Pondering the Pulitzer

1927 Winner: Louis Bromfield, “Early Autumn” (notes thus far)

OK, so where are we gang? How are you going with the Bromfield?

I know, you’re going to be shocked by this but—I’m really enjoying it.

Eventually, I suppose, there will be books I am not so fond of. Perhaps even already there have been ones which have not been my favorite, but which I have tried to judicially talk about in positive ways. I mean, I can’t expect you to stick around if I’m telling you I hate things, right? (For the record—I haven’t hated any yet. Though, I am sure that I might if we just give it enough time.)

So where are you in the reading? Me, I have just finished Chapter 5 (5 of 10, thought this was a good place to discuss where we were at, yes?

Are we finding it accessible? I think that is the thing that is striking me the most. I read reviews that said this could have been a Wharton novel (and we remember from yesterday that Bromfield and Wharton were ex-pat friends for a while), however I am finding it ever so much more in tune with my sensibilities than Wharton. Is this strange to say?

I feel, in some ways, like I am defecting on my gender when I say this. Why must everything be so? I mean, I love to encourage women writers. I love to celebrate women writers. But that doesn’t diminish the worth of a male writer, correct? Again—with the obvious banter, right? It’s like a reverse of that trite sentiment—women trying so hard not to be seen as sex objects that sometimes they aren’t seen at all? Except this time, working so hard to push up our artists of women kind that we forget they are also artists in general? Equality is Equality, right?

Are the snow days going to my head?

Here’s the other thing about this gender debate inside my cranium: I love Bromfield’s cast of women is already more dear to me than any so far. I would take several of his women characters over most of the other ones we have slaved words through. I feel like we have an entire spectrum of womankind here and we haven’t even gotten further than not-quite-half-the-pages. I am loving the progression of women personalities. It’s like a continuum. We have Aunt Cassie: old, old school, fussy, proper, judgmental. Then we have Olivia, whom Aunt Cassie thinks is the bees’ knees (until she has started acting out recently), though in reality Olivia is a modern woman. The modernity comes to her organically (much like Bromfield’s farms); it is not forced and unfortunately not nurtured…perhaps until now that Sabine is back. And of course, we have Sabine—my guess would be Sabine is the catalyst for basically everything. She’s modern alright, though it seems something seeded in her in a different manner. She would almost make sure you know that she is not of the old breed. She’s proud of bucking it all off of her; comes back to rub it in your face.

Our careening cast of women is flanked interestingly enough by the daughters of Olivia and Sabine (who present wonderfully imagined foils of each other) and a growing list of crazy Pentland women. This, perhaps, needs to be touched on further later.

Already, we are having quite a deal of comparisons drawn between Bromfield and our previous Pulitzers, no? There’s the Wharton. And, rightly, there’s the Ambersons. The Pentlands are like the Ambersons…but different (I have this written both in the margin of an early page and on my now-present note card). I think we will watch this unfold more. I think I will wait to comment too lain out until tomorrow, maybe Sunday if it comes to that. Also, we are dealing once again with scandal in society and marriage for those of society, much as we did not only in the Wharton, but also in our second round Tarkington. Yet, is it just me, or is the scandal much more black and white on the page?—especially than the Wharton (of course, the Wharton being set fifty, now nearing sixty years before).

Here’s another Wharton thing: Bromfield flat out says that Olivia often thought of her mother as a Wharton character. And yes, I could just see it being so (even though we only get second hand knowledge of her), however I just have a sneaking little feeling here that Olivia herself is more of a Chopin character. And I will just bet she has no idea about the matter.

As you can see, I’m going to give a rousing thumbs-up as far as interest level goes on this novel. I’m interested to see where out twisted web of romantic plots just lying themselves out gets us. Who will it be? O’Hara and Olivia? O’Hara and Sybil? Perhaps, O’Hara and Sabine—or is it the groom for her? How about that affair of the elderly. Really, Bromfield is giving us a run for our money with the gossip fodder…and we aren’t even members of the book!

I can’t speak much more about it—I need to see where we are taken.

In closing, I also want a red-paneled writing room as the Pentland house does, and did they really have “suburban real estate developers” in Bromfield’s time? After reading that, it has been floating in my head all day.

As always, you can reach me here, via email at LauraPondersthePulitzer@gmail.com, or on twitter @l_hallman. Until next time.

Happy reading, loves!

1927 Winner: Louis Bromfield, “Early Autumn” (intro)

Well. It was bound to happen sometime in this process.

We have officially reached both a book and an author that I know almost nothing about. Who knew it would be Louis Bromfield? (Well, actually I did while I was looking through the list, even when initially starting this journey so very long ago. But I do suppose that’s cheating.)

Today we begin to tackle the work of Louis Bromfield. And from what I am learning about him, it is quite a pity not to have known anything about him for the last (almost) twenty-eight years.

Let’s start at the beginning: Louis Bromfield was born as Louis Brumfield in 1896 in Ohio. His father was from New England—and whaddaya know, the book we are starting today takes places in New England. That’s fun.

So, the name difference? “Louis Brumfield” was accidentally misspelled at “Louis Bromfield” in one of his earliest works. Brumfield-now-Bromfield decided just to go with it. Eh, why not? I can dig it.

Under the name Louis Bromfield, he writes thirty novels, all which of become best sellers. Talk about a benchmark to live up to. And man alive, I can’t believe he wasn’t ever more than just a passing name in my education. (And like I said yesterday—I think that in his younger years, Bromfield can take distinction as our handsomest Pulitzer for Novel winner thus far. But don’t worry; I’m going to change my mind on this 28 years from now when Faulkner is winner, if not before. Just saying: for now. Let it be.)

Really, perhaps the most interesting thing about Louis Bromfield is this: he is a famed conservationist. He studied agriculture at Cornell, then switched to Columbia to study Journalism (wouldn’t our Joseph Pulitzer be proud?). Bromfield was revolutionary in his agricultural techniques and is even a member of the Ohio Agricultural Hall of Fame…and he wrote 30 best sellers. Who knew? As we’ve established, certainly not me. I mean, I think that’s pretty cool. Not only does the man leave lasting literature for us, but also he’s done something impactful for the world beyond us book nerds. I marvel at people who have these solid double careers. Point: Bromfield.

OK, other interesting, thought perhaps not pertinent, info about Mr. Bromfield. He was married to socialite Mary Appleton Wood (ah, perhaps this will play into his writing) in 1921. The pair had three daughters. Mary died in 1952; Louis died in 1956. I’m not really sure what caused either of these deaths.

Bromfield fought in WWI, became enamored of France (as one does) and lived there later with his family for twelve years. Just throw that on the list of more things I’m jealous about. Also jealous about: his friends included my I-will-wish-forever-we-could-have-been-friends Gertrude Stein, and two familiar names to us, Edith Wharton and Sinclair Lewis. Oh you don’t say! Apparently Pulitzer winners like good company.

After France, Bromfield lived on his farm: Malabar Farm. Really, this is a fantastic place. It still exists and you can visit it. It’s a huge, sprawling 1,000 acres. OK, please read this next part and be as wowed as is appropriate: Malabar was among the first in the country to stop using pesticides and create a self-sustained, organic, working farm. Awesome. Really, this is wonderful. You, revolutionary, you. Furthermore, this must have been one amazing place, because Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were married here. Oh, swell. Just more amazing friends.

OK, we must start talking about the book before I positively die of jealousy.

In this novel we are transported to a small, upper crust (fictional) town in Massachusetts. So we will be getting something slightly new in our landscape. It seems as thought we will be concerned with society again. (Well, it’s gone well previously in Pulitzer land. Why not try it again?)

The book begins as a mysterious character, Sabine Callendar, returns home to this small town after a twenty-year absence. (A little Wharton perhaps? Have they discussed in Paris?) Really, just this premise alone is enough to have me raising an eyebrow or two.

Frequently, Early Autumn is called a great study in character. This, I will look forward to. Also, this book often comes with a tag line, and while mine does not, I think it’s interesting to note. Often, this novel would be called: Early Autumn: The Story of a Lady. (Yes, that felt like too many colons for one simple sentence in a blog.)

Bromfield is said to have concerned social change in his writing—which I think is not surprising, especially considering we know about his farming. I think this may be a welcome thing. We have been dealing with this a lot in our reading, if only because the world was changing so very fast around everyone—characters and writers. I think a little societal change come to the rich New England town is exactly what we need. Bring it on.

Well, what else can we say now? Seems to just be time to read, doesn’t it now? Let’s be on with it then.

We will convene tomorrow to discuss more. I’m looking forward to it. If you are too and just positively cannot wait, feel free to message me here, email me at LauraPondersthePulitzer@gmail.com, or get at me on twitter by the handle @l_hallman.

Happy reading, chickadees!

Week 4 Wrap Up (through 1926)

Can you believe how far we’ve come? We are doing great, gang. A whole month we have been at here. We have finished a whole decade and eight books. We’ve learned about a whole bunch of different writers and different time periods and different walks of life around our land. I think we should be proud of ourselves…and try not to get overwhelmed by how much more is ahead of us. We will just keep flowing.

Each week here we have been discussing about the groupings. What’s the same? What’s different?

Initially I didn’t think there was too much similar in the grouping of So Big and Arrowsmith. However, that might not be altogether true.

True, they seem stories of vast difference (well, about as vastly different as two books, debuting two years apart written about American people by American people distributed to, basically, mainstream audiences can be. You know.) However, we have a lot to look at here. We spend a lot of time in each novel focused on ambition—what do you want to be, what should you want to be, how are you going to achieve what? And as we continue to talk about our American Identity on the page, is this something we should think about? This is a big part of our culture, a big part of our national conversation. Who are we and who do we want to be?

We also have encountered two strong male protagonists. In Arrowsmith, the story is of Martin. What does Martin need to further his career, do develop himself, to move on to what is next? He will sacrifice seemingly anything (except Leora, at least intentionally anyway, though no qualms about the second wife) for the pursuit of his medicine and research. It’s all about him, and he doesn’t even realize so.

Now, how do we compare that to So Big’s Dirk? Like we were talking about in the early part of last week, this book is really, actually about Selina. However, again because this book is split into such strong sections, Dirk does shine as his own protagonist of the book in his direct sections.

Now, what does Dirk want out of this life? Our guess is as good as his. He waffles. He figures things out too late. He is selfish in an unproductive manner. Again, everything is about him—Selina has made it so that everything is about him, all of the time—and yet, what does he do with it? Where is his dyadic purpose? Selina wants this for him, has always set out for it to be so, but Dirk does not seem to care. He’s wistful and perhaps doomed to blow in the breeze. We don’t know. Maybe he will figure something out. His circumstances, all alone in his apartment hoping the girl he loves but can never have has called, are pretty sad. Martin’s circumstances aren’t exactly cheery, but it seems to be pretty much as much as he wants—and it’s definitely of his choosing.

Both of our men centers here move from the sticks to the city (in fact, both in Chicago for a while—I wonder if at the same time), intending to achieve big things. This is also interesting.

I wonder, really, if anyone ever achieves all that they set out to. Do you think there are those people? They make a list of dreams and just cross them out one by one? Of course, once you reach a goal, you make another (at least usually). Do you think some people in this world are just hitting one pitch after another out of the park? I don’t know. I’m just wondering. We have this struggle with Martin and Dirk. Martin, he would probably always keep dreaming higher and loftier with each thing he did. Dirk needs to find his passion, and then I think he could be easily placated, no?

These are just ponders. These are all just ponders. What are your ponders?

So, have we pondered about any new factors? I’ve been trying to let it just roll around and marinate in my head, come naturally and organically. So far, nothing. I’m not sure how hard I should be looking for new answers. Isn’t this just what is supposed to happen? Part of me wonders about “Place in Society”—but again, I feel like this is more something I would just like to think about and wonder about, and not name as a factor. I wouldn’t know quite what we would be looking for in that manner.

What do you think? Any new factors?

Was there anything else we were supposed to talk about at closing of this week? I can’t seem to recall. I think this week was a solid week. Lots to take in; I’m bound to be missing things. Luckily, we have a long time left together. We can be doing some more retrospectives.

These were probably my top two favorite books so far, just in terms of the story, not in considering of Pulitzer. That’s just extra information. Really, isn’t this all just extra information?

Sometimes I wonder if we are doing any good here? And by that—I suppose I mean me. Is this worth anything? Back in the initial beginning, I think this meant something to some people…and then I squandered that. I’m sorry about it. And yet, I’m trying again. I’m just unsure if I’m alone in it this time.

Well, here’s to hoping I’m not.

We will keep going. We get to start the handsome Louis Bromfield tomorrow (at least I think he’s kind of handsome).

I’m here: chat with me here, by email at LauraPondersthePulitzer@gmail.com, or on twitter @l_hallman.

Happy reading, pals!

1926 Winner: Sinclair Lewis, “Arrowsmith” (summary)

Breathe deep one more times, chickens. We have one more day of pure discussion with Arrowsmith. (See: we are just like Martin wanting to be a pure scientists. We are pure book nerds—though, I suppose this could just be me. You could judge me if you’d like now.)

Perhaps our eyes are bloodshot now. Perhaps we were reading long into the night with our small bedside light on that kept our partner awake—even though it never has before on any other night except this very night that you declared, “I am not going to sleep until I finish the last 80 pages of this book!”, and yet it did keep him awake and he works so very hard, so you snuck off to the bathroom and finished the book and let him sleep (even though he was also very nice and sweet about it and said, “No, it’s ok. It’s ok).

I’m babbling. I’m feeling a bit like Lewis. Is that accurate? Is that rude? I’m not trying to be rude—but the man does go on. For nearly 500 pages, he goes on. About the medicine. About the doctoring. About the test tubes. Granted, this is a book about a doctor, to whom doctoring is of utmost importance, however, I know almost none of the medical jargon. Growing up with episodes of E.R. has not helped me.

So I think this is bringing us to one of our factors, no? Something I briefly brought up in an ominous way yesterday: accessibility.

OK. I understand: this is a book about a doctor/scientist. I understand there is going to be medical terms, medical explanation, medical things in general. If there weren’t, perhaps I would be complaining about the inauthenticity of the novel. Lewis, you’ll remember, worked so hard with Dr. Paul de Kruif to provide all of the scientific information. And yet…have we gone too far?

Where is the middle ground? Is this is? Am I being too harsh? How do any of us write a book that is specific in its information that usually only highly trained individuals know (like, doctoring, medical experimentation) and present it in a palatable way to the masses?

Is this impossible? Perhaps. Does it make the novel, then, automatically inaccessible? I’m not sure. I don’t know if it’s just me. I wonder if part of my lengthy struggle through this book was the medical terms, and whatnot.

I’m going to say this: I believe this was the most inaccessible of all the books we have read so far (eight of them!). I’m not dismissing it. I’m not second-guessing the judges’ decision (I mean, really, I think they have done enough of that with our Sinclair). I’m just saying…you know…maybe it doesn’t make for the easiest of all our reads. (Though: I think we are still debating level of “easiness,” yes? That’s a different point, correct?)

None of this is saying I didn’t enjoy the book—remember I said how I was just digging the words on Lewis’ page from the start. I loved it. I just think the medical parts were long for a non-medical person like me. It was that, and well, some of the time-specific slang. I’m not surprised Joyce has no idea Cliff was saying, because I don’t either.

I think now we are talking about timelessness, yes? I’m confused here. I don’t know how to decide where I might go with this. Again, we have this lexicon that does not translate, though this is not a majority of the book. Then again, Martin is fighting disease as we still struggle to fight disease today. Sure, we don’t know much about the epidemics of the black plague—cases still happen occasionally, however, it’s not a death sentence like half of the population of Europe saw many centuries ago. But Martin is talked to about the desire to find a cure for cancer, and while today I have several loved ones fighting battles against cancer, this resonates strongly with me. Does it do that with everyone? We have scientists I’m sure very much like Martin today, locked in a lab trying to eradicate disease. Though, they probably aren’t allowed to smoke quite the same in the lab.

So what does all this mean? Where are we with timelines? What are your thoughts?

How about Human Experience? My automatic thought is just to say “yes.” My second reconsideration thinks it’s a bit strange. Martin is so clinical about so many things. And yet, I’m going back to my original thought. Peripherally we have so very many characters. We go through a whole gambit in this book—which is a thing I keep saying, and I thing that keeps being true, and I think it ought to be true. Disease, death, love, struggle: it’s all here. It all happens while Martin delves into the work of his lab. Some of it happens to him, around him, in the lad, because of his own doing, etc. I think this is about all I have to say about that.

Moving on, I think this is a very interesting skew on Portrayal of the American Life. Martin’s life is medicine. Therefore, at times he must look outside the U.S. for other medical advancements. His heroes in the field (and later, contemporaries) are German and Swedish. His looks to Europe with a medical reverence. On his honeymoon with Joyce, Martin goes to Europe to see these labs. (And sadly, he remembers how much Leora would have wanted to be there.) Medical invention relies little on nationality. Even during WWI, Martin cares very little about the politics. We hear almost none about it—just the day-to-day annoyances Martin has been made to take on—because it does not occur to Martin to worry or wonder about it at all.

And yet, Martin makes a virtual trek across the country in the further of his career (more appropriately: the running from his failures). He starts in a tiny prairie town, goes to a city based purely around the University. He moves to the wind-tumble middle of nowhere (and I thought we were going to be stuck on the farm for another book) in South Dakota, then goes to a large town/small city of Nautilus. He moves up to Chicago, moves further east and on to the big apple, NYC. (Again: we live in our literature on the prairie, somewhere near Chicago, or in New York.) Martin sweeps through the country, goes to the West Indies, cures a disease and comes back again to tramp in the country. Something about this has to be very American, no?

There’s the social climbing aspect. There’s the career climbing aspect. There’s the innate desire to be more, do more, become better. This all seems very American—whether we do it very intentionally or not. Martin comes from nothing, eventually has everything, and gives it up again.

Martin is a new character we have not experienced yet. He’s a self-made professional. He’s a revolutionary, in some manners, who stands in his own way. He is certainly a product of his time and country.

So timeliness then? Yes, I think we have to say yes. Again, like we said, this one is a bit more of a saga. We go through a large portion of Martin’s life—probably about 30 years. We go through the end of the 19th century until the contemporary time in which Lewis is writing. WWI happens, cars become commonplace, Martin cures the plague. Lots of change happens, yet all in its proper time—and Lewis updates us subtly throughout where we are in the process of calendar.

Well, that’s our factors. And I do believe we have had more words here than before. What can I say? Lewis is bringing it out of me?

I think I’ve exhausted myself for the day. Probably you too. I do think I have a closing thought:

Part of me can’t help but wonder—if he and Leora had in fact had their child, what would have been different between them? Perhaps she would have kept herself entertained besides her husband, perhaps she would not have followed him to the island, or perhaps she would have realized how bored she was of him, perhaps he would have paid more attention, perhaps she still would have loved him as fierce regardless. Who knows? Not us, and not anyone in the book. It was just a side thought.

We have plenty more to discuss tomorrow. See you then. Feel free to drop me a line here, on twitter @l_hallman, or by email at LauraPondersthePulitzer@gmail.com.

Happy reading, friends!

1926 Winner: Sinclair Lewis, “Arrowsmith” (notes thus far)

Holy Moses. I feel like I have been reading this book for about forever. Do you feel that way too?

I just don’t understand what’s happening. It’s long. I mean, I know it’s long. I mean, it’s about one-and-a-half times as long as the other books we have read so far. And sure, that equates to something around 150 pages, and that doesn’t seem like so very much…but goooooollllllllly. I just cannot get through it.

I’m not admitting defeat. Not quite. Just admitting I’m somewhat mired.

Chef keeps saying, “Are you just not enjoying it?” And it’s not that. Really, it’s not. I remember Chapter 1 (oh, so very long ago) thinking, “Oh, this may be the book that I love most of all. This is brilliant and inventive and not like anything we’ve read so far.”

But, again, it was so long ago and so very much has happened. And then again…not much has happened at all.

The end of Chapter 20 seems, at least as it stands now that I am at the end of Chapter 20, the perfect place to pause midway and reflect. So much seems like it is about to happen—and I think maybe not any good things.

So, I’ve started taking notes in a different way with this book. Like I’ve said before, I normally have my red pen in hand while writing. I underline, I circle, I notate in the margins, etc. Then, as I’m writing these entries, I flip back through the book, see what I’ve noted, go from there and what’s in my head. So far I’d say it’s worked pretty well. However, something within me decided along with this red markings in the book, I was going to keep an index card as a book marker somewhere later in the book that I would also make notes on re: what I wanted to discuss via the blog.

So now you will have to suffer through further organization (at least that’s hopefully how it will play out). I suppose it could be further babbling. It will probably be further babbling. Shall we get some quick hits of things I’ve noticed? (Really, I’m not sure they matter much besides notation.)

I am struck, perhaps because this book is written in an almost conversational manner, how different some things are between now and then. For instance: fraternities. No frat was anything like Martin’s when I went to school—of course there are strictly academic frats…but they are just not the same thing. We are encountering Germaphiles. This, to me, is a revelation. I, myself, am a Francophile. I’m not too far from an anglophile. These things happen. I’m sure I know people who are in love with all things German…I just had never thought deeply about it before. Gottlieb—he breaks my heart over and over. I hope we haven’t seen the best of him yet. Most noticeably: these Pulitzers all love to use the word “orgy,” and that is one of the most notable differences between then and now, eh? Let’s see how this continues in future years. (This is not so totally serious.)

Alright. So on to more meat of the story, yes?

I think we are encountering some strong themes of comparison. Things are one way or they are another. A doctor is either interested in healing or in making money. He, the doctor, either wants to study science as it is pure, or he just gives his all to placating the masses and filling his pockets. I feel like this is a theme we will be running with throughout the second half of the novel. What does one pick? Martin already has struggles between who he wants to be. He was all over the place in college. Sometimes he wanted to be Gottlieb. Other times he wanted to become Silva. He sways; he bends, he decides on a different girl to marry. He graduates, he becomes a country doctor, he moves to a city, he becomes involved in public works, he falls for a young girl—with whom nothing happens.

Oh am I spoiling this all for you? Perhaps you too are struggling with the length of the novel. I’m sorry. Just forget everything you’ve read (well, just on this page anyway—but only if you must).

The same thing, it happens with Martin’s love life. He is also searching for who he is through the women in his life. Is this a call to his non-existent mother? We know nothing about her. Where is she? Did she screw him up? Sheesh who knows.

Within the book, like within the context of the 1920s, lies this vaguely sarcastic view of a woman’s place. She, as the book tells us, is ruined by marriage. Certainly, this is true for Leora. Certainly, Martin would have had the true for the “Fox girl.” And definitely, he has the potential to ruin Orchid without even marrying her. While engaged to Madeline, there Martin goes flirting with Leora in such a way that I felt the need to note it twice.

I suppose you have to admire Leora’s attitude about her possession of her new man—however, I might be wrong and maybe you don’t. I’m confused by how I feel about all of it. For certain, whatever she is supposed to be, she is not—though not entirely because she married Martin. Also because of her father, I’m going to say, and maybe the culture. Tisk. A girl is always somebody’s daughter or somebody’s wife, eh? (I totally do not agree—but tell me our history doesn’t tell us this.)

Sinclair Lewis knows what he’s doing with these things—don’t let him fool you. He is aware of the society. He is aware of what buttons he is pushing. He knows what he’s digging out. He’s no fool either—just cheated out of a few Pulitzers.

It’s the same with this country doc v. city doc v. pure scientist thing. He is saying more than career advice. He’s getting at the heart of…something…lots of things.

However, I do think we are going to have to have a serious consideration about the accessibility of the book tomorrow. Could this be part of what’s taking so long? I’m not saying it’s an impossible book to get through. I’m not saying I need a dictionary and highlighters (just a red pen, teehee) and string maps to get through here. But I am saying—maybe I don’t need to know all about the medical stuff, no? Or do we think that’s necessary?

Tell me what you think.

We’ve meandered here like I’m winding through the pages of the novel. Maybe we will be able to make further sense of everyone.

In conclusion, at least I know that at my non-profit day job I am making more money than a doctor in Martin Arrowsmith’s college days. Here’s to small victories.

Anything you want to talk about: I’m here. I’m also available via email at LauraPondersthePulitzer@gmail.com, or on twitter under @l_hallman.

Happy reading, dudes and dolls!

1926 Winner: Sinclar Lewis, “Arrowsmith” (intro)

Alright. Breathe deep. Here is our first reeeeeeaaaaalllly long novel to read. I told you I was feeling the weight of this. Well, it’s time to take the plunge. Here goes nothing. We have a big task ahead of us.

So I guess we better start by having some background on Sinclair Lewis.

First off: the first name. His full name was Harry Sinclair Lewis. I probably would have dropped the “Harry” also. And remember how we were talking about Booth Tarkington looking like a suave Dracula? Well I think Sinclair Lewis definitely looks like he should be a song and dance man. Or maybe sitting in a café somewhere. In photos I always see him with a vaguely skeptical look. I would hope he would have that look if I had ever run into him.

Funny, Lewis is more known as a playwright in general, however, I always think of him as a novelist. I am only familiar (I think) with his novels.

Lewis was born in Minnesota, wound up being a Yale man (where he wrote and became editor for the Yale Literary Review), and lived at Upton Sinclair’s (too many Sinclairs) writing commune in Jersey. Rad.

It seems as though Lewis had a difficult personal life. He married a Vogue editor—and I just love the idea of that. However, two writers are often a messy combo. Eventually, it ended in divorce. Later, their only son died in combat in WWII. And I feel very sorry about that.

Lewis married again (a newspaper journalist this time—love that he definitely has a type), had another son, and divorced again.

And sadly, like so many of the writers of our lifetime and before, Sinclair Lewis struggled with alcoholism. He would eventually die of the effects of alcoholism at the unfortunately premature age of 65. Watched the greatest voices of our generation(s), eh Ginsberg?

Aside the novels we have already named, you may have heard of numerous other titles of his work. He was prolific. You should look at the bibliography. You don’t need me to just list and list. Sinclair Lewis is a countryman who I think we should probably be proud of.

OK—let’s talk a bit about Arrowsmith.

Sigh. Again we start in the Midwest. Again we start in a farming community. However—it looks like we won’t be staying there this time. (Let’s hear a round of applause for small variety.) Arrowsmith follows the student of medical-student-then-doctor Martin Arrowsmith. As is his usual fare, Lewis uses strong themes of social conscience, his current day medical advancements, and finds itself inspiration for young medical students year after year. Right on.

There is a list of film adaptations, play adaptations, and TV movies (including a Czech one—weird), but I am throwing all of that aside to tell you this: the band Arrowsmith is named after this book. Turns out each member had to read it in school. Oh, bonding over literature. Sigh. More reasons Joe Perry is the coolest guy in the world (and love for each member).

OK, so there’s one more thing we have to talk about before we get to it, and I believe we hinted at it a couple days ago. It feels like breaking news, but it can’t be because it happened almost 88 years ago. Anyway, breaking for our progression. Here we are: Lewis refused to accept the Pulitzer for Novel in 1926.

Gasp! What?!

Sinclair Lewis refused to accept his Pulitzer for Novel award. (I keep reading that he is the first to do this—does that mean it does happen again, or we are leaving it open for the future? I’m not sure.)  Lewis said he did not believe in a contest that chose one book over allllll the other books. Wow. He would not like what we meet here daily to do. Oops. (Or, maybe we could hope he would like to further our experience here to really see what was going on each year. Who knows.)

Apparently Sinclair Lewis was really up in arms about the whole thing. He didn’t think he should have been chosen. He thought it was very disqualifying of everyone else in the publishing field. Basically, he was the Mackelmore of his day (again: sometimes we can be topical).

So here’s the T about this: Lewis was recommended by the jury previously for the Pulitzer for Novel in 1921 for Main Street (the book I’m most familiar with of his). However, once it went to Trustees of Columbia, they said, “Nah” and went with our homegirl Edith Wharton instead. I mean, how can we take sides here? And I would understand this to be enough to sour the man on the subject. And yet…it got worse (as a relative term, because I mean, after all, he was writing successful novels) for him. In 1923, when another one of our homegirls, Willa Cather, won the Pulitzer (we were just here last week), Lewis’s Babbitt had initially been suggested by the jury…and the Trustees overturned. Whoops.

So I suppose you really can’t fault the man for being a tad huffy by 1926 when Arrowsmith finally did win. He’s been on both sides of the equation. He’s feeling it out. He’s got a lot to say.

But I don’t feel bad for him. Again: multiple successful novels. As they would say in my neighborhood (not my current neighborhood, because now I live five and a half steps from the woods and things are different here), “Eh, whatchya gonna do?”

Alright. So Lewis wins the Pulitzer on the third attempt by the jury to give it to him (you know what they say about the third time), he doesn’t like it, he won’t accept it, and he writes a long letter to the whole Pulitzer organization. It’s great. I’m not putting it here. Go ahead and Google it, friends.

But still, he gets the Pulitzer for Arrowsmith. Incidentally, to further this conversation about scandal abounding, Lewis had a remarkable amount of help in writing his book. We are about to learn that this is a book about medicine and the practice of medicine (I feel no need to say spoiler alert, because this entire blog is a spoiler alert). Because the book is so technical, Lewis sought help in the writing from Dr. Paul de Kruif. (I wonder how de Kruif felt about the Pulitzer win.)

I don’t think Lewis ought to have despaired too much though. Four years after this Pulitzer win, Lewis becomes the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. I think that’s a pretty good accomplishment that those air bag Trustees over at Columbia can never take away from him.

OK. I feel we are sufficiently briefed and ready to get going. Sigh. Double sigh. We are going to have so much reading to do over the next few days, my loves.

If you need a reading break and want to chat, I’m here. Message me here, email me at LauraPondersthePulitzer@gmail.com, or send a tweet to @l_hallman.

Happy reading, doves!

1925 Winner: Edna Ferber, “So Big” (summary)

Oh, Edna. Oh, Ms. Ferber. You did not let me down. I said it—didn’t I? A few days ago I said I knew I just had to love something about her.

I am going to go out on a limb, and maybe be a little unfair to the other books, and tell you this: this may have been my favorite so far.

I don’t know why, altogether. We’ve discussed the prose. We’ve discussed the characters. We have discussed the flow and sectioning of the book. It’s all this wrapped together…and then more, I believe.

This is supposed to be a book about Dirk. He is the titled character. The narration tells us Selina does everything she does for Dirk. Yet, the book is Selina’s. Everything in this book is because of Selina. Dirk is because of Selina. The farm is because of Selina. This story is told because of Selina. If she had been unremarkable, there may have been a short vignette somewhere about a lovely, minorly flamboyant, gambling man who was shot during a poker game and left a beautiful daughter all alone in the world. But, luckily for us, that was not the case. Well done, Ferber.

However, Selina does somewhat get left out of the love story part of the book. She loves both too little and too much. She loves Dirk, and we have discussed the depths of this. She definitely was madly in love with her husband, though it being told as a point of retrospect seemed almost like a matter-of-fact instead of a love story. And after her husband’s death, she doesn’t seem to have time, and it appears certainly not want, for a second-round love story. The others have plenty of romancing for our story.

It’s nearing Valentine’s Day, and I’m reminded of the book, perhaps called Valentine’s Day, by Jack Prelutsky. So-and-so loves this one, but this one loves that one. That one loves another. Another loves…well, you get the point. Don’t we have the same here? It’s nearly cyclical, though unending.

Roelf is always going to be in love with Selina, though it’s too far past to do anything about it now. Dallas is always going to be in love with Roelf, and you hardly can blame her. Dirk is always going to be in love with Dallas, but he hadn’t opened his eyes about things soon enough. Paula is always going to be in love with Dirk, though she was selfish, and also in this case it is too far past to do anything about it now.

But you’ve read the book (possibly); you already know how this goes. Is what you want to know discuss our factors as they relate to So Big? Well, alright then. Your wish is my command.

What does it mean to be American? Is this something we should start to ponder as well? Is there an answer here that we can come to through our reading of Pulitzer for Novel studies? Are the answers to this question as varied and numerous as the stars in the night sky? Yes, probably.

Does figuring out if our current novel embraces the caveat of “Portrayal of American Life” help us answer this question? Let’s hope so. I think there may be something to it along this line.

So—do we think So Big demonstrates a portrayal of the American life? I am inclined, as I have been saying, to believe as much. Selina’s father presents this big, expansive vision of possibilities to her. Here is everything you can have…Everything the light touches can be your kingdom…yadda yadda. Yet, he dies before he helps Selina to realize her place—and the reality is he is probably just filling her with a lot of fancy talk, excusing away his lifestyle to himself and his beloved daughter. Yet, this is an American ideal, isn’t it? Strive for more. You can achieve anything you dream. No one’s future is dictated by their past. This is the land of opportunity, after all. And Selina spends the rest of her life believing this—though never quite coming to the solid realization that she has lived to prosper. She did not live the life of imagining set out for her as an adolescent. She is not fancy or glamorous, and her son is not the artist she might have hoped (and nearly forced) him to be; therefore she believes she has failed. Her measure of success does not seem to be impacted by her revolutionarily changing the produce venture of the farmers in her area. She is wealthy. Her product is sought-after. She runs an enterprise not many could imagine a woman running in her day (yay for the Ferber feminism). Yet, she wants more for the next generation. And isn’t this all very American yet again?

Oh, now I’m just waxing on too long. Were we sufficed to leave it at: “Yes, this is a very American story”? Alright, then. (We didn’t even mention the prairie or much about the farming—but perhaps we have talked enough about this over the last 10 days or so.)

I think if you consider the perspective of the things we have been discussing for the last few paragraphs, then yes, this novel is very timeless. The generational quality, the dream v. reality quality, the revolution and evolution of love: we can dig this now, no? We have this now. Perhaps the undermining of Selina as a woman is not so readily apparent today (though, sadly, this is not always the case). Perhaps Selina would not have been as naïve as a late-teen when left orphaned—though, she probably wouldn’t have been able to just pick up out to the country and become a teacher with no formal training either. So, there’s good and there’s bad—and there’s current and there’s past. I suppose, in short, I would rank this novel as “more or less” timeless, if you are alright with it as such.

Timeliness we just have to give a yes to without too much discussion (are you relieved?). It’s more of an epic than many of our stories have been.

Alright, I believe we have spoken about as much about how I found this story to be of as far as interest level goes, right? OK, moving on.

Human experience, then? I always feel the need to discuss “human experience” right after “American experience.” I’m not sure why. I didn’t today. Oh well. We will do it now. What does this book to do us as far as the human experience goes? Selina gives us a wealth of the human experience, and I think we’ve discussed that at length indirectly over the last couple days. Is this why I skipped it? Do we need to go further? Besides Selina we are presented with many different people from as about as many different walks of life you can get for the same area. OK, I think we are just going round-and-round.

Have we covered everything? Do you have any more thoughts? Send them on to me.

I have one parting thought: I’m wondering about this word “epic” in literature. Is this something we want out of our Pulitzers? Is this a nice added bonus? Do you, like me, think and epic or saga is a nice way to tell a story within our Pulitzer winner spectrum? Tell me your thoughts.

You can reach be here (obvi), by email at LauraPondersthePulitzer@gmail.com, or on twitter under the handle @l_hallman.

Tomorrow we begin to tackle the lengthy Arrowsmith, and we get to discuss the strange reaction its author had to winning.

Happy reading, bookbugs!

1925 Winner: Edna Ferber, “So Big” (notes thus far)

OK. Here are things we have learned so far:

1)   A large number of spotless windows on your prairie house are indicative of your social standing.

2)   Selina believes you are what you eat—but in words more elegant.

3)   Selina and Pervus’s first kiss at the end of Chapter 6? Holy Moses. Hottest kiss ever written about. I feel a little shy discussing it at current. And that’s the crazy part: it’s all pretty innocent. They just must kiss at that moment…and doesn’t it change an entirely trajectory of a life? Maybe more than one? And she warned us about Selina and stoves. It’s just so rapturous. Well done, Edna.

4)   Cabbages IS BEAUTIFUL. With you, Selina. I’ll shout it from the windows with you—but mine might not be so spotless.

We’ve been through a lot. I’m not sure where you are in the reading (are you reading?), but I’m just over the halfway mark. Selina’s lived two very different kinds of lives, and maybe enough for two people. And I am sure that I want to be neither a gambler’s daughter nor a farmer’s wife—at least a farmer from a century ago. (I suppose I haven’t ruled out a one of contemporary farming, though, it seems unlikely.) And now, Selina has just been windowed.

Here’s the weird thing: I am sorry to Pervus go. I am. However, I don’t feel as great of a loss about it as I would imagine (don’t make fun of me—I’m an empathizer of the highest degree; I grieve as well), and I also feel not one bit bad about ruining that bit for you. It’s lain out right in the opening pages. So all the while, as they are falling in love, as Selina’s life is taking (and not taking) shape, and I’m enjoying the whole ride with her, somewhere in the back of my head I am aware that all of this is temporary. (Well, all of all of this everywhere is temporary.) We know what she looks like on the other side before we even meet her husband, before she even takes that first trek out to the county, before the first chapter has even rightly ended (maybe second).

As I’m taking a step back from my first half of the reading, I must say, the structure of the narrative is winning me over in a creeping kind of way.  It wasn’t even something I thought about. No “Do I enjoy the way Ferber sets out to tell this story? Is the direction of this narrative pleasing to me?” It waved over me, and I am realizing it now thinking back. First we are introduced to the latter, adult Selina, and to us is explained the title and a bit about her son as an adult, then we go back and learn about Selina’s upbringing. It seems as though the story will just be about this, no? It feels like, well, how can we have room left in this not-terribly-thick volume. Next, Selina goes to the country. She’s a teacher, she has adventures whether she realizes it or not, she marries, she changes her life again, she has a child—this is a decade. It feels like this is the rest of the book now, no? In fact, the ending of Chapter 11 (where I left off) feels like maybe it could just end the book. Now, I’m not sure if we are done with this era of life, however I do happen to know that we have an awful good deal of Selina’s son as an adult to experience—and currently he’s only nine-years-old! This feels well done. I’m not sure if it was intentioned. I’m not sure if anyone else feels the same. Do you? It could be just me—it could always be just me, I am well aware. They are separate entities. I am loving it.

Wait a minute—let’s get back to that “gambler’s daughter / farmer’s wife” thing. There’s an adage, a quote somewhere, that I cannot locate the specific of at this moment, so forgive me for paraphrasing, that ponders why it is women always have to be someone’s wife or someone’s daughter. Today, hopefully, we are moving away from this. We, women, may just be an individual woman and roar and it’s lovely (well, in parts of the world, parts of the country, parts of families and social structures not so much, sadly). In Ferber’s time, in Selina’s time, you were somebody’s daughter until you became somebody’s wife. Even the rich widows are not immune from this we learn—trying to remarry to be someone else’s wife…though, albeit, with a bit more power than the first go-around, probably. This is not Selina—and I love this. This is not Edna Ferber—and I love that more. See, I told you she was a feminist.

Selina, who always imagines herself as somebody, is often perturbed to find that she is always somebody’s, instead, through the eyes of her neighbors. I am most curious, now that her husband has sadly passed, and she has (awkwardly) pointed to son Dirk as “her man” (when asked where her man is), how will this self-image v. world-image of who Selina ought be play out?

Of course, we know some of where she goes. We read it in the beginning. But there’s more to the story—always is, yes? And we have some very exciting things coming up in the next hundred and a quarter pages.

Oh, I know we didn’t get to factors. We just didn’t have time today. There can be time tomorrow—that’s the good thing about us meeting every day.

Shall we read on? What are your thoughts so far?

As usual, if you want to talk more, you can reach me by email at LauraPonderthePulitzer@gmail.com, or on twitter @l_hallman.

Happy reading, friends.

1925 Winner: Edna Ferber, “So Big” (intro)

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I just have to love something about Edna Ferber right off the get go—maybe many things.   I mean, why wouldn’t I adore a woman born in Kalamazoo, Michigan twenty years after the Civil War, who died eighty-two years later in NYC at the end of the (cited) Civil Rights Movement (I know—that’s debatable. I’m talking history book dates)? That’s a miraculous time to have lived through—granted I’m not saying anything about how it affected her, and obviously we are talking a woman of Yankee states, but still, think about that time frame of this country.

Here’s the thing that makes me want to squeeze her to me even more—she wrote Showboat. Yes, yes, yes, the play that was made into a (beloved) musical. Ferber wrote Cimarron, which became a movie, which became winner of Best Picture at the Oscars. She wrote the novel Giant—and swoon with me if you know me—which would be adapted into a film starring some of my serious golden H-wood crushes (THE Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James My-Flame-Burns-Eternal-For-You Dean—in his last role ever). To top it all off, Ms. Edna Ferber also wrote So Big—and receives the 1925 Pulitzer for Novel for it. Really, this is why we are here. Today, anyway.

This makes Edna Ferber our fourth female Pulitzer for Novel winner (four out of seven so far—and Booth Tarkington won twice, so really, four out of six. That’s two-to-one. That’s pretty good for the ladies—and all of this within the decade of the 1920s. See—flappers, Pulitzer winners, and getting the vote—things were going well for women prior to the collapse of our whole economy. Whoops.)

Edna Ferber has a strong reputation of strong female characters within her writing—more to like, and get ready for another—as well as ethnically diverse secondary characters often facing discrimination (see? That Civil Rights thing did kind of come in to play after all, and yes some of this language is slightly pulled from a widely available internet encyclopedia that most of us use every day but I encourage you to NOT sight on your college papers, regardless of what you professor from “Geography of the U.S. and Canada” says about Wikipedia—yes, I said it—and its credentials. I’ve been out of college too long for him to decide to fail me now.) But, it’s true. All of the above.

Ferber was a member of the Algonquin Round Table and, as matriarchal members of my family might says, seems to have been quite a pistol. She had an arch nemesis. She collaborated on plays. She did all the things we said in the first paragraph. She seems to have had the most DL romantic life on the planet—if one even existed. She has a great quote comparing “old maid” and “drowning” and I highly suggest you go find it and save it to read when you are bored somewhere—preferably a conference call when you are on mute. (I mean, that’s the kind of thing I do.) Fantastic.

Also, Edna (are we on a first name basis? Would she let us call her Edna? Probably, right? We’re among friends here.) died of stomach cancer at the age of eighty-two. So, that’s a fairly lengthy life. Furthermore, she did not end her own life prematurely as so many brilliant, witty, fantastic women writers that I dote on seem to have done. That makes us feel a tad better, no? You know what Freud said—probably—that writers have a more dangerous job than firefighters. Take that as you will, but understand what he was meaning.

Enough of that.

So, So Big.

What should we know to begin? Well, I know we are going to farm country yet again—I think we are just never leaving the farm again, maybe. I can assume we will have some strong female roles. Ferber lived in Illinois for a while (where So Big takes place—though I don’t think she lived in the exact place this place is). I have heard where the title So Big comes from, though I don’t think I’d like to ruin it for you. So, we have enough to get going? I think so.

Let’s begin. Pick up your hymnal and hum along with me, won’t you? We shall reconvene tomorrow for some midway impressions.

As always, I can be reached for discussion, questions, comments, or general fun at LauraPondersthePulitzer@gmail or on twitter @l_hallman.

Happy reading, my loves.

Week 3 Wrap-Up

End of Week 3, chickadees. Let’s check in on how we are doing. How are you doing?

I’m doing well. I’m glad we are here. There’s a lot ahead to go. (I am particularly antsy about getting through a really long book we have coming up next week, **cough, cough** Arrowsmith **cough, cough**.)

But, again, I am glad we are here together. Three weeks strong. Many, many weeks to go. We are going to be very good friends by the end of it, no?

So let’s catch up: how was your week been? How is your reading go? How is everything else?

OK—today we are discussing (largely, anyway) our two books from this week Willa Cather’s One of Ours and Margaret Wilson’s The Able McLaughlins.

Our first two weeks we discussed how interestingly things were grouped. We had two stories about family dynamics, then we had two stories about romance in society, yet this third week—wow. It is a whole different extreme amount of pairing. We had two books this week about a grouping of families in a farming community in the Midwest prairie where the sons go off to war.

Wow.

Did Cather and Wilson have a conversation about this first? (I’m going to guess definitely, probably not.) Sure, different wars—all wars are the same to mamas left at home.

Like I said midweek, sometimes it’s hard to separate these two in the mind. With so much seemingly the same, where does one begin and the other end? Sometimes, now that I’ve thought about them both for a week, this is how it seems.

Yet, let’s talk about the other side: there are lots of differences.

First of all—it is a different war. It is a different time in the country. Wully has a much stronger pull of the “old world.” Claude has a much stronger root in America.

Is there any kind of innate difference because we have different groups of heritage on the prairie between One of Ours and The Able McLaughlins? Naturally, because there is a fifty-or-so-year gap between Claude and Wully, dynamics of the immigrant experience will have change also. Wully and co. are much newer into the American plains—much more aware of their basic Scottish-ness. By the time Claude comes along, the “frontier” is a much different place. In fact, rather than seeing the basis of their motherlands, the farmers (although, probably from similar places) see themselves as Americans vs. the Europeans. They live in their very own American soil. It’s almost established. He’s living a life already established, not still trying to establish like the McLaughlins and their people. The Wheelers live near a town. They have a social life. Chirstie is lucky if she is able to get the few miles to her mother-in-law’s once or twice a winter.

In this way, things are inherently different. “Identity” can work in so many ways.

Still, we have a lot of reliance on each other—as one imagines still out in the country. As we have gathered from probably our other readings in prairie life (I’m thinking my childhood spent alongside my Laura Ingalls Wilder boxed set, which I still have) that because there are few families, the families that are our pioneering (more or less) together, they become close, they becomes necessary to each other. I thin Wilson examines this more. Then again, she’s is writing about sixty years before Cather, and again, Cather’s people have a town in short distance. Again, as in last week’s examination of scandal and love between Wharton and Tarkington: how much does this difference matter? To us, here? To anyone? As a general concept of examination? What about this difference sets the world of Wully apart from the world of Claude?

Is this good for our perusal of American literature? I believe we should probably want as much of the whole picture as we can get. Let’s see how many different people America can be made up of—even if these people all tend to inhabit farms in plain states.

Now how about the marriages? How about the vast difference between the relationships of Claude and Wully? I think this is about the most obvious contrast.

So much about what happens later in the books for each character seems to be as a result of their marriages.

Claude goes to war, in large part, because of the (well, non-existent) state of his marriage. He wants to feel a purpose because he does not feel a purpose in Nebraska, and his wife abandoning him for missionary work certainly does not help that want of purpose. Throughout the week, as I have been thinking of both novels, it feels to me more that Claude felt the need to be married, rather than the want. He liked Edith well enough, but he married, perhaps, because it’s what he thought he ought to do. Was this more of his looking for a purpose to be worth? Did he think he would get it by becoming man and wife with Edith?

On the contrasting side we have Wully—and Wully has a deep love for Chirstie. He struggles because of this love, however his fighting ends with him having his wife, and her him. Everything that unfolds for Wully is because of this love for his wife and the protection he feels for Wee Johnnie.

To further this discussion, does anything go differently because Wully went to war before his marriage and Claude’s was after? I’m not sure where to go with this. There are lots of thoughts to think here.

I am quite interested by this: we have two of our most differing characters of American experience from the two books that have the closest setting and plot. What does that say for us? I am intrigued. What are your thoughts?

It’s been a week since we added a new factor. I’m not sure how fast I imagined us to be adding factors—again, we are just making this whole thing up as we go. Honestly, at this juncture I can’t think of anything new to add yet. I don’t think we are on a deadline. I am happy to go on as we are now until something comes to us organically, no? Do you agree?

I’m just wondering if you have anything for me? Any suggestions of factors I have yet to consider? Let’s share.

Tomorrow we begin with Edna Ferber and So Big. I know I have been saying this all the time, but bare with me: I’m very excited about this.

Feel free to contact me here so we can talk in friendly ways (or, I suppose unfriendly ways if you really want), or by email at LauraPondersthePulitzer@gmail.com or on twitter by the handle @l_hallman.

Happy readings, sweetpeas!