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Battle of the Pulitzer’s – Round 1

Home Town vs. Empire Falls

I am reading, totally by coincidence, works by two Pulitzer Prize winning authors. This is not an everyday occurrence for me, and I am pretty excited about it. An even stranger coincidence is that both stories are set in small New England towns and both take place in the same time era – within the past 50 years.

Home Town by Tracy Kidder (1999 Washington Square Press) is suggested reading for a non-fiction writing class I am taking. The instructor wants us to know what literary non-fiction looks like. Kidder won his Pulitzer in 1982 for an earlier non-fiction work, The Soul of a New Machine.

Empire Falls by Richard Russo (2001 Alfred A. Knopf) is the other book. I am reading it for my book club this month. Russo won the Pulitzer for this work of fiction.

Home Town
I am having a tough time with Home Town. This book explores real people in a real college town in western Massachusetts. Kidder introduces many characters and offers an equal number of descriptions of the town. It is not a page turner, but, by page 210, I had learned several new words.

Tabula rasa — n (Latin – a scraped tablet)
the mind in its uninformed original state or an opportunity for a fresh start; clean slate

Crepuscular — adj. (Latin crepusculum dusk, from creper dark)
of or like twilight; dim or of certain insects, birds, and other animals – active at twilight or just before dawn

Nefarious — adj. (Latin nefārius, from nefās unlawful deed)
evil, wicked, sinful

Ontogeny – n. (Greek origin)
the development or developmental history of an individual organism.

Contretemps – n. (French from contre against + temps time)
an awkward or difficult situation or mishap or in fencing, a feint made with the purpose of producing a counterthrust from one’s opponent

Empire Falls
On the other hand, I’m 100 pages further into Empire Falls and haven’t reached for a dictionary yet. I don’t need to or want to because if I don’t understand a word, I just don’t care. I am in deep with Russo’s portrayal of life in a blue-collar town in Maine.

Russo has a lighter touch with scene description and more interactive characters. No one character is very compelling individually, but the interaction between all of them is fascinating. He is a master at setting tone and pulling the reader right in.

Round 1 – Goes to Russo for “can’t wait to readability.”
Round 2 – tbd when I finish both of them.

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German Faux Pas from CS in CA When I was still living back in Germany many years ago, my home town was Nuremberg. Our neighbor city Fuerth used to have many US military camps. One day, I took the train from Nuremberg to downtown Fuerth, which is about 5 or 6 train stops away. At the first stop, an American soldier sitting next to me asked ‘Is this Fuerth?’. Which unfortunately sounded to my German ears like ‘is this first?’. So I answered ‘Yes, that’s first’, very proud of myself to help a stranger out. The guy jumped out of the train – and found himself nowhere close to where he wanted to go…. As soon as I saw the confused look on the poor guy’s face, standing in the middle of nowhere, I realized my mistake, but it was too late, the train was already moving again…. I was so embarrassed and so sorry…

Faux Pas Spanish Style From PM in NC
When Brian was in the Air Force, he was stationed in Toledo, Spain for 3 years. There wasn’t a lot of English spoken in Spain at that time, so the Air Force assigned a language specialist to the squadrons. Brian had a Sergeant who was from Mexico and obviously spoke good Mexican Spanish. When this fellow first arrived, they went out to eat. The Sergeant ordered ” 4 Tortillas” and when the waiter tried to warn him about it, he was adamant “I want 4 tortillas!” Most people in the US now know what a Mexican tortilla is, but they don’t know that a Spanish Tortilla is a POTATO OMLETTE. So this Mexican guy who thought he knew Spanish….got 4 BIG potato omelets! We still laugh about this one!

Living without Costco from BW in OR
You know, I can relate to your Mish Mosh about living without a Costco card, and all the withdrawal associated with that…..I’m happy to report I am finally living without Goldfish crackers! But I still stop and look at them in the store, which conjures up memories of happy little faces, crumbs in the car, and how those Goldfish went everywhere with us. It’s very emotional.

Miami Story from ms in CA
Wow, loved the Miami story. Heartbreak, struggling for life, complete exhaustion, revitalization, emotions, then memories via pickles for life. Good job!