Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Good Earth - Winner, Novel, 1932

The Good Earth
By: Pearl S. Buck
John Day, 1931

The Good Earth provided nice change in the genre of fiction for Pulitzer Prize winners. The vast majority of the novels I have read so far, from this time period, are stories about American women (usually wealthy), their families, and the drama they go through over a lifetime. Pearl S. Buck's book is instead about a Chinese farmer, his family, and the drama they go through in a lifetime. While this plot line is vaguely similar to those I mentioned before, we at least have a glimpse in a culture that many are not very familiar with.

After reading this book, I began thinking about the plot construction in novels from the 1920's and 1930's, how they are all VERY similar, and how they differ from the novels written today. From my observations, the best comparison I can make is the difference between maneuvering within a movie on a VHS tape and watching a movie on DVD. The stories from the earlier part of the last century often take the reader through the life of a central character. To move forward, the author still writes about every part of the character's life, but some parts move more quickly than others - like watching a movie on a VHS tape and fast-forwarding. You still see everything happen, just faster. On the other hand, it seems that authors today write about a period in the main characters life and then feel free to just jump ahead - like skipping forward on a DVD. You don't see things that happen in between. I'm not sure if I like the older or newer ways better - with the older authors you really get to know a character through all of its life experiences, important or mundane. But, these can get tedious. On the other hand, the newer authors develop their characters at the important times in their lives, so you see them at their very best and their very worst. Hm. Just a thought. Thanks for letting me ramble. What do you think? Does anybody out there see the same trends that I do?

(The image above was taken by Diego de Pol and is used here under Creative Commons license)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My Experiences in the World War - Winner, Non-Fiction, 1932

My Experiences in the World War
By: General John J. Pershing
Frederick A. Stokes, 1931

As far as war histories go, and those of you who are regular readers of my blog probably know I really dislike war histories, this one, I must admit, was bearable. General John J. Pershing led the American Expeditionary Force in World War I and earned the highest rank ever awarded by the army during the life of the individual - General of the Armies. Pershing kept a detailed diary of his days as commander of the American forces in World War I, and he structures this book around that diary. Each section of the book begins with an excerpt from his diary, followed by elaboration on the events mentioned in that excerpt.

This book provided great first-hand detail of a war that the United States joined belatedly and was sorely unprepared for. Pershing points out many issues that the American military faced - including lack of training and supplies and power struggles between Allied leaders over who would control American troops in Europe. Something that did excite me while reading was Pershing's interaction with two Americans in Europe that I have already read Pulitzer-prize winning books on - Admiral William Sowden Sims (The Victory at Sea, winner in 1921) and Ambassador Walter H. Page (The Life & Letters of Walter H. Page, winner in 1923 & The Training of an American: The Early Life & Letters of Walter H. Page, winner in 1929). It was very interesting to see what I learned previously from another perspective.