As many of you may have heard last Monday, the Pulitzer Prizes were announced and there was no winner in the 2012 Fiction category. This is the eleventh time this has happened in the history of the prize, and it's been over thirty years since this sort of verdict had last been announced (in 1977, there was also no fiction winner, despite substantial books by Wallace Stegner and Raymond Carver coming out that year).
As a collector, book awards are always an interesting curveball. Some years, a book that's been on my shelf for a few months suddenly becomes much more rare and coveted, while other years I find myself shamelessly drawn to booksellers trying to hunt down first editions of books I'd never heard of (Olive Kitteredge, I'm looking at you).
That's fine for someone who likes to play this sort of game, but what about the casual reader? I've worked in bookstores and can tell you first hand that people go out of their way to read each year's winner. Many times it's a stretch for these people, but it's a really special reach: a person used to reading Janet Evanovich books each summer will suddenly find themselves with Gilead. Legal thrillers miraculously take the backseat to Cormac McCarthy's The Road.
So, without a winner, what happens? People should consider these three finalists as a three-way-tie for first place, but I realize that's asking a lot. For most of us, the award is just a gold sticker on the jacket, but it's also a quiet invitation to challenge oneself with a book and I think it's presence alone consistently results in a spike in literary reading each year. Without it, we remain a step behind.