Challenge Update: Bad Reviews and the Pulitzer Prize

We’re getting down to the end of the year!  I’ll have a final update on my 2015 reading challenge at the end of the month, but I wanted to look briefly at a few of the books, in a lead-up to the final update.  As you may recall, I’ve been working on a kind of grab-bag challenge, with 50 different criteria.  I’ve been doing the more unusual ones here at the end of the year, and those are the ones I’ll be looking at in more depth–to discuss how meeting these particular criteria turned out.

Two today, which could be taken as opposite criteria (commendation vs. condemnation), but which actually have more in common, for me, than you might think…because it was hard to find a Pulitzer Prize-winning book that looked remotely to my taste!

Pulitzer Prize-winning book: Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener

I read through the entire list of Pulitzer-winning fiction, and was very nearly stumped.  Because everything looked so unbearably dark and depressing and grim!  But I finally settled on South Pacific, because I know the musical–and more specifically, I have troubles with the musical.  I wanted to see how the two compared.

It turned out to be a fairly dark and grim book, actually.  It is, after all, about war.  And it really is tales, more a collection of related short stories than a true novel.  The musical picked up some of the major plot points and characters, but changed the tone pretty dramatically–and interwove things that were originally unrelated.  I might be biased, but Nurse Nellie, Lt. Cable and Luther Billis really did seem to be the most significant characters in here, but there stories were much less intertwined.  Despite the grimness, it was overall a pretty good read.

Mostly I wanted to see if there was any redemption in the book for Lt. Cable or for the Frenchman.  Because really…Lt. Cable should not be sleeping with the very young native girl who gives very questionable consent.  And the Frenchman may be a great patriot, but he’s a lousy father–he wasn’t willing to go on a suicide mission when he could be with Nellie, but he didn’t mind abandoning his children?

As it turns out, there’s not much redemption for Lt. Cable in the book (although we get enough from Liat’s point of view to conclude she really is willing–I’m not sure how he knows that), though he does come across as less racist–just conscious that he and Liat live in very different worlds.  And the Frenchman’s story ends up being so different that it doesn’t really compare accurately with the musical’s story.

And I also decided that Luther Billis is my favorite character in both the play and the book.

A Book with Bad Reviews: Rejection Proof by Jia Jiang

This was a rather odd criteria–because in the wonderful world of crowd-sourcing reviews, every book has bad reviews somewhere.  And I honestly don’t know how to search for one that received a more broadly negative response.  So I decided to count for this one a book that I feel should have negative reviews–and it does, although I was disheartened by the overall high number of stars it was receiving on Amazon and Goodreads.

So my bad review is that this promises far more insight than it actually offers, and the author’s supposed expertise on rejection is based on a series of extremely flimsy experiments that took all the stakes out of rejection, to the point of being, well, pointless.  It made me deeply appreciate Brene Brown and her honest examination of vulnerability (not a topic covered in Rejection Proof), and authors like Jon Ronson and A. J. Jacobs, who fill their books with both serious research and conversations with genuine experts on the topics they discuss (neither of which Jiang offered).


So much for two of the less promising criteria!  More to follow soon.

One thought on “Challenge Update: Bad Reviews and the Pulitzer Prize

  1. dianem57

    I don’t see how you can write a credible book about rejection if you haven’t actually put yourself out there to experience it. Rejection Proof is kind of a strange book. But Amazon reviews need to be taken with a grain of salt, I guess. Brene Brown is much more serious as a writer and researcher to begin with, so I’d go with her any day. 🙂

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