It's summer, which makes it the perfect time to break out the sundresses, plan a trip to the beach, and add some Pulitzer Prize-winning books to your reading list. Because as odd as it may seem, in truth nothing says summer fun like "distinguished fiction by an American author." And if you've been meaning to try reading major works of American literature, this is your chance.
Whether you're still in school and summer is your time off, or you're all grown up and summer just means warmer weather and more daylight, summer is the perfect time to tackle some of the heftier literature out there. While some might say that the sunshine is perfectly suited to lighter fare, I say that there's no better beach reading than a book that makes you think — and there's no better time to tackle Big Important Books than the summer when you don't have the gloom of winter (and of school) hanging over your head.
I mean, do you want to read about starving farmers from the Dust Bowl when it's below freezing and the sky has been gray for three weeks straight? No. You want to tackle that stuff when your real life is much less bleak. So if you've been meaning to take another stab at reading all those books you're "supposed" to have read, summer is the perfect time.
But where to start? Well, here are 13 Pulitzer Prize winning books that should make a great addition to your summer season.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
If you want to read Pultizer-winners, why not start with the most recent? Anthony Doerr's novel set during World War II won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and as such is not only an exemplary work but also highly relevant to the modern literary scene.
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Of course, the Pulitzer Prize has been around for a long time, and it pays to read the earlier winners, too. Edith Wharton was the first woman to win a Pulitzer for fiction in 1921, and Age of Innocence is remarkably relevant still today. It's a piece of social commentary focused on the wealthy elites of New York City, and is full of Wharton's signature wit, style, and grace.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
If you still want your summer reading to have a bit of fun and flair to it, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is a perfect fit. The novel, which is about two Jewish would-be comic book writers in 1930s New York, won the Pulitzer in 2001 and is a modern classic.
The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
If short stories are more your thing, the Pulitzer Prize has that, too. Annie Proulx's collection The Shipping News (which includes her most famous story, "Brokeback Mountain") won the prize in 1994 and will blow you away.
Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King
Of course nonfiction is also an important thing to have on your reading list, and if you want to use the sunny summer months to revisit a darker period of American history, you should consider checking out Gilbert King's Devil in the Grove, which won the Pulitzer for General Non-fiction in 2013 and recounts future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall's defense of four young black men in Florida in 1949. It's not quite the trip to Florida you might have been expecting this summer, but it's well worth it.
The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos
Oscar Hijuelos novel about music, fame, and Cuban American immigrants in the mid-20th century is both smooth and sexy — in other words, perfect for summer. The novel won a Pultizer in 1990.
Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Summer is also a great time for classics, and for revisiting those authors you never gave a proper chance because you were forced to read them in high school. John Steinbeck's classic about an Oklahoma family during the Dust Bowl won the Pulitzer for fiction in 1940. It's one of those novels that does not back away from portraying injustice, and as such it might be best to read it in good weather.
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
Want to read important works of literature, but don't want to have to wade through any dense prose? Well how about a play? The Pulitzer also hands out awards for drama, and in 1948, the prize went to Tennessee Williams for his masterpiece A Streetcar Named Desire. It's a heavy play, but since it's set in New Orleans, the characters complain about how hot it is all the time, so at least you all have that in common. (Also, there's a movie version starring Marlon Brando, so. Rewards.)
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Jhumpa Lahiri was one of the youngest ever winners of a Pulitzer when she took one home for her debut short story collection in 2000 at the age of 32. The collections features stories from both India and America and although it was her first book, Lahiri's now-beloved voice is already evident. It should definitely be on your reading list.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Color Purple is a classic for a reason. Since winning in 1983, the novel has continued to dazzle readers everywhere with its craft and its heart. The novel deals with sexism, racism, poverty, love, and so much more, and it's also just a beautiful — of often heartbreaking — story.
Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
If you're going to make yourself aware that the world is ending — and you should be aware that the world is ending; if everyone were maybe we could fix it — then it might be best to do so when the weather isn't making you pretty bummed out already. Elizabeth Kolbert's 2015 winner for general nonfiction explains why scientists believe we are almost certainly living through Earth's sixth mass extinction event, and what exactly that means. It's not cheerful, but at least you can distract yourself with popsicles?
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison has (quite rightly) earned just about every literary award there is up to and including the Nobel Prize for Literature, but her novel Beloved, which took home a Pulitzer in 1988, might be her most powerful. Set in Ohio after the Civil War, it shows both what the horrors of slavery could do to individuals, and the way such a past does not easily die. The novel is a heavy-hitting masterpiece, one that can provide an... interesting... counterpoint to the summer sunshine.
A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
This Pulitzer-winning novel from 2011 features a cast of self-destructive characters, including an aging rock executive, his assistant, and their assorted friends. It's a postmodern work that gives you plenty to think about from aging to the significance of the digital age, but is also plenty of fun, making it perfect for your summer reading list.
Enjoy your summer, fellow book nerds, and remember not to spend all your time in the library. Books like to soak up the sunshine, too!