I see already of your writing on your blog, I expect to be inspired to read the ones that I haven't read yet.
    Lisa Hill, ANZ LitLovers
    (Comment cross-posted at ANZLL in reply to your comment on my blog)

  2. Your blog ate a much longer comment of mine, which I guess I'm too impatient to retype. :-) I'll just say "welcome to the quest" from a fellow traveler (I'm reading them in chronological order). I'd posted something longer that commented on the idea that "the rest of us" aren't all in it for kitsch (I know I'm not) and explaining my motivations, but if you're interested you can look at my blog, and if not, then of course, not. I wish you luck---as you read novels from the early years (I'm in 1927 right now), I hope you'll comment at my blog, and I certainly intend to comment here as I'm able to (if it won't disrupt your memoir process too much). It's nice to see such an ambitious project taking off, and I wish you the best of success with it!