The Pulitzer Prize Winning Books you should read.

I was shocked several ago to find out that my favourite book of all time, Lonesome Dove had won the Pulitzer Prize.

It was a Western. And they talked about boobs. And they did a lot of spitting. It just wasn’t the sort of book I thought won the Pulitzer Prize.

When I thought of books that won the Pulitzer Prize I thought of War and Peace. Crime and Punishment. That sort of thing. You know, books that required effort, a year and a half and a recently acquired British accent to read. At the very least the book would have to be written by a Russian.

Turns out I was wrong.

Turns out the award can ONLY go to American authors, which explains the curious omission of the entire Shopoholic series. Journalists are given more leeway. Any nationality can win a Pulitzer for journalism as long as they work for an American publication (web or print).


The Pulitzer Prize was established in 1917 by publisher Joseph Pulitzer. And any journalist or novelist can submit their work to be considered for a Pulitzer as long as it fits into one of the Pulitzer categories. And As long as they have the $50 entry fee. Which ironically, a lot of writers don’t.

So as it turns out, the Pulitzer Prize isn’t something that screams “REALLY HARD TO READ BOOK HERE! GET YOUR 1,000 PAGE SNOOZEFEST HERE!”. It actually means, “Get your really good book here”. Winners have included funny books, serious books, Westerns and snoozefests.


If you’re looking for an award winning book to read, these are a few of the Pulitzer Prize winners I’ve read and how I rate them out of four  “♥”‘s.

Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides    ♥♥♥♥  completely fascinating

Empire Falls – Richard Russo  I swear to you I can’t remember a thing about this book. That says a lot.

The Stone Diaries – Carol Shields  ditto for this one. 

Lonesome Dove – Larry McMurtry ♥♥♥♥ favourite book of all time

A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole ♥♥♥½  absolutely hilarious

To Kill a Mockingbrid – Harper Lee ♥♥♥½ classic


To see a list of the entire Pulitzer Prize winners in the fiction category just click here.

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  1. Brian Horowitz says:

    A year ago I decided to read all the Pulitzer Prize winners in literature, from the most recent to the first one. I’ve now read the last 24. Some I’d already read earlier in life, like Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song.

    My favorite of the last 24 years is The Known World by Edward P. Jones. It is absolutely brilliant. It is about a black slave owner who dies and how it affects his slaves and other people in the fictional central Virginia community. I had no idea that blacks were allowed to own slaves before I started reading the novel. Parts of the book moved me to tears and sometimes a page later, I was laughing hysterically at what I read.

    I’m finishing Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News which I would put somewhere in the middle of the last 24 IMO.

    • Karen says:

      I’m just reading her latest, Barkskins Brian, and I loved it at first but now I’m just finding it long! It is good … but long! ~ karen!

  2. Linda says:

    Oh shoot, sorry I posted this under the wrong section. ugh.

    • Karen says:

      Well you’re banned now. ;) Hey, who knows, maybe the book was worth a Pulitzer, but just didn’t happen to win the year it was published. So … it’s kind of the right place to pos this in that case. ~ karen!

  3. Linda says:

    You have to read The Color of Lightning by Paulette Jiles! The first bit is terribly violent but it is what happened to these women. The story is about Britt Johnson’s (a freed slave) journey to save his wife after she has been captured by Indians. His resolve to never give up is tremendous. What a brave man this is! I would read a little then throw it down crying saying that I could not finish it, then days later I would have to know what happened next. This went on until I finished the book. You will sit on the edge of your chair.

  4. caryl hodgdon says:

    If you love Lonesome try Annie Proulx’s close range wyoming stories or any of her other western tales. You will adore the characters. Roundhouse by Loise Erdrich is going to be a classic-I highly recommend it. Thanks for the list, I’ll be sharing it for sure.

  5. Laura says:

    Hmm, well after looking through the Pulitzer website, I have only read a 1 or 2 on the fiction list. I can tell you that I received the 2014 for Christmas in 2014, still have not finished it. Ughhh. I guess I’m not a Pulitzer kinda gal. :)

  6. Ev Wilcox says:

    Thanks Karen. The main message here is READ! Thanks for helping this idea along. You are the best ever blogger!

  7. Julia says:

    Ok, just Kindled Lonesome Dove (although I should be reading two other books for book club – ‘Three Men In A Boat’ (shoot me now) and ‘The Silent Boy’ (intrigue and murder in revolutionary France, better), neither are Pulitzer, so apologies for mentioning them!
    Loved ‘TKAM’, ‘Poisonwood Bible’, ‘Animal, Veg., Min.’, and ‘Middlesex’.
    Hated ‘The Lacuna’…

  8. kris says:

    The Power broker

  9. Kirsten says:

    I was going to comment on the Lonesome Dove post with this, but that would meddle with the “good books and no chit-chat” thing you had going on over there, so, here instead!
    My English teacher in highschool always said The Lonesome Dove was the best cowboy novel in the world… as long as you could get past the first few chapters which are allegedly about pigs. He issued a challenge to us, and none of us read it in the four years we were there. So when I saw you talk about it, I cracked up! Thanks for the nostalgia!

  10. Bols says:

    I don’t care much about prizes as I often find that I must operate on a different scale and hardly like the awarded books. To Kill a Mockingbird = boring, boring, boring.
    I bet not too many people (at least in North America) actually read War and Peace but I have to say that it is a phenomenal book. I totally enjoy long complex novels with lots of characters (if anybody read A Suitable Boy you will know what I mean) so I really enjoyed it.

  11. mimiindublin says:

    I will add it to my reading list too, and like others, keep it for summer when I can sit in the sun with it.
    Didn’t this turn into a great post Karen, I read each and every comment with interest. Regular series…good books???

  12. Maggie O'C says:

    Lonesome Dove is poetry. Reading Lonesome Dove makes me realize that I will never be a writer of any consequence. The mini-series is a fantastic adaptation.

    TKAM….fuhgeddaboutit. Every word is perfect.

    I really REALLY liked Empire Falls which caused me to read Russo’s Bridge of Sighs ,which was an error.

    • Karen says:

      After reading my post on books and everyone’s coments my mother marched right out to the bookstore to buy Lonesome Dove (my copy is a first edition and not for hire). If she doesn’t love it there’s something wrong with the woman. ~ karen!

  13. Fawn says:

    I LOVE Lonesome Dove too! I had no idea that it’s a Pulitzer Prize winner AND that so many other women like it! Heehee when they use the word “carrot”. I’m so immature.

  14. Brook says:

    Makes that ‘archives’ : )

  15. Brook says:

    I happened to listen to Tim O’Brien’s, “The Things They Carried,” on the Selected Shorts podcast last weekend. What a powerful story. Highly recommended and worth digging back in their archies.

    There are books on the Pulitzer list that I haven’t been able to get through, even on multiple attempts, and others that have become all-time favourites.

    Part of it is literary taste, but I think sometimes it’s just the right (or wrong) book at the right (or wrong) time:

    “To reread what you loved most at a particular moment is to risk the possibility that you might love it less.” — Katherine Boo.

  16. Barbie says:

    “A Confederacy of Dunces” This may be the one for me !

  17. Tricia says:

    I reluctantly read Lonesome Dove – I honestly thought I would hate it. Was I ever wrong.
    I also bawled when it was over because while I admired Call, I loved Gus! He made me laugh out loud and wish I knew someone so charming.
    I bought the first two books in the series after I read Lonesome Dove. I also really enjoyed Dead Man’s Walk and I’m halfway through Comanche Moon. I’ll let you know what I think…..

    • Karen says:

      I’ve read both and they’re O.K. There’s only one Lonesome Dove. It’s a remarkable piece of work. ~ karen!

  18. Missy says:

    I have been an avid reader my entire life. I have read many of the books on your list (although, not Lonesome Dove, I will need to read it now!) but the book that affected me the most was The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006 Pulitzer Prize winner). I think, because it’s hard to read, maybe people don’t finish it, but if The Road was read by every person on this planet and if it’s message was understood by every person on this planet, there would never be war. There would be an understanding that there are things you don’t do in life because it you do them, the result would be the world that McCarthy paints so darkly in his book. The movie was pretty true to the book, but the writing in the book is absolutely haunting.

  19. Naomi says:

    That’s a great list! Have you read Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie? It’s another Pulitzer prizewinner that I wouldn’t qualify as a snoozefest (I reviewed it here: I also liked two of the finalists – The Poisonwood Bible by Kingsolver and Swamplandia by Russell. And yes, The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields is worth a read, but for what it’s worth, I think Larry’s Party is more fun.

  20. sera says:

    I love love love Confederacy of Dunces! and To Kill a Mockingbird. And Middlesex is on my shelf right now. Thanks for the history lesson. I was a lit major and never knew that about the Pulitzer. Perhaps I shouldn’t have admitted that. oops.

  21. Debbie says:

    Lonesome Dove, loved it so much that I felt like I lost some friends when it was finished. I also listend to it on books on tape, or I guess books on CD these days. The reader made this even more of a joy. I never bothered with the movie, it might have ruined the story for me.

    • Karen says:

      Me too! I’ve never read a book where the characters seemed like they were a part of my life like that. ~ karen

      • Nancy Blue Moon says:

        I know what you mean Karen..I love it when I read a book that I wish would never end. Where there are characters that you would love to be friends with..I think “To Kill A Mockingbird” would be my all time favorite..I will try to read “Lonesome Dove” this summer when I can sit outside and not have cats trying to squeeze between me and the book for attention since it is such a long read..Don’t your cats do that?

        • Karen says:

          My cat is currently sitting in my lap staring at me, directly between me and my laptop. ~ karen

    • gloria says:

      I also listened to Lonesome Dove on CD. What a wonderful experience. I do my listening in bed with headphones. It’s like going to a movie in my mind every night. I would whip through my day in anticipation of bedtime so I could get back to those great characters. And yes, the reader was terrific.

  22. qtpuh2tme says:

    Seems to me that any book that can be described as a ‘szoozefest’ and be awarded a Pulitzer, kinda negates the whole importance of receiving one for any other writer who is actually good. ~:/

    But, hey, maybe that’s just me.

  23. Liz says:

    Love this post ~ thanks for sharing! The only book I read on your list was “To Kill A Mockingbird”, which was wonderful. I got hooked on Anne Tyler back in the day with her Pulitzer Prize winning “Breathing Lessons”.

  24. Janet says:

    So…looking at the list…why were there no winners for a couple of years? Did they not have the prize money to give out? Did they just not think any of the novels nominated were worthy? Was there a big fight in the Pulitzer jury room and no one could come to an agreement? These are the things I’m curious about.
    Ok, Lonesome Dove now goes on my reading list. Thanks, Karen. I’m always looking for a great read….never even thought to read Lonesome Dove before.

  25. I love the book lists! Thanks!

  26. kathy says:

    1000 White Women is a great read!

  27. Rondina says:

    Just as long as it was the book, Lonesome Dove, not the movie. I thought the movie was great when it came out. I bought it a few years ago and thought OMG. That was awful. Good actors with horrible direction. Larry McMurtry came down to an event on a old road named Lonesome Dove in North Texas after the movie. That was kind of neat at the time. Now, I also look back and think, ‘What was the big deal?’

  28. Janet says:

    Lonesome Dove has been my favorite book since forever. My family made so much fun of me when I was young for being in love with Gus. I still am in love with Gus. When I picked the book for book club I served beans, biscuits, and CARROTS! :D

  29. Marie says:

    I’ll put Lonesome Dove on my Kindle for summertime in-the-hammock-reading. Empire Falls is the ONLY book that I did not read through to the end. I brought it back to the library and walked away without a moment of regret.

  30. Blandine says:

    One of my favorite books is Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose and I didn’t know it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972!!! Thanks for the list, I might have to pick one and go for it, I’ve been needing some inspiration lately.

    • Emmie says:

      Exquisite writing in Angle of Repose.

    • sam says:

      Wallace Stegner taught McMurtry at Stanford. Also taught Ken Kesey, who wrote my favorite book, Sometimes a Great Notion. So my favorites are Angle of Repose, Lonesome Dove and Sometimes…. I’m actually rereading Angle right now as I found a first edition in a used book store this week. Just finished Kingsolver’s latest on the Monarch butterflies. Actually, I guess it was a month ago, but it’s still a hot topic around here. Excellent.

      • sam says:

        The subtext of the novel is a treatise on disturbed migration patterns and why Monarchs have dropped Mexico from their cycle and the consequences thereof.
        Thanks for letting me know about your Monarch posts, I’m off to read them now. Sam

  31. Scott says:

    Confederacy of Dunces….so good and funny and yet so sad that we couldn’t have a sequel.

  32. gloria says:

    Guess I’ll throw my 2 cents in here with my own list. Top 5: To Kill a Mockingbird, Lonesome Dove, Empire Falls, The Shipping News, and The Color Purple. Then going back a few years: The Reivers, The Optimist’s Daughter, and The Bridge of San Luis Rey. Most of these have also been made into movies, with varying degrees of success. But Karen, you might like Empire Falls more if you see the mini series. I think it was very well done, great cast.

  33. Maureen says:

    And didja know that the correct pronounciation is “pull-it-sir” not “puhl-it-zer” as most of us think. I read that on their web site once. My husband has been trying to get me to read Lonesome Dove for years. It’s just so, um, THICK. That is a big committment. Of course, I am currently reading “The Singularity is Near” which rivals LD in overall heft.

  34. Deet says:

    I’ve been meaning to read Lonesome Dove and now will move it to the top of the TBR pile. Thanks for the suggestions.

  35. pooks says:

    You also need to check out The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (comic books!!!), A Visit from the Goon Squad and Tales of the South Pacific (much better and shorter than you might think if the idea of Michener horrifies you).

  36. Dawn says:

    Lonesome Dove is my favorite book, too. I’ve never met another chick who felt this way. I stayed up until I couldn’t see, set my alarm to get up early, and cried my eyes out when it was all over. And I was an apathetic 19 year old at the time. What can I say, I love good-natured whores and scoundrel cowboys.

  37. Amanda Watkins says:

    Very informative post! Thank you!

    Somewhat unrelated: I just read in the past couple of days “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”
    Without knowing anything about it(not one thing. my husband thought it was about an Asian lady) before jumping in.
    All I can say, 600-700 pages later is “WOAH!!”
    And then at then end, I learned it’s a trilogy.
    And so then I looked it up on Wikipedia to find out how many books there are, and I learned the author died before they were published.
    But he was from Sweden, so now I know that he couldn’t have won a Pulitzer Prize.
    The amount of things you learn in a couple of days!
    Happy reading!

    • Pam'a says:

      The whole trilogy is so good that I rushed through the first two (borrowed), and had to go out and buy the HARDBACK because I couldn’t wait for the paperback. (Also, for what it’s worth, the Swedish MOVIE trilogy of them is awesome too!)

  38. Tina says:

    I agree with you on A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole. It’s hilarious but I would give it more hearts. I won’t finish the book because there will never be anymore. I can never read the last thing written by a favorite author.

    I also love early Barbara Kingsolver (e.g., The Bean Trees, Pigs in Heaven)–her newer stuff, not as much.

  39. Tricia Rose says:

    The trouble is, I don’t so much enjoy reading prize-winning books because too often they are oversold. Pullet Surprise me!

  40. Sara says:

    True! Not a winner, just noticed it on the finalist list. I’ve been needing some reading inspiration, so thanks again!

  41. Sara says:

    Fun! I also enjoyed Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri and The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (although I liked The Lacuna and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle better). Great list – thanks!

    • Karen says:

      I really liked the Poisonwood Bible too, but it wasn’t a Pulitzer winner. Short listed I think. Did NOT like The Lacuna and loved Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. :) ~ karen!

      • Carol says:

        Have you tried Prodigal Summer? That is not only my favorite Kingsolver book, but one of my favorite books in general.

        • Emmie says:

          Karen – I think this book would be right up your alley. It is one of the few books I’ve re-read.

      • Dana says:

        Barbara Kingsolver’s latest novel, Flight Behavior, is great. i just finished it a few days ago. (I didn’t get through La Lacuna.)

  42. Dana says:

    I read The Stone Diaries – Carol Shields in my early 20s and really liked it. When I visited my mom in Winnipeg I convinced her to take me to Tyndall, where the book took place. The houses are so tiny, maybe 12×12, two stories. We went to the quarry and picked through the rock looking for fossils, too. I’d give it ***

    • Karen says:

      Maybe I’ll give it another read. It’ll be like reading it for the first time since I can’t remember a thing about it. ~ karen!

      • cred says:

        Me, too! I read it and pretty sure I liked it but have zero recollection of what it was about. Clearly, it doesn’t make a lasting impression. I just recently read Unless and while the story stuck in my mind more, it wasn’t riveting.

  43. Keri says:

    Totally agree about To Kill A Mockingbird! From the list of winners The Hours by Michael Cunningham and Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri are also favorites.

  44. Kate says:


    Read “The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao” one of my all time favs and Pulitzer Prize winner and not on this list! I will read Lonesome Dove in exchange. Deal?

    • Karen says:

      Hmm. Dunno. I cannot commit without knowing what some of your favourite books are. Nope. I cannot. ~ karen!

    • Gayle says:

      I loved “The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao” and Lonesome Dove. Oscar is unlike any other book I have read and Middlesex is fascinating. For great reads (too new for the Pulitzer) I recommend Gone Girl and Girl Child. I could not put them down. Karen thanks for the history lesson on the Pulitzer!

    • LeeAnne says:

      Thanks for the list Karen! I had no idea Pulitzer was open only to American based writers. “To Kill a Mocking Bird” was recently mentioned on the “Stuff You Should Know” podcast (audio). One of the hosts said he loved the book but shortly after reading it watched the movie and said it was the only time a movie was better than the book. Either way, a really great story.

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