#30X30: Finish The Pulitzer Project

On February 9, 2010, my best friend, Joshua, and I set out on an adventure; the challenge we posed to ourselves was to read all 84 novels that had won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in one year. On March 19, 2015—a full 61 months and 87 books later—I finally wrapped up The Pulitzer Project.

I didn’t cross that finish line with a shout or a even a sigh of relief, though; I crossed the finish line with, I have to confess, hesitation, reticence, and a touch of sorrow. Sure, there was a bit of relief mixed in there, but I’d be lying if I said that I had nothing but happiness to close the back cover of the last book and place it back on the shelf.

The Pulitzer Project started out very ambitiously, and it became so much more than a mere reading project or a humble book club to me. It became a huge part of my life. In fact, it became an agent by which I measured major life events; I became homeless (a homelessness that would last for about a year and a half) while reading The Fixer; I was reading A Death in the Family when my uncle died, kicking off another whirlwind of familial drama; I was fighting a very real battle with a couple of churches that were burning me out on Calvinist theology while reading The Bridge of San Luis Rey; March, while moving in to a house in Kankakee County with my friend and reading partner, Joshua; House Made of Dawn while wrestling with entities not of this world in that house; I moved, again, to Evanston, Illinois while reading The Age of Innocence and I struggled living with the extremely wealthy who make up that city’s population while reading The Collected Stories of John Cheever; I met a pretty girl online while readingThe Shipping News, then I married that girl a few years later just after I finished up A Visit from the Goon Squad; most recently, in the middle of The Goldfinch, that girl told me that I’m going to be a father before the end of this year.

I did a lot of stuff over the course of this project, I lived in a lot of places, I worked at a lot of different jobs, I fought a lot of very personal battles and a few of them were pretty public, I met a lot of people, fell in love, got married, and became an expecting father. Of course “things change” when measured over the course of five years, but I’m almost an entirely different person than I was when I cracked the spine of the first Pulitzer-winning book I read back in February of 2010. The same is true for my reading compatriot, Joshua. He’s worked twice as many jobs as me, moved almost as many times as I did, fought many of the same battles I did, experienced a host of family tragedies, and he also recently learned he’s going to be a father (around the same time that my wife is due, actually).

As much as we’ve changed, however, two things have remained constant over the past five years: this Pulitzer Project, and our friendship. And, when I think back on it, I wonder if that was kind of the underlying point of doing this project in the first place. We went into this project because we were a few years out of university, we were no longer in that collegiate mindset of reading books academically or critically, and we wanted to challenge ourselves with a set of novels to get back that place. While that did, in fact, happen, the project had an added benefit: it was a constant something that kept two very good friends tethered together in spite of an overwhelming amount of changes in both of their lives.

Things change, people change, lives change, and the world spins madly on. There are lot of people in my life who, regrettably and unfortunately, went from being the very best of friends to mere acquaintances over the span of several years because we all changed; people got married, moved away, had kids, went to graduate school, became closer friends with other people… This kind of stuff happens all the time and it invariably happens to everybody to at least some extent. I think it’s a fair assumption that fate would have befallen Joshua and myself if not for The Pulitzer Project; no matter how much our lives changed, we had this thing that kept us always in communication with one another.

That’s the real story of The Pulitzer Project. It wasn’t “two friends do something stupid for a long damn time,” it was “a mutual love keeps two people close despite overwhelming changes in both of their lives.”

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55 thoughts on “#30X30: Finish The Pulitzer Project

  1. Congratulations on finishing what must also have been a fascinating task in itself! My whole life has been accompanied by books and when I remember a certain book I always think back to the time and place I was at in my life when I first read it. There’s definitely a kind of synchronicity, because the lessons learned from reading a book carry a peculiar resonance from that time: my own Great Expectations were high as a first-year student when I first read my favourite work by Dickens; my own sad unrequited teenage love at the time when I read The Great Gatsby, and so on. Maybe this is why we bookworms regard our books as friends… Either way, well done!

  2. I had such kind of project with my friends before and it sticks us together until now. Your piece of writing reminds me of those special times. Thanks for sharing!

  3. This is incredible. I can’t even imagine the feeling of accomplishment, but also (as you say) sorrow. Still, congratulations! (In more ways than one.)

  4. Congrats for finishing your project. The best friends remain the best when their goals are common if not they become (as you said) just a friend when time passes by.

  5. This is an immense project and goal. I’m so happy for you in your completion and wish you all the best. Congratulations on an impending fatherhood and another congratulations is owed to the friendship this project was framed in. The funny thing about a love of reading is that you will never reread those books in the same light again. The moments that accompanied each read were as defined as the books ability to recall those moments.

    • Thank you so much! And I totally agree. The same goes for music – there are some songs that really transport me to another time in my life, for better or worse.

  6. I like how your project’s ‘accomplishment’ became not only reading all of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novels, but on maintaining a close friendship. There’s just something about learning more than what you had planned when you’ve set out to complete a task or journey that’s always fascinating. Makes things less boring as well. Nice post!

  7. This is a milestone. It takes a lot of patience to be there and do it. With every book you read, fiction to be specific, you put yourself into a scenario and feel everything that is there to feel. And so many in a year, and so many stories to connect with.
    Kudos to you 🙂

  8. I have to say, I am inspired. When I was younger I always loved reading, and would often have a few books on the go. Then came school. Books were no longer a way for me to relax – I felt like I was reading non-stop just to keep up with classes, so I would look elsewhere for leisure activities.

    I just went and got a library card last week (this is the first time I’ve had a library card that wasn’t just given to me as part of tuition), and I am finding myself excited to go to the library and choose out new reads! Yes! I’ll have to take a look at the Pulitzer list.

  9. What a great idea! I’m sure that this project did help you stay friends since it gave you that common bond throughout an array of changes in life. Congrats to you and your friend on all counts! I’m curious – did you have a favorite book or a few that you would recommend? Did you read them all in order or just randomly?

    • Sure, I have a few to recommend! “Now in November,” “All the Light We Cannot See,” “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” “Gilead,” “Middlesex,” “All the King’s Men”… A lot of them are really, really great. I’ve seen a lot of people read them in order, but I skipped around from year to year. Made the project more interesting.

  10. What a brilliant (and challenging) project! I’d love to say I’m going to have a go but instead I’m just going to enjoy being in awe at the fact you did it. Congrats on completing them all!

  11. You are amazing to have finished reading all 87 books in just under five years. Pulitzer Prize winning novels are usually philosophical and existentialist, I guess (I’m not sure, I merely read To Kill a Mockingbird and The Goldfinch), so to be able to navigate through all the philosophical ramblings is indeed, an incredible feat. Kudos to you and your reading partner! Bravo 😉😉👍👍👍👍👍

  12. I’m gonna start my college next week and thanks to you I have something to look forward to for next 3 or 4 years 🙂

      • It CAN be. Depends what you want to use it for. It’s a great starting point for a wide variety of careers, but something you’ll need to build on eventually. Like, if you want to teach, you could do any liberal art subject but you’ll eventually need another degree. An English major is also a good starting point for going to law school or getting masters in Political Science. The really nice thing about an English major is that it makes you pretty well-rounded for any to all creative jobs (if you choose to go that direction); the downside is, though, there are very few employers that are actively looking for English majors. I was fortunate in that, when I graduated from Northern Illinois in DeKalb, there was a small marketing company that hired me immediately as a proofreader (DeKalb is a small, po-dunk farming town so I didn’t have much competition); so I started off with at least a little bit of experience. I’m currently doing marketing project management (which I did NOT go to school for). The only reason I am where I am today is because I took on a bunch of contract and freelance jobs. After a while, you build up a great resume doing contract work – I’ve been a real “professional” for only 8 years, but I already have a much more varied and extensive resume than, say, my dad who’s been a professional for 40 years.

        My best advice to you, if you want to pursue English as a major, have a solid minor that you’ll really be able to do something with. Mine was Journalism, which, unfortunately, has kind of gone the way of the dinosaur so it’s pretty useless to me now. My recommendations would be anything with computers, Communications, Political Science, Marketing, or Business.

        Good luck!

      • One thing to keep in mind when reading this is, I experienced my hardships during the Great Recession. Jobless rates are currently the lowest they’ve been since 1978 and the job market today is not even close to being the same it was back in 2008-2012 when I was really struggling to find work in my field. Like, an English major with a Marketing minor would be a great combo for something in Social Media Marketing, but that was a job that didn’t even exist when I was in school.

      • Wow. I love long replies, and this really helps me you have no idea. Thank you so SO much! You’re very right, at the moment I’m thinking about minoring in business so it will balance my artistic brain. I know it will be more practical for myself and besides, I speak 3 languages and have been translating stuff for family and friends for fun since I was about 8. I think in terms of an extensive resumee I can build on it if I wish. Ha, I live in Hong Kong though and nothing can get more cut-throat than my city, speaking of competition that is. But I completely agree with you, thank you for your wise words and advice honestly. I am so confused and excited about the future and I feel like youth won’t be on my side for long. I feel so old!

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  14. Ambitious and so god-damn inspiring. Shame I read at the pace of a turtle, otherwise I’d definitely do it with a friend. But I also think Nobel Prize literature is worth a read. Orhan Pamuk is an amazing author, and I have a lot of respect for whosoever translates his work.

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