The Best Pulitzer-Winning Books of the Decade(s)

I recently finished reading the 85 books that have won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It was a process that ended up taking me two years and through it I came across some really great books (and some just “ok” books) from American writers.

I didn’t read through the list in order, but instead went decade-by-decade through the books and tried to draw conclusions and connections from each decade. I’ve picked my favorite books from each decade, which was not always easy to do. Some decades had so many stand-outs that it was tough to narrow down and others were not that astounding to begin with, which also made choosing one not an easy task.

1920s: The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thorton Wilder. Many of the books from the 20s were very naive to a modern reader, but this book really stood the test of time. Great characters and a really intricate story.

1930s: Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Now hear me out on this one. I was dreading having to read GWTW at the start of this project, but got totally sucked in as soon as I started reading this ridiculously long but very fast moving classic.

1940s: All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren. It was difficult picking just one book from the 40s, but I ended up choosing this book over Grapes of Wrath just because I think Steinbeck’s East of Eden was a much better book (but did not win a Pulitzer). This was another long book, but worth the length. Being a Louisiana girl I easily got drawn into the Southern political drama.

1950s: Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor. I’m noticing a theme of picking the longest books ever for this list, but this was another great story of something I had very little knowledge about beforehand. It’s the story of a prison in Georgia for Yankee soldiers and it is absolutely atrocious what happened there. Eye opening.

1960s: The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau. Yet another decade with several stand out winners, but there was something so alluring about this Southern novel. It’s fantastic reality at its finest.  Disturbing and moving.

1970s: The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever. Having never heard about Mr. Cheever prior to reading the Pulitzer list, I see that my reading life has had a big gaping hole in it. I will now fill said hole with as much Cheever as possible. He is a prose master.

1980s: The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer. I cannot believe I selected this over Beloved but, again, I have a self-imposed rule of only choosing one per decade. This 1,050 page classic was probably one of the most thoughtful books to win a Pulitzer prize. Amazing that after reading 1,000+ pages I still wanted more.

1990s: A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley. There wasn’t really a clear winner for this decade (lots of good books, none that were amazing to me), but this was a novel that has stayed with me despite having read it early on in the process. That is a good sign.

2000s: The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I had seen the movie before I read the book and I was worried this would affect my judgment of the novel. It did not. Not at all. The book was so unusual and so intense. The movie did a good job, but the novel is the real winner.

I’m sure many would disagree with my selections, and I want to hear all of the disagreements! Tell me in the comments.

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About Stephanie Y.

I'm a professional news writer in Frederick, Maryland. I blog at S.Y. Ciphers.

4 responses to “The Best Pulitzer-Winning Books of the Decade(s)”

  1. Claire says :

    Interesting. I recently read a Shirley Grau book, and really liked her. As I’ve said, Cheever is just … flawless. “The Executioner’s Song” is on my to-read list, so I’ll have to get on that since your endorsement.

    As for “Gone with the Wind,” I own the book and also dread it. I hated the movie. Hated it. Do you think that will taint my perception of the book?

    I need to do a book post. I feel like this year I’ve read some of the best books of my life. It’s been a great year for literature.

    • Stephanie Y. says :

      Which Shirley Grau book did you read? You should most definitely read the Executioner’s Song. It was well worth the 1,000+ page read.

      I’ve never seen the GWTW movie, so I can’t say. I really dreaded reading that book, though. Like whined about it to anyone who would listen. I even played this whole “hiding it” game while reading on public transit. But, I got sucked in.

      I would love to read your post, Claire. Do it!

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