We kept waiting for the Big Book.
Every few weeks, as a new shipment of books arrived at each of our different addresses, Susan, Maureen, and I slit open the carton and said to ourselves, Please, let this box contain the One.
The One would be the novel so monumental, so original and vast and funny and tragic, so clearly important, that only an idiot would deny it the Pulitzer Prize.
We wanted a foolproof book, a book about which we could be absolutely certain. Or two such books. Maybe even three.
I would encourage anyone who has ever been, currently is, or hopes to be on a book award committee, has complained about a committee’s decision, or just wondered about it to read Michael Cunningham’s superb rumination, “Letter from the Pulitzer Fiction Jury: What Really Happened This Year.” Yes, he is writing about adult fiction, but swap out The Great Gatsby for Charlotte’s Web and you will easily recognize that what he has to say is as relevant to those of us considering books for young readers as for those thinking about fiction for grown-ups. (Well… other than the “popular” issue that seems to dog the Newbery, but not most adult literary awards — which, mind you, the Newbery is — also a literary award, that is.)