When people hear the words “prize” and “books” together, they usually think of “Pulitzer,” which makes sense given that literary awards are prestigious — not to mention a great way to winnow your reading lists.
But there’s another side to the words “prize” and “books,” and that’s books about prizes. Many a plot revolves around winning something: A suitor’s eye, a coveted job, even a lawsuit. The following list involves books in which winning actually involves a prize of some kind. What a fitting reward one of these titles would be to read after a long day.
Imagine what might have happened if they held a juried contest for a New York City 9/11 memorial — and the winner was a Muslim. That’s what Waldman (a former reporter for The New York Times and correspondent for The Atlantic) attempts in her 2011 debut novel about how one woman, widowed by the tragedy, stands up for an artist whose vision she believes to be the most truthful. A powerful and thought-provoking choice for your book club’s calendar.
Track cyclists Kate and Zoe have been friends since age 19, when they were both selected to train for Britain’s national team. Thirteen years later, as the 2012 Olympics approach, each woman must decide how much a gold medal means to her, and how a win or a loss will affect the duo’s long, deep relationship. Ultimately, Cleave (who also wrote Little Bee) examines the cost and value of human relationships versus human accomplishments. You may know, from the first chapter, who will win — but will you understand why?
Sure, you’ve seen the deliciously sharp movie starring a young Reese Witherspoon and a young-ish Matthew Broderick, but do yourself a favor and pick up the text version of this story about a dysfunctional high school community. Tracy Flick plans to conquer the race for class president the way she’s already won everything else she sets her mind (and libido) to, but a teacher named Jim McCallister decides he’s having none of her manipulative, conniving ways. Of course he’s not.
The subtitle is “A Novel of Love, Honor, and Really Bad Weather.” Don’t blame me if you read it and can’t return to work or normal life because you realize you must immediately get your hands on everything else Willett has ever written. No, this is not a story about the National Book Award, but the character who once won it starts a different kind of contest, one between sisters, and before you know it, you’ll be living in Willett World, too, with ab muscles sore from laughing to show for it.
If you haven’t already had the pleasure of reading this dark, steampunk tale of dueling magicians, you have a treat in store. Celia and Marco, each raised to be the best of the best of Thaumaturges, know from their childhoods that they will one day face a great rival. What they didn’t know was that they’d fall in love, and that complicates not just their lives, but the entire existence of Le Cirque des Reves, or “The Night Circus,” to which they owe their existence and allegiance.
Do you have a favorite novel about a contest or a prize? Tell us about it!