The 15-Minute Pulitzer
And now I know! I will never run out of books to read! How do I know, you ask? Well …
Upton Sinclair’s books alone could take me into the next decade, he was, how do you say, prolific. That may even be an understatement. He wrote more works of fiction and non-fiction (novels, political thought, and stage plays) than years he lived. He died in 1968 at age 90. In my mind he was most famous for writing The Jungle, that muckraking expose of the meat-packing industry. (Interesting note: In 1904 Sinclair spent seven weeks in disguise during an undercover information-gathering spree for that book.) But he also wrote the book upon which Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie There Will Be Blood was based (the book is called Oil!), The Fasting Cure (for all of us who are interested in improving our health through not eating), and 11 books in his Lanny Budd series of which the third installment, Dragon’s Teeth, won him the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1943.
And what a miserable book! What a miserably enjoyable, engaging, thrilling, inspiring, thought-provoking book! (Yes, I liked it.) In fact, of the 25 books associated with the Pulitzers that I’ve read, I might put this in the top two. And you call it miserable, you ask? Well, it is about the rise of the Nazis in Germany. Also, I feel I have some rapport with Dragon’s Teeth and its author, Mr. Sinclair, after powering through over 600 pages about a Franco-American playboy and his entanglements with the Nazis at a pace of plotting so languid it was like reading underwater (though effectively capturing Mr. Budd’s pace of living) with enough, just enough, mind you, bursts of speed to keep me from accusing Sinclair of being a navel-gazing, withholding little son-of-a-Budd Gunmaker (sorry, gotta read the book to get that one). Then, consider the extent to which Lanny Budd’s lifestyle made me envious, a most difficult psychological distraction to deal with, and the immense number of exclamation points included in the text by the honorable Mr. Sinclair. (!) Seriously, I suppose we all have our weaknesses punctuationally speaking (I have a weakness for parentheses if you don’t recall), but after Dragon’s Teeth it’s going to be awhile before an exclamation point in a sentence does anything but leave me cold.
Written in 1942 in the midst of the U.S. involvement in WWII and set in 1930′s Europe, Sinclair’s novel is not lacking in drama, even in melodrama, as both Lanny Budd and his wife, Irma, note, and the title, especially in this “Decade of Smaug” (you’ve reduced this book to a Tolkien reference yet again, you ask? Yes. Yes I have.) is rather intriguing. “Dragon’s Teeth? Really?” I asked. “Oooh. Let me read more.” Well, unfortunately, I had to read to the final page to figure out exactly what Sinclair was going for with his title, but the resulting ambivalent metaphor was invigorating, that is to say, well worth it.