Category: #Pulitzerchallenge

Book Review: The Goldfinch

The GoldfinchThe Goldfinch

by Donna Tartt

This book, the 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner, has been on my To Read List for a while and I kept putting it off because it’s so long, plus, if you’ve read my blog, you know about previous Pulitzer experiences with Pulitzers and a bad taste they’ve left in my mouth (See A Visit From the Goon Squad and Angela’s Ashes).  I should keep a score somewhere of the Pulitzer likes and dislikes that are kindof becoming a thing for me.

I listened to The Goldfinch as an audiobook. It was wonderfully narrated by actor and director, David Pittu, who won an Audie award for his voice talent on this book. He voiced foreign accents and different characters so wonderfully.  You could easily tell one from the other and weren’t distracted by the changes. It was 32 hours but I listened to it at 1.8 times the normal speed and finished it in a week. It had some really dark parts and the characters, especially the main character, struggles with heavy issues, drug addiction, and devastating loss.

It was 32 hours long (that’s over 800 pages), but I listened to it at 1.8 times the normal speed and finished it in a week. I started it at 1.2, then ramped it up slowly to 1.5, then 1.8.  After listening to it for a while, it seemed like normal speed to me and normal seemed like molasses dripping on a turtle in a rush hour traffic jam.

It had some really dark parts and the characters, especially the main character, struggles with heavy issues, drug addiction, and devastating loss. Theo Decker loses his mother in a museum bombing in New York when he is thirteen years old. During the bombing, he meets a man and a girl and steals a painting, The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius.  This brief encounter has resounding repercussions. It’s a terrible age to lose a parent, especially when his father is a jerk and is nowhere to be found. The story travels through Theo’s adolescence spent struggling with this loss and loneliness, self-identity and choices. Fascinating people enter his life during this time and are with him for the rest of his life, for good and bad. Andy is his childhood friend, wealthy, nerdy and knowing.  Boris is a charming, reckless nomad.  These two vastly different boys have a powerful

The story travels through Theo’s adolescence, spent struggling with this loss and loneliness, self-identity and choices. Fascinating people enter his life during this time and are with him for the rest of his life, for good and bad. Andy is his childhood friend, wealthy, nerdy and knowing.  Boris is a charming, reckless nomad.  These two vastly different boys have a powerful effect on Theo.

Through the worlds of New York socialites, art dealers, and international criminals, from New York, so important, it’s a character in itself, to Las Vegas, to Amsterdam. The painting really exists.  In fact, many works of art are mentioned in this book.  Here is a wonderful article about the works mentioned in the novel.  There’s also a Pinterest board.

I loved the characters.  Boris is fascinating, the bad boy, bad influence that you love anyway and trust, though you don’t want to. And Hobie, so dear and wise. The story made me cry. It held me in suspense.  I couldn’t stop listening. I was fully immersed.

I think it would make a GREAT movie, which is already in the works from Warner Brothers. It will be directed by John Crowley, the director of  Academy Award nominee Brooklyn, also a great book. It needs the right script, of course.  Someone suggested Nicholas Hoult should play Theo, and, wow, that seems exactly right.  He’s got a good mix of vulnerable, attractive, young yet worldly, naive but addicted.

I don’t know why I think if someone is an addict, they have more world experience… more grittiness. This is a flawed view.  Addicts can be naive emotionally. Addicts can even be wholesome as Theo sometimes seems. In essence, addicts are no different than anyone else except they are controlled by a terrible need. And sometimes that need makes them do terrible things.

So anyway…Nicholas Hoult??


PopSugar has some fun suggestions for casting, too. Jeff Bridges as Hobie? I don’t know about that.  I was picturing more tall and skinny but Bridges is a master.  There are some actors who can be anyone. The most interesting suggestion is Ezra Miller as Boris.  While, I’m not sure about that…  He’s definitely got the not dirty/dirty hair thing going on.


This book really made me think. I’m still thinking.  I probably will for a long time. The ending was cathartic in that it wrapped up well for Theo but it wasn’t all roses and puppies.  It was a dark view of life, that we’re just here to suffer through it.  I don’t believe that at all but I respect that someone who has had a different experience than me, someone like Theo, feels that way. It makes me wonder what happened to Donna Tartt.  I will definitely read some of her other books.  Have you read any of them?

A great sorrow, and one that I am only beginning to understand: we don’t get to choose our own hearts. We can’t make ourselves want what’s good for us or what’s good for other people. We don’t get to choose the people we are.”

This really struck me.  The whole book culminates to this point. We can choose how we act, how we respond, what we show the world, but we can’t choose what we love, what drives us deep down or what we desire. Sometimes those things are not the best thing for us, or the good thing or the right thing.

I’m so lucky and blessed that I’ve had the life I have and, more than anything, have the outlook I have – to always choose to be happy and make the best of everything.  I’m so lucky I never became addicted to anything worse than chocolate and cycling (that should have been the name of my blog).  I have friends and family members who are alcoholics and addicts who make terrible decisions. It’s so frustrating to watch, yet it’s so human of them.  I’m not saying I’m perfect, I’m certainly not, but I’ve made a lot of safe choices, taken another path when friends jumped off the cliff. This book made me appreciate those choices for myself and also understand the choices they made.

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Book Review: A Visit From the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon SquadA Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I would give this only one star because I really didn’t like it. I only gave it 2 stars because the writing is good, there are moments of beautiful imagery and insight and the last chapter was an intriguing satire of the near future. There were concepts to ponder but it’s not my cup of tea.

I’m not into that New York rock and roll drugged-up burn-out scene filled with angst-ridden, pretentious aging unhappy characters. It was a bunch of short stories loosely linked to each other.

It’s another big thumbs down for the Pulitzer board.  Sure, I know sweet, wholesome books and escapist fantasy are not going to be awarded by a committee of writers, publishers, and academics who are looking for innovative and ground-breaking. But there is a point when new and different becomes so much drivel.

Seriously, part of this book is catalogs of songs listed by length of song and length of the pauses in songs. This part is supposedly innovative because it is telling a story in powerpoint slides. Powerpoint slides are a weak way to get a point across for a presentation, much less a novel. Blech! I almost gave up on this book. I hate not finishing a book. I should have let it go, like a bad relationship. I keep believing these books are going to redeem themselves in the end and they rarely do.

This book is part of my #PulitzerChallenge.  Read more about my what led me to read more Pulitzer novels this year in an earlier post I wrote after reading Angela’s Ashes..

Sweet T’s rating 2 out of 5 stars


Check out all Sweet T’s reviews on Goodreads

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Friday 5 – Cura Personalis, SPAM, Spool of Blue Thread, Angela’s Ashes, and Pulitzers

Christmas Break and Cura Personalis

Happy New Year!  I feel so nice and refreshed! I had a nice long wonderful Christmas break from work and yes, from blogging, too. One of the great things about working for the Jesuits in higher education is they think balance is important, that it’s important to replenish your whole being, mind, body, and spirit.  It’s called cura personalis – care for the entire person – and it applies to caring for oneself and for others.

Henry and I both got a chance to read and relax!


Reading Goals and What I’ve Been Reading Lately

This wonderful time off allowed me to reach, and even go beyond my book challenge for the year.  The goal was 60 and I read 62.  According to Goodreads, that’s 20,902 pages!  For me, it’s more like 8 bajigilion hours of audiobooks as I drove back and forth to and from work and walking Henry and brushing my teeth (yes, I listen while I’m getting dressed in the morning.  Where do you listen?)

I finished A Blue Spool of Thread by Ann Tyler. I really liked it. It was like many of her books, more about character and family and all the moments that make up ordinary amazing lives. It’s set in Baltimore so I recognized the neighborhoods and the much-hated sculpture at Penn Station. What do you think of the male/female statue???  I couldn’t bring myself to give the book a rating. So I didn’t.

bcp-the-muchhated-malefemale-statue-at-penn-st-002Photo credit: Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts

Here’s my year in books.  My book club will laugh that Frankenstein was the least popular!  You can see all my books on Goodreads.


Yoga at 6 a.m. and my upcoming super foods and yoga January Jumpstart

Since early December, I’ve been getting up earlier on Wednesdays and Fridays to practice asanas at 6 in the morning.  About a dozen other crazy yogis and Peat, one of the amazing instructors at Peace Yoga in Bel Air.  There is something especially nourishing about doing sun salutations as the sun is coming up.

This is my favorite picture of Peat from his profile at Peace Yoga!


Peat is such a bright shining soul and he’s great at teaching the fine details of all the physical aspects of yoga. We spent a whole class focusing on the muscle contractions in our abdomen…abdomens???  (Uddiyana bandha)  It was like an internal organ massage.  But don’t let the long Sanskrit words fool you, he’s fun and doesn’t take himself too seriously.  It’s a wonderful mix when you’re trying challenging movement early in the morning!  And he’s always got a poem or an inspirational quote or a great song to share.


And speaking of yoga and cleansing habits, I’m super excited to be doing a yoga and super food challenge starting next week with the beautiful and inspirational Flexible Warrior, Karen Dubs. She is a yoga and wellness coach who has worked with the Baltimore Ravens, the Maryland mens’ basketball team and many others.  She has personally overcome lymes, Hashimoto’s, and autoimmune diseases by clean eating and lifestyle.  I did a month-long yoga for runners workshop with her a few years ago at Charm City Run in Timonium.  She gave me massage balls for my feet, taught me legs up the wall and walked all over my back.  I was hooked!  You can learn more and join me at


Well, I guess I should be flattered.  My blog has become popular enough that I’m receiving SPAM comments on blog posts.  They’re not advertising penis enlargement or asking to send money.  Here’s an example.

Grab my rss! Oh my!!  It might seem like someone who is not a native English speaker is asking to subscribe to my blog feed (which by the way, I’m working on.  My January goal is to create an email subscriber list and get it going) but it’s not. I received this comment from three different email addresses and they were all convoluted quasi business addresses like htmlfreepasswordaccess or some other oddity.  I’m learning the reason people do this is to create links to make their website more viable to search engines. That’s a huge oversimplification.  There are filtering programs and WordPress and Blogger have automatic filters but they continue to get through because spammers try to make it sound legitimate.  It’s a fascinating problem to have.


Pulitzer Prize-Winning Fiction and Biographies

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

I also finished Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt and I don’t get it.  Another book about the stereotypical poor and starving Irish children who suffered because their father was an alcoholic. Thank goodness it was an audiobook and was abridged.  I can’t imagine how much more of the same could fit into more pages and hours. Why didn’t I like it?  Was it because I couldn’t relate?  Ok, but I can certainly empathize and did.  Empathy and understanding are not the same as enjoyment.

Sometimes I feel like something is wrong with me.  I rarely like Pulitzer Prize Winners.  I don’t get it, I’m smart, I’m literary, I enjoy thinking and discussing books and literature.  Sure, I tend to enjoy lighter reads most of the time but I like to mix it up.  I often feel like Pulitzers are pretentious. The qualifications – “distinguished fiction published in book form during the year by an American author, preferably dealing with American life.”

Here are some thoughts on some I’ve read: I loved All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, Swamplandia was nominated but didn’t win. BLECH!!! I didn’t like The Shipping News, by E. Annie Proulx and hated A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole.  On the other hand, The Color Purple is one of my favorite books, and so is To Kill A Mockingbird and John Adams, the biography by David McCullough is outstanding and fascinating (though I listened to all 30 hours and 1 minute on audio over a couple of month’s commute). OK, so maybe I haven’t read enough of them to say I don’t like them categorically. And listing them out like that, there are really only 3 winners and 1 nominee I don’t like versus 4 I do like, soooooo… maybe it’s that I tend to feel strongly one way or the other about the? I guess this means a new reading goal:  To read more Pulitzers.  Here’s the list.  Which ones have you read?


Pulitzer Prizes in Fiction

2016: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
2015: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
2014: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
2013: The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
2012: No award given
2011: A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
2010: Tinkers by Paul Harding
2009: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
2008: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
2007: The Road by Cormac McCarthy
2006: March by Geraldine Brooks
2005: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
2004: The Known World by Edward P. Jones
2003: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
2002: Empire Falls by Richard Russo
2001: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
2000: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
1999: The Hours by Michael Cunningham
1998: American Pastoral by Philip Roth
1997: Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer by Steven Millhauser
1996: Independence Day by Richard Ford
1995: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
1994: The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx
1993: A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler
1992: A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
1991: Rabbit At Rest by John Updike
1990: The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos
1989: Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler  (She is the author of The Spool of Blue Thread)
1988: Beloved by Toni Morrison
1987: A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor
1986: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (haven’t even seen the movie.  Both are now the book and movie are both high on my list)
1985: Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie
1984: Ironweed by William Kennedy
1983: The Color Purple by Alice Walker
1982: Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike
1981: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
1980: The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer
1979: The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever
1978: Elbow Room by James Alan McPherson
1977: No award given
1976: Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow
1975: The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
1974: No award given
1973: The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty
1972: Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
1971: No award given
1970: The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford by Jean Stafford
1969: House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday
1968: The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron
1967: The Fixer by Bernard Malamud
1966: The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter by Katherine Anne Porter
1965: The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau
1964: No award given
1963: The Reivers by William Faulkner
1962: The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O’Connor
1961: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
1960: Advise and Consent by Allen Drury
1959: The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters by Robert Lewis Taylor
1958: A Death in the Family by James Agee
1957: No award given
1956: Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor
1955: A Fable by William Faulkner
1954: No award given
1953: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
1952: The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk
1951: The Town by Conrad Richter
1950: The Way West by A. B. Guthrie, Jr.
1949: Guard of Honor by James Gould Cozzens
1948: Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener

From 1917-1948, the award was given as the Pulitzer Prizer for Novel (rather than for fiction). Here are the winners from that time period

1947: All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
1946: No award given
1945: A Bell for Adano by John Hersey
1944: Journey in the Dark by Martin Flavin
1943: Dragon’s Teeth by Upton Sinclair
1942: In This Our Life by Ellen Glasgow
1941: No award given
1940: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
1939: The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
1938: The Late George Apley by John Phillips Marquand
1937: Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
1936: Honey in the Horn by Harold L. Davis
1935: Now in November by Josephine Winslow Johnson
1934: Lamb in His Bosom by Caroline Miller
1933: The Store by T. S. Stribling
1932: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
1931: Years of Grace by Margaret Ayer Barnes
1930: Laughing Boy by Oliver Lafarge
1929: Scarlet Sister Mary by Julia Peterkin
1928: The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder
1927: Early Autumn by Louis Bromfield
1926: Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis
1925: So Big by Edna Ferber
1924: The Able McLaughlins by Margaret Wilson
1923: One of Ours by Willa Cather
1922: Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington
1921: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
1920: No award given
1919: The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington
1918: His Family by Ernest Poole

The books I’ve read are in bold.  Seems I found more that I read and liked.