One-Minute Book Reviews

October 7, 2009

Late Night With Jan Harayda — Why Amos Oz, Herta Müller or Philip Roth Could Win the Nobel Prize in Literature Tomorrow

Update at 10:20 a.m. Oct. 8, 2009:  Herta Müller has won the Nobel Prize. Here’s a link to the AP story on the award from Stockholm.

First, the Nobel Prize in literature does not honor “the world’s best writer.” The guidelines say that the award must go to a writer whose work has an “idealistic tendency,” or fosters the good of humanity. The Swedish Academy has interpreted that mandate broadly: It has often honored writers, such as Toni Morrison, who have spoken out against injustice rather than those whose work is uncritically altruistic.

Within that framework, here are a few reasons why the prize might go tomorrow to Amoz Oz, Philip Roth or Herta Müller, all ranked among the five most popular with bettors by the odds-maker Ladbrokes:

1. Amos Oz and Philip Roth: Both novelists have been considered strong candidates for years. In 2008 the Swedish Academy gave out the Nobel Prize in literature on Yom Kippur, when observant Jews do not work. And the judges could have faced accusations of religious insensitivity if they had honored Oz, an Israeli, or Roth, an American Jew, then, because the award would have forced the winner to choose between observing the holiday and giving interviews to the media (or even accepting a work-related phone call from Stockholm). Another factor that could favor Roth: Some critics believe that the Swedish Academy screwed the late John Updike — at the time of his death, the best all-around writer in the United States — perhaps because of anti-Americanism. I would not put it that strongly, in part because the Nobel Prize has always had a strong if unofficial geographic-distribution policy, which compels the judges to spread the awards out around the world. But I still hold the view that I expressed on this site before Updike died: “If Updike lived in Greenland, he would have had the Nobel Prize decades ago.”

2. Herta Müller: Müller is a Romanian-born resident of Germany whose work takes a “brutally honest look at life in communist Romania,” M.A. Orthofer wrote over at the Complete Review. And in recent decades,  the Swedish Academy has seemed to favor such uncompromising stances. Orthofer lists other reasons why Müller could win (and why she might not), all of them plausible, at the blog the Literary Saloon. Don’t miss his comments if you’re interested in the politics of the prize or if a victory by Müller leaves you shaking your head.

The Nobel Prize in literature will be announced in a live Webcast from Stockholm at 6 a.m. Eastern Time (11 a.m. GMT and 1 p.m. CET) on Thursday, October 8.

October 6, 2009

2009 Nobel Prize in Literature Winner To Be Announced on Thursday, Oct. 8, at 6 a.m. Eastern Time (US), 11 a.m. GMT and 1 p.m. CET — Live Webcast and Interview

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:16 am
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The winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced in a live Webcast from the Swedish Academy in Stockholm, Sweden, on Thursday, Oct. 8, at 6 a.m. Eastern (US) Time or 11 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and 1 p.m. Central European Time (CET). You can watch the live Webcast and learn more about the award on the news page of the Nobel Prize site. An interview with Peter Englund, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, will follow the announcement.

October 10, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda – Why Did the Swedish Academy Announce the Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature on Yom Kippur? Cultural Insensitivity in Stockholm

Did you look at the lists of the bookies’ favorites for the 2008 Nobel Prize in literature and think, “There’s no way Philip Roth or Amos Oz is going to get the award this year”? I did for an obvious reason: The Swedish Academy said it was going to announce the winner on Yom Kippur. And I couldn’t believe the Academy would be so religiously tone-deaf as to ask a Jewish writer to take a call from the judges — and face the ensuing media onslaught — on a high holy day. The judges would have looked like cretins even if the winner had been too overjoyed to object. In naming the day of the prize, the Academy all but told Roth and Oz to forget it.

The question is: Why did the Academy decide to announce the winner on Yom Kippur in the first place? To my knowledge no important literary prizes are awarded on major religious holidays. That timing may reflect a literary reality as much as a respect for people’s spirituality: Writers get so few prizes that they deserve to be able enjoy them when they do.

To much of the world, the Nobel Prize in literature represents high culture and Hollywood stands for low. But even the Academy Awards presenters don’t hand out the Oscars on Easter. By deciding to award the literature prize on Yom Kippur, the Swedish Academy has made Hollywood look like a pillar of good taste.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 11, 2007

An Overdue Nobel Prize in Literature for Doris Lessing

At last, the Swedish Academy honors the author of the landmark The Golden Notebook

The mandate for the Nobel Prize in Literature specifies that it must go to an author whose works show an “idealistic” tendency. In practice this means that the award www.nobelprize.org sometimes has more to do with politics than literary merit. But the Swedish Academy got it right — if belatedly — in giving the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature to the novelist Doris Lessing, born in what is now Iran and a resident of London. As Motoko Rich and Sarah Lyall write in today’s online New York Times:

“Ms. Lessing’s strongest legacy may be that she inspired a generation of feminists with her breakthrough novel, The Golden Notebook. In its citation, the Swedish Academy said: ‘The burgeoning feminist movement saw it as a pioneering work and it belongs to the handful of books that informed the 20th century view of the male-female relationship.’

“Ms. Lessing wrote candidly about the inner lives of women and rejected the notion that they should abandon their own lives to marriage and children. The Golden Notebook, published in 1962, tracked the story of Anna Wulf, a woman who wanted to live freely and was in some ways Ms. Lessing’s alter-ego.

“Because she frankly depicted female anger and aggression, she was attacked as ‘unfeminine.’ In response, Ms. Lessing wrote: ‘Apparently what many women were thinking, feeling, experiencing came as a great surprise.'”

The well-organized and comprehensive site Doris Lessing: A Retrospective www.dorislessing.org rightly says that Lessing broke new ground with The Golden Notebook and its portrait of the women of its era: “Anna Wulf, like Lessing herself, strives for ruthless honesty as she aims to free herself from the chaos, emotional numbness, and hypocrisy afflicting her generation.”

Since its inception, One-Minute Book Reviews has had a policy that at least 50 percent of its reviews cover books by women. The Golden Notebook was one of the novels that helped to shape my thinking about the role of women and my belief that the small steps that all of us take in our own lives are the first step toward real justice for both sexes. Would more book clubs were reading this instead of The Manny!

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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