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And the Pulitzer Should Have Gone To ...

With the Giller and Governor General’s here in Canada, the Man Booker of the English Commonwealth and the Pulitzer in the U.S., it’s hard to deny how influential the big fiction awards can be. Beyond the literary cache and a helpful boost to a writer’s book sales, for most of us the stamp of an award on the corner of a shiny new novel operates, if nothing else, as a helpful guide in our quest for what to read next.

As was written about just a few days ago on this blog, you have probably already heard the outrage over the Pulitzer’s three-person jury's decision not to award a prize for fiction this year. It’s the first time in 35 years this has happened. The implications are rather dire. Ann Patchett, author of the Orange Prize bestseller Bel Canto and last year’s State of Wonder (a book many at Indigo believe should have certainly been a Pulitzer finalist if not a winner itself), wrote last week in The New York Times, the decision not to award a prize leads most readers to assume “it was a bum year for fiction.” In other words, there was not a single American title published in 2011 worthy of the prize, not even amongst the three Pulitzer finalists which included: Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams, Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! and David Foster Wallace’s posthumously published novel, The Pale King.

Like so many major publications and book lovers across North America, we at Indigo respectfully beg to differ. Were the decision ours, we would have selected a book that didn’t make the shortlist. A book we loved. That book is Chad Harbach’s debut, The Art of Fielding.

Set in a fictional liberal arts college in Wisconsin, The Art of Fielding is as much a campus novel as it is a novel about baseball. The sweeping scope of Harbach’s epic narrative is most easily laid out by looking at the story’s main characters, including a Herman Melville loving academic, a gay baseball player known to his team mates as the Buddha for the fluidity of his play, and a remarkably talented shortstop who comes down with a very serious psychological block that puts his future in jeopardy.

It shouldn’t matter if you know the book took ten years to make, or that it earned a reported $650,000 advance in a time when books are supposed to be in trouble. Impressive as the making-of story may be, ultimately a book should stand on the quality of its read.

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