After Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016, I figured there was a chance for those of us odds makers had written off. So, I have my speech ready. It begins, “Åh, det borde du inte ha.” And it ends, “Så länge och tack för alla kronor.”
If you speak Swedish, you can see I tried to be humble. If you don’t speak Swedish, then you don’t know what I said, which is just as well.
I checked the latest line at Ladbrokes, and they still favor French author Annie Ernaux (shown here) at 8 to 1 odds. Jamaica Kincaid is sitting at 12/1 and Jon Fosse was at 14/1. The first couple of times I went to a horse race, I put $2 on along shot when I saw that if I won I’d get a big pay off. I lost the $2. I wonder how many people had money riding on Bob Dylan in 2016.
I was happy when Louise Glück won the nobel last year because I’ve been reading her work for ages. She writes with power and truth, both of which have attracted me to her work.
Alex Shephard writes, in the New Republic, “Every year I publish this preview, and people bet real, actual money based on it. If you are reading this because you want to bet on the Nobel Prize in Literature, please—and I can’t stress this enough—don’t do that. Buy something useful instead, like a lottery ticket. Or bet on the Nobel Prize in Literature, just do the exact opposite of what I say.”
Nonetheless, he thinks Maryse Conde, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Yan Lianke, Can Xue, and Yu Hua. As he warns, don’t bet on it.
No Americans are favored this year. So, there it is. I thought that if this wasn’t my year, then it was probably going to be Nora Roberts’ year. Or even Tom Clancy, may he rest in peace even though “he” keeps churning out new stuff.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of books, including “Fate’s Arrows,” which somebody needs to translate into Swedish before next year’s prizes.
UPDATE: 10-7-21 Apparently Tanzanian writer Abdulrazak Gurnah wasn’t on anyone’s radar. He lives in England and has a publisher there, but not a U.S. publisher. I suspect that will change. You can read the BBC story here: https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-58828947
According to the Nobel Prizes website, the selection committee commended Ishiguro as an author “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”
In his Nobel interview, Ishiguro said, “No, I don’t think it will sink in for a long time. I mean, it’s a ridiculously prestigious honour, in as far as these kinds of things go. I don’t think you would have a more prestigious prize than the Nobel Prize. And comments I would make, I mean, one is, a lot of that prestige must come from the fact that the Swedish Academy has successfully, I think, kept above the fray of partisan politics and so on. And I think it’s remained one of the few things that’s respected, whose integrity is respected by many people around the world, and so I think a lot of the sense of honour of receiving the Prize comes from the actual status of the Swedish Academy. And I think that’s a great achievement unto itself, over all these years the Swedish Academy has managed to retain that high ground, in all the different walks of life that it honours. And then the other reason it’s a terrific honour for me is because … you know I come in a line of lots of my greatest heroes, absolutely great authors. The greatest authors in history have received this Prize, and I have to say, you know, it’s great to come one year after Bob Dylan who was my hero since the age of 13. He’s probably my biggest hero.”
Some of my favorite quotes from Ishiguro’s work
“I have this feeling that all it will take will be one moment, even a tiny moment, provided it’s the correct one. Like a cord suddenly snapping and a thick curtain dropping to the floor to reveal a whole new world, a world full of sunlight and warmth.” – The Unconsoled
“What is the point of worrying oneself too much about what one could or could not have done to control the course one’s life took? Surely it is enough that the likes of you and I at least try to make our small contribution count for something true and worthy. And if some of us are prepared to sacrifice much in life in order to pursue such aspirations, surely that in itself, whatever the outcome, cause for pride and contentment.” – The Remains of the Day
“That was the only time, as I stood there, looking at that strange rubbish, feeling the wind coming across those empty fields, that I started to imagine just a little fantasy thing, because this was Norfolk after all, and it was only a couple of weeks since I’d lost him. I was thinking about the rubbish, the flapping plastic in the branches, the shore-line of odd stuff caught along the fencing, and I half-closed my eyes and imagined this was the spot where everything I’d ever lost since my childhood had washed up, and I was now standing here in front of it, and if I waited long enough, a tiny figure would appear on the horizon across the field, and gradually get larger until I’d see it was Tommy, and he’d wave, maybe even call. The fantasy never got beyond that –I didn’t let it– and though the tears rolled down my face, I wasn’t sobbing or out of control. I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be.” – Never Let Me Go
“The evening’s the best part of the day. You’ve done your day’s work. Now you can put your feet up and enjoy it.” – The Remains of the Day
“If you are under the impression you have already perfected yourself, you will never rise to the heights you are no doubt capable of.” – The Remains of the Day
“Perhaps there are those who are able to go about their lives unfettered by such concerns. But for those like us, our fate is to face the world as orphans, chasing through long years the shadows of vanished parents. There is nothing for it but to try and see through our missions to the end, as best we can, for until we do so, we will be permitted no calm.” – When We Were Orphans
“When you are young, there are many things which appear dull and lifeless. But as you get older, you will find these are the very things that are most important to you.” – An Artist of the Floating World
“But God will know the slow tread of an old couple’s love for each other, and understand how black shadows make part of its whole.” – The Buried Giant
“If I’m alone at home, I get increasingly restless, bothered by the idea that I’m missing some crucial encounter out there somewhere. But if I’m left by myself in someone else’s place, I often find myself a nice sense of peace engulfing me. I love sinking into an unfamiliar sofa with whatever book happens to be lying nearby.” – Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall
“I would like to learn, or remember, how to live. I come to Hollins Pond not so much to learn how to live as, frankly, to forget about it. That is, I don’t think I can learn from a wild animal how to live in particular…but I might learn something of mindlessness, something of the purity of living in the physical senses and the dignity of living without bias or motive.” — Annie Dillard
Perhaps it as escaped your notice, but all “who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction” are not European, and neither is their focus restricted to fiction.
That said, Annie Dillard’s literature invites your consideration.
Much has been written about the lack of precision in the passages in Alfred Nobel’s 1895 will outlining the scope and intent of the Nobel Prizes. Yet, within the world of fiction, nonfiction and poetry, outstanding work seeks (and finds) its own angle of repose, and there it sits like a beating heart within the body of all literature as that which best sustains the art within its time and place. Its pulse beat is unmistakable. Had Nobel been more precise, our definition of great literature might have had the clarity of a very small pond.
Much has been written about the great precision author Annie Dillard brings to her fiction and narrative nonfiction, including her Pulitzer Prize winning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) and her metaphysical exploration of God, pain and suffering, Holy the Firm.
In spite of Dillard’s well-developed powers of observation and the precision with which she describes that she sees, critics and other readers have not been able to pigeon-hole the author’s intentions and stance. Henry David Thoreau’s influence on her work is obvious; her work also calls to mind such nature writers as Aldo Leopold and Edward Abbey as well as the transcendent quality of anthropologist Loren Eiseley.
Yet, in an age where knowledge and respect for the natural world tend to go hand in hand with advocacy, Dillard’s focus is nonjudgemental. She observes and writes without bias and without prescription.
“Dillard dazzlingly and fearsomely expresses what most people never pause to notice. That facility with language and capacity for sitting still and remaining awake to detail constitute her great gift. Her central contribution to ecotheology is that she displays, in minutiae, what has been and what still exists in a number of significant bioregions. She also exhibits for the ecological thinker that familiar twentieth-century phenomenon: an inability to move from observation to ethic, a sense of personal insignificance and alienation, a tendency to let things alone,” writes Smith.
Dillard’s work returns again and again to the natural world and to man’s place within it. While critics and other readers might be more comfortable if her writings could be defined with a short, crisp, unambiguous statement, such a thing would greatly limit the scope of Dillard’s most outstanding work in an ideal direction.
In her New York Times review of Dillard’s 2007 novel The Maytrees, Michelle Green aptly sums up the author to the extent that that’s possible: “In the three decades since Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, the nonfiction debut in which she introduced a prose style so gorgeously precise that every sentence sang, this poet, essayist and journalist has written nine original volumes powered by spare but brilliant language.”
An ideal direction, to be sure.
A recent suggestion by critic Janice Harayda that I consider what nature writer might be worthy of the Nobel Prize was the welcome catalyst for this post.