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 reading The 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 reading challenge kept two friends close for a really long time.”