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Library's Tim Burns Tries to Pick Pulitzers

The library's Tim Burns talks about his attempts to forecast the big prize

Library's Tim Burns Tries to Pick Pulitzers

Each year, publishers, librarians, readers and in one bizarre case, a mother, are nominating books to the Pulitzer Committee. 

In fact anyone with $50 and four copies of a book can nominate a novel for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. 

Each year I try to guess which book will eventually win that coveted literary prize. Given the fact that perhaps 2,000 books are "nominated" it is literally impossible to guess, with any degree of confidence, which novel will be selected as the "most distinguished" novel of the year. 

But the very first year I tried I was successful.  Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and I predicted it would win four months before it happened.  Not only that, but the next year I successfully predicted that a book with the title "March" be the winner.  Unfortunately, the real winner was Geraldine Brooks’ March and not my choice (I still think it’s the better book) of E. L. Doctorow’s The March.

In the last 6 years my record stands at 3 outright wins, 2 second place wins and one total whiff.  The whiff came in 2010 when the Pulitzer Committee selected Tinkers by Paul Harding.

Why did I choose to focus on Pulitzer novels? 

In a word, embarrassment.  When I first started working in libraries I limited my reading to thrillers and page turners written by Stephen Parker, Clive Cussler, James Patterson, and others in that same ilk. 

In conversations with other librarians I was humbled by my lack of serious reading.  I made a vow to start a self-improvement plan by reading every Pulitzer Prize winning novel starting with the year I was born.  What luck the first book I tackled was, Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, one of my best liked books.  Each year I discover new authors along with those from the past.  And each year I learn more about myself. My favorite books include Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose, Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News and so many others. 

Who is going to win this year?  See my list of Pulitzer contenders in the latest issue of the TPL Magazine. Who do you think will win?

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