The Pulitzer Board consists of working journalists and journalism professors, most with a deep respect for literature but relatively little familiarity with the literary world. This can be a strength and a weakness. The Pulitzer’s excellent record at singling out literary works that also appeal to a lot of readers is one reason why it has so much more influence than “insider” prizes like the National Book Award.

However, because the Pulitzer Board is fairly representative of educated Americans, it surely includes a lot of people who don’t really have time to read fiction — or, at least, literary fiction — anymore. Past boards might have been able to settle on a title that most of them had read even if it wasn’t offered as a finalist by the jury; reading at least a few of the “big” novels published during the year was something a lot more people did before the Internet and cable TV came along. In 21st-century America, the novel has become a marginalized and Balkanized art form, and even when avid fiction fans compare notes, they often find they’ve read nothing in common.