Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Prize Season

The Nobel Prizes will be announced in a few weeks, starting on October 3. I see that the date for the prize in Literature has not been set, but it will be soon. This sets off both a round of head-banging and a round of speculation in my house and with various friends.

The headbanging is a combination of head-scratching over certain past prize winners and frustration over those who didn't win. While I really can't comment on the virtues of writers such as Sully Prudhomme (1901), Halldor Laxness (1955), and Grazia Deledda (1926), I can certainly roll my eyes over the prizes awarded to Pearl Buck (1938), John Steinbeck (1962), and Herman Hesse (1946 - oh, the angsty teenage readers of The Glass Bead Game and Siddhartha). One might wonder about John Galsworthy (1932; surely popular rather than literary? yes, I know, a dangerous distinction) and Eugene O'Neill (1936), who has not aged well. I have no doubts about the greatness of T.S. Eliot (1948), William Faulkner (1949), Thomas Mann (1929), George Bernard Shaw (1925), and William Butler Yeats (1923).

But then there are the great absences, those who never won. Leo Tolstoy, who lived until 1910. James Joyce. Vladimir Nabokov. Italo Calvino. W. H. Auden. Borges. Chehkov. Henry James. Joseph Conrad. D.H. Lawrence. Virginia Woolf. Edith Wharton. Thomas Hardy. Isak Dinesen and Robertson Davies. (Yes, this is heavily tilted toward English-language writers.) Please do nominate your favorite non-winners.

And the speculation: who are the living writers mostly likely to be awarded the big one (and who haven't already won)? I mostly know English-language writers, and my candidates among them would be Tom Stoppard, A. S. Byatt, and Salman Rushdie, in no particular order. Perhaps Ian McEwan?And you?


Elaine Fine said...

Any award for any kind of artistic achievement that is given by a committee is bound to miss the mark. At least my mark!

My head is still mostly in the 19th and 20th centuries when it comes to literature, and my favorite writers tend to be people that wouldn't make anybody's list. But I certainly agree with the prize-worthiness of the people your list of non winning writers, and I'm glad you included Davies in the mix.

My list would include Theodore Dreiser at the very top. Sinclair Lewis, who won the Nobel Prize mentions him and Willa Cather (among others) in his 1930 Nobel Lecture.

Daniel Wolf said...

Thomas Pynchon and Paul Auster.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Elaine, while I certainly have my disagreements with the committee (which is made up of humans, after all), I also have my agreements! A good number of the awards are reasonable and defensible.

Daniel, those are interesting suggestions and surely ones the committee would entertain. I have read only Auster's NY Trilogy, which I admire without liking much. Shamefully, I've never read any Pynchon.

I love Davies and feel oddly smug about the fact that I discovered him by myself at a time when nobody I knew had read anything of his.

Anonymous said...

No prize awarded annually, even if not limited to work of the year, can be expected to closely approximate a "great writers of the century" list. There are too many other restrictions, among them being still living at the time of the award. If the Nobel committee wants to create a list of great writers of the 20th century, it should wait until at least 2050 and make a retrospective list then.

And the judgments expressed here are just as questionable as the committee's. Judging from the number of productions I see announced, theatre directors don't think O'Neill hasn't aged well. And Steinbeck? One of the few laureates who's actually any good! (Hemingway, that boring old git, certainly isn't.)

Ivan Ilic said...

I am far from the first to suggest that Haruki Murakami has deserved one for years, but I will re-iterate that claim here.

'The Wind-up Bird Chronicle' is better than most books written in the past 50 years.

With the release of his 1Q84 this year in English and French (it was released previously in Japanese and German) there really shouldn't be any more discussion whether he deserves it or not.

In other words, it's not a question of 'if' but of 'when'.

I just finished volume one of 1Q84 in French, part two is on the way.

From browsing in English language bookstores it seems to me that the French translators are a lot more elegant, but his English language readership is still huge, suggesting no real handicap there.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Thanks, Ivan. I have not read any Murakami, which I realize is a big gap. I'll try to read something of his soon. My French is not good enough for me to read him in French, alas.

Calimac, opinions will differ on many of the laureates, I am sure. Which do you like, in addition to Steinbeck? I am not much of a Hemingway fan, myself.