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HelloKiddo
10-01-2008, 01:25 AM
Well this is a little upsetting.

http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D93H89QO0&show_article=1

I think the US has produced many wonderful writers in the past, still does, and will in the future!

maxmordon
10-01-2008, 01:31 AM
A bit cocky in my opinion...

IceCreamEmpress
10-01-2008, 01:42 AM
Expect him to be replaced shortly. The Nobel Prize isn't supposed to be Eurocentric.

donroc
10-01-2008, 01:52 AM
Ho hum, more Euro "intelligentsia" bashing of the USA. I think we can live with it and without Nobel Prizes for Literature. I read a great essay years ago listing great writers who did not receive the prize while obscure little read Scandianvians and others did.

Also, Nobel intended the prize to be given to younger writers and to free the laureate to continue writing without worrying about money to survive, but instead it has devolved into an award given near the creative and physical end of the writer's life


I should think even those on AW who are writers and have attacked some of us for criticizing Euro bashing of the USA might take a small bit of umbrage at such ignorance and obvious bias.

Mr Flibble
10-01-2008, 01:55 AM
Well that's odd, because 48% of all nobel prize winners (http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Education/documents/2003/11/17/graph1.pdf) ( in all categories) are from the States.

I'd hardly call that Eurocentric.

However - the guys an idiot. Happens to every nationality. That doesn't mean we all are k?

You got 'em, we got 'em. I won't judge you by yours if you don't judge me by mine.

Ageless Stranger
10-01-2008, 01:56 AM
I should think even those on AW who are writers and have attacked some of us for criticizing Euro bashing of the USA might take a small bit of umbrage at such ignorance and obvious bias.

Oh believe me I do. And not just a small bit either. I gotta whole lotta umbrage to hurl. ICE is right though, this idiot will be replaced.

kuwisdelu
10-01-2008, 02:02 AM
He better be replaced soon.

Yeah, we're insular and dumb sometimes, but that doesn't mean we all are!

Idiot.

SPMiller
10-01-2008, 02:47 AM
Meh, as far as I can tell, he appears to be knocking US writers for aiming to entertain. As opposed to producing literature that fits some vague notion of "art".

If that's so, I'm proud to be a US writer. And believe me, it takes me an awful lot to be proud of my citizenship these days.

RG570
10-01-2008, 04:38 AM
Truth hurts, doesn't it.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh.

BenPanced
10-01-2008, 04:51 AM
I guess maybe I should start the 700-page tome I've been planning. It's 500 pages of me staring out the window and bemoaning the fact I've never been swimming in the ocean and 200 pages of me blaming my father.

I'd originally planned it to be 900 pages, with an extra 200 pages describing the ninja attack that prevented me from getting a blue bicycle that one year for Christmas, but I didn't want to sully my creative vision. Besides, I hear Oprah doesn't like ninjas. Maybe once I've won, I can release an "author's cut" with the pages intact.

Did I mention each page is a separate chapter? Oh, it's true!

JamieFord
10-01-2008, 05:02 AM
Argh. I hate it when jingoism leaches its way into non-political arenas. Then again, the Nobel Prize awards ceremony could be spiced up with a nice soccer riot!

Ken
10-01-2008, 05:58 AM
The 59-year-old author Jean-Paul Sartre declined the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he was awarded in October 1964. He said he always refused official distinctions and did not want to be "institutionalised".

http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1964/sartre-docu.html

One cool cat :-)

IceCreamEmpress
10-01-2008, 06:06 AM
Truth hurts, doesn't it.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Dude, he's excluding Canada, too.

And China, and Japan, and India, and everywhere in Africa, and all of South America.

The idea that only European literature is Nobel-worthy should make you, as a Canadian, just as annoyed as it does me.


I'd hardly call that Eurocentric.

This gentleman is saying specifically that he wants a Eurocentric focus for the Nobel Prize in Literature. That's not appropriate for an administrator of an international prize.

I actually don't care about the US writers so much as I do about the writers in the developing world--one of the best ways for writers in the industrialized world to discover writers from the developing world is through the Nobel Prize.

Naguib Mahfouz, Wole Soyinka, Orhan Pamuk, Gao Xingjian--all of these great writers are people I would never have heard of if the Nobel Prize in Literature was Eurocentric.

donroc
10-01-2008, 06:39 AM
On another note, the % of Americans who won Nobel Prizes is for all, but each discipline has different committees. Lit has nothing to do with Peace or the sciences. As an aside, My high school supplied Michaelson in Physics, Ehrlanger in Medicine, And Cornell in Physics.

scheherazade
10-01-2008, 06:48 AM
I think he's blaming American writers for writing about a culture that just happens to export itself around the world ad nauseum. Like... what are American writers supposed to do? Go travel to another country solely for the sake of writing a story about an American abroad? That's still a story about an American. Write what you know, right?

I think it's more a reaction to the fact that you cannot escape American culture no matter where you live in the world. That shouldn't be the fault of American writers though. As a Canadian I get a little sick of reading U.S. books where the writers don't recognize their national priveleges. Yet at the same time, I still read a lot of books by American writers because, as a nation, they offer a huge variety in content and style of stories... not to mention American publishers place a huge priority on telling a good story first and foremost.

donroc
10-01-2008, 07:05 AM
Some Americans writers are capable of understanding and writing about other cultures and their History.

IceCreamEmpress
10-01-2008, 07:11 AM
As I said above, I'm more concerned about Eurocentrism vis-a-vis the developing world. I think US writers can get their work out to the rest of the world more easily than, say, Nigerian writers or Bolivian writers or Laotian writers.

The Nobel Prize in Literature is not supposed to be for achievement by a European writer. It is supposed to be for achievement by a writer.

endless rewrite
10-01-2008, 01:13 PM
No I will not mention the winning of both WWI&II but remind you I was one of millions of Yanks who had to serve in Europe to help protect the West from the USSR.

Thank you for not being so misguided and vulgar as to insinuate you were responsible for winning both world wars. I was not aware that you were also responsible for saving us from Russia by being selflessly stationed in Europe. Perhaps you could spare five minutes, change into your superhero outfit and sort out the teddy bear monster under my niece's bed? Thank you.

If you're going to use one man's pompous opinion of American literature as an excuse to slam the inhabitants of fifty countries, then yet again you are not counter-punching anything, you are being ridiculous. As ridiculous as I would be to judge all Americans by the opinions of a few chest beating xenophobes.

After reading a number of your posts on the subject I still don't understand why you are determined to believe that Europe thinks so badly of 'you'. It is not the case and in your determination to prove that it is, you only end up showing your own bigotry.

If it is impossible to generalize on American thinking than how much more simplistic and misguided is it to think you can summarize and dismiss the opinions and actions of fifty different countries? (it was 50 at the last count and the Vatican City is debatable)

Momento Mori
10-01-2008, 02:10 PM
My favourite quote from that story is this:


Since Japanese writer Kenzaburo Oe won the award in 1994, the selections have had a distinct European flavor. Nine of the subsequent laureates were Europeans, including last year's winner, Doris Lessing of Britain. Of the other four, one was from Turkey and the others from South Africa, China and Trinidad. All had strong ties to Europe.

Ah yes, South Africa, China and Trinidad. Those great European nations ...

Honestly, does anyone care:

(a) What this numpty thinks; and

(b) Who wins the Nobel Prize anyway?

Pick someone at random from the street and ask them to name 5 Nobel Laureates for Literature and they're going to struggle. The only reason the numpty who heads the board would say something like this is to try and generate some interest away from the perennial "Will Bono Win The Nobel Peace Prize This Year?" discussions.

What's more interesting about the prize is who they don't give it to, rather than who they do. In recent years, the award has faced accusations that it's either politically motivated or it's given to writers who are perceived to not have too long to live (Harold Pinter and Doris Lessing). In fact, the reason why I loved Doris Lessing's reaction to being told she'd won the award was because she'd taken it as a badge of honour to be told back in the 60s that she'd never win it.

And please, let's all give it a rest about World War II, eh? A lot of people fought, a lot of people died, a lot of people suffered, and yet 60 years later we still have wars, we still have suffering and we still have ideological bullshit that involves blaming other people for our crap. Yeah, we really won the hell out of that war.

MM

Priene
10-01-2008, 02:16 PM
Naguib Mahfouz, Wole Soyinka, Orhan Pamuk, Gao Xingjian--all of these great writers are people I would never have heard of if the Nobel Prize in Literature was Eurocentric.

Orhan Pamuk is European.

HeronW
10-01-2008, 02:30 PM
Odd how 'great literature' defined is much like the one for porn, of the: I know it when I see it, variety. Anyone who writes in Poe's long-winded expository style would have a difficult time getting published today. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes tales would be shredded for their obvious inconsistancies. Sophocles would be excluded for his Greek Chorus interludes.

Stacia Kane
10-01-2008, 03:13 PM
Just fell in love with the edtor of The New Yorker, a little bit, there.


As for the rest of it...bleh. The guy's a jerk, and he needs to pull his head out of his European ass. Frankly I enjoy books by American writers a lot more than others and think they're better written.

I'm also in the process of reading a Booker Prize shortlisted novel, so I can discuss it in a public debate at my town's library next week, and have having a awful time because it's a dull, pointless book. Decent writing, nothing special IMO.

NeuroFizz
10-01-2008, 06:10 PM
Aside from the opportunities this issue has raised for shooting poison-tipped arrows across the Atlantic (from both sides), who gives a sh*t which countries or how many countries we are talking about when an administrator of an international, merit-based award presents a slanted and generalized view that suggests that members of a large population of writers are not competitive due to geography (and an oversimplified generalization of the associated culture).

Phaeal
10-01-2008, 06:24 PM
The squabbles between the Old and the New Worlds are eternal. I happen to think that the Nobel Prize for Literature should always be won by a Homo sapiens. I have no bias apart from that, and I'll be willing to admit other species as soon as they start writing or arrive from space with respectable publishing creds.

One of my favorite books about the American-European culture war is by America's first Nobel winner, Sinclair Lewis. It's called Dodsworth. I've read my copy to tatters and must get another.

mscelina
10-01-2008, 06:37 PM
*sigh*

Truly sad. A man of the arts should not wear blinders like that. So, the US is insular? Really. Funny that I missed that. This 'gentleman' has infused what is supposed to be an honor with a slant of prejudice that is not only unfortunate but should be eradicated from the Nobel system as quickly as possible.

A few years ago, I was talking with a young friend of mine who lives in England. He asked me for a reading list of 'good' American authors. I asked him which American authors he'd studied in school.

He'd studied "The Catcher in the Rye." That was it. Just Salinger. The rest of the American literary tradition--Faulkner, Hemmingway, Twain, Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, Poe and so forth--hadn't even been mentioned. I beleive (as an international citizen who spent half of her year in France during childhood) that there is a definite European prejudice against the American arts. The concept that Europe is the only place you can sit down right without being beaten for it is bogus, much like the old idea that in order to be an artist you had to live in Paris or that to be a poet you had to live in Italy. (Not that I would mind any of those, mind you, but still...)

It's like there's a mindset that culture cannot survive in a country where capitalism is king. *shrug* There are days when I have my doubts about that but to dismiss all American writers with one heavily tarred brush?

Ridiculous. Unacceptable. Completely out of touch with the realities of modern culture.

Oh, and by the way--an alliance won the World Wars. Donroc is proof that American authors aren't bound to insular American culture in their work. And for every Eurocentric opinion there is a responding anti-European sentiment. Doesn't make it right, but it is reality. Seems to me that we should respond to this as writers and leave the political bullcrap out of it.

Susan Lanigan
10-01-2008, 07:08 PM
I see it was two posts in before somebody reset the Hitler clock... :)

Carmy
10-01-2008, 07:31 PM
Let's stir the pot a bit more: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/oct/01/us.literature.insular.nobel Note the last paragraph of the article.

I think we need to remember that this is a Literature prize, for those who write literary novels. Most of what is published is not literary. Personally, few literary novels can hold my interest beyond the first couple of chapters. And they are insular, regardless of where they were written.

Concerning the Booker: I tried to read one years ago and fell asleep after two pages. In recent years, that particular award seems to have been a ploy to curry favour with certain nationalities.

As for WWII -- come on now, if it hadn't been for John Wayne, we'd have lost the war.

CaroGirl
10-01-2008, 07:39 PM
Whether someone enjoys a particular novel is a matter of taste. A lot of people love the excitement and adventure of many popular genre novels, and think books that are labelled "literary" are boring. Personally, I feel exactly the opposite.

Genre books get best-seller lists and large readership. Literary books get industry prizes and, often, recognition as having forged a path into new territory. The nationality of their authors shouldn't influence their eligibility for a international prize (particularly if it comes with a $1.3M purse). Thankfully, the committees that award international literature prizes are typically made up of a cross-section of people who, I hope, can collectively make an unbiased decision. Naive? Maybe.

willietheshakes
10-01-2008, 07:42 PM
Concerning the Booker: I tried to read one years ago and fell asleep after two pages. In recent years, that particular award seems to have been a ploy to curry favour with certain nationalities.


I'll put aside my reflexive, expletive-laden response and instead ask, simply, "How so? What do you mean?"

Momento Mori
10-01-2008, 08:41 PM
mscelina:
I beleive (as an international citizen who spent half of her year in France during childhood) that there is a definite European prejudice against the American arts

I would respectfully disagree. Culturally, the United States remains dominant in the arts of music and cinema in particular, wielding a critical influence over those mediums in European countries. Now, that dominance has created a fear in certain countries (look at the protectionism that France in particular has with regard to its cinema), but in terms of the medium, film makers and musicians are clearly influenced and respect it.

With literature it's a little more tricky and I don't think that's so much a product of intolerance as it is cultural peculiarities and what a country's population en masse is generally interested in. For example, in the United Kingdom there's still a lingering obsession with class - it touches a great deal of modern literary fiction. Immigration and the integration of immigrants is also a popular theme (as is the case with France as well, I think). Traditionally, they're subjects that are seen (rightly or wrongly) as not being addressed within US fiction.

Then there's the war ... Maybe it's best not to get into the politics of that, but the way in which that shattered the European continent is something that touches and fascinates a lot of European writers and (as is obvious from this discussion) is something that Europeans have a different perspective on than those on the US side of The Pond.

What I'm saying is that thematically, we in Europe are perhaps less likely to completely identify with the issues and perspectives explored by US authors because we're coming at it from a different perspective. I'm not saying that some people don't get wanky about it because they plainly do, but the fact that writers such as Cormac McCarthy or Philip Roth or John Updike are as much respected over here as they are over in the US and as popular, suggests to me that there isn't that much of a prejudice.

To throw petrol on the flames, I will say that there's been a lot of US fiction over the last few years that's been focused on 9/11 and the Iraq war and perhaps there is a sense in which some US writers are turning in and using that as an opportunity to reflect on what US society currently is. I'm not saying that those aren't important events, but they are peculiarly American experiences rooted in American attitudes and it can be difficult for that to resonate with a European (speaking generally).


carmy:
come on now, if it hadn't been for John Wayne, we'd have lost the war.

Meh, Wayne did everything he could not to fight in the war but then made his cinematic reputation from it. Give me Jimmy Stewart and Clarke Gable any day of the week - those guys were in the shit, doing their missions with ordinary men - Stewart flew bombing sorties over Europe and did his full complement of missions and was determined to sign up to serve. I've got more respect for them than I do for Wayne.

MM

Shadow_Ferret
10-01-2008, 08:44 PM
The Nobel Prize *yawns* They still give that out?

willietheshakes
10-01-2008, 08:46 PM
The Nobel Prize *yawns* They still give that out?

Just another insular American...

CaroGirl
10-01-2008, 08:50 PM
The Nobel Prize *yawns* They still give that out?
Isn't there a thread in the Movies and TV forum calling you right now?

Soccer Mom
10-01-2008, 09:06 PM
Let's keep the discussion on topic.

http://images.icanhascheezburger.com/completestore/2008/5/17/momcatgive128555200553412586.jpg

Ol' Fashioned Girl
10-01-2008, 09:07 PM
When Irena Sendler lost to Al Gore, I gave up on the Nobel awards.

Stacia Kane
10-01-2008, 09:16 PM
Whether someone enjoys a particular novel is a matter of taste. A lot of people love the excitement and adventure of many popular genre novels, and think books that are labelled "literary" are boring. Personally, I feel exactly the opposite.

Genre books get best-seller lists and large readership. Literary books get industry prizes and, often, recognition as having forged a path into new territory. The nationality of their authors shouldn't influence their eligibility for a international prize (particularly if it comes with a $1.3M purse). Thankfully, the committees that award international literature prizes are typically made up of a cross-section of people who, I hope, can collectively make an unbiased decision. Naive? Maybe.

See, I like literary novels. I was excited to be given a Booker shortlist novel free, and excited at the prospect of discussing it. I'm just disappointed by this one because I don't see any new trails being blazed; I don't see any universal themes being explored, and I'm not seeing the writing as anything special either. I was looking forward to reading something I could really sink my teeth into, but the book feels superficial. It's not an indictment of literary fiction of English fiction; it's just a comment that just because a book is up for a prestigious prize doesn't mean it's great, any more than you can say American writers are incapable of being great.

Phaeal
10-01-2008, 10:15 PM
Genre books get bestseller lists and large readership? Just about as often as literary novels win big money prizes. Most of us, genre and lit, are grubbing around together in the trenches, so let's dispense with the endless "you sold out" and "you're an elitist" implications and be nice to each other.

Myself, I'm an elitist genre writer. ;)

CaroGirl
10-01-2008, 10:40 PM
Genre books get bestseller lists and large readership? Just about as often as literary novels win big money prizes. Most of us, genre and lit, are grubbing around together in the trenches, so let's dispense with the endless "you sold out" and "you're an elitist" implications and be nice to each other.

Myself, I'm an elitist genre writer. ;)
I hope you're not implying that I wasn't playing nice. Sure I'm generalizing to include the TOP of the genre and literary pile and just saying that the accolades for each are different, not the quality of the work. I'm an aspiring literary writer who knows there's no way in hell I'll ever win a prize. Just like most aspiring genre writers know they won't make the best seller list.

Phaeal
10-01-2008, 10:44 PM
I hope you're not implying that I wasn't playing nice. Sure I'm generalizing to include the TOP of the genre and literary pile and just saying that the accolades for each are different, not the quality of the work. I'm an aspiring literary writer who knows there's no way in hell I'll ever win a prize. Just like most aspiring genre writers know they won't make the best seller list.

I'm saying that most of us are grubbing in the trenches together and should be nice to each other.

As for aspirations, don't KNOW you'll never win a prize. I don't KNOW I'll never make the bestseller list. ;)

donroc
10-01-2008, 10:58 PM
I like to think I write the best I can in any genre, and if it remains genre to the reader or become "literary" in another's mind, so be it. It's the pride in work that matters most to me, and the $$$/accolades are secondary. Perhaps it is my age. Most of the people of my parents' and grandparents' generations who wished me well are dead, and more than a few friends of my generation as well.

IceCreamEmpress
10-02-2008, 06:09 AM
Orhan Pamuk is European.

He's from Turkey. Although Turkey is politically part of Europe, the Turkish literary tradition is not part of the European literary tradition. Pamuk was the first Turkish person to win a Nobel.

IceCreamEmpress
10-02-2008, 06:12 AM
What I'm saying is that thematically, we in Europe are perhaps less likely to completely identify with the issues and perspectives explored by US authors because we're coming at it from a different perspective.

That's fine.

And people in Europe are probably equally unlikely to completely identify with the issues and perspectives explored by, say, Cambodian authors, or authors from Gabon, or authors from Trinidad and Tobago, or authors from Yemen, or whatever. And this all makes sense--it's a darned big world.

The Nobel Prize is not supposed to be an award for the best European literature, though.

Momento Mori
10-02-2008, 04:20 PM
IceCreamEmpress:
The Nobel Prize is not supposed to be an award for the best European literature, though.

I never said that it was - my point was to counter the suggestion that Europeans are automatically prejudiced against US arts.

The guy who made that statement about US fiction is clearly a numpty. But he's also achieved what he set out to achieve, which is to get people talking about the Literature prize and who wins it.

MM

Sunnyside
10-02-2008, 07:59 PM
I blogged about this yesterday -- and here's the guts of my response to Mr. Engdahl's comments:

Apart from the "I know you are, but what am I?" tone of the remarks, I got a kick out of this because it sounds remarkably similar to the condescending tones Europeans used when tut-tutting American writers in the 19th century.

At that time, of course, Americans had something to prove. Despite defeating the most powerful army in the world during the American Revolution -- and even as a teeth-gnashing Thomas Jefferson provided foreign skeptics with skeletons to prove that American mammals were as large, or larger, than their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic -- Europeans were convinced that Americans, for the most part, had merely gotten lucky. As far as Europeans were concerned, Americans were mentally, physically, and culturally deficient.

While Horace Engdahl might sniff that American writers are "insular" or "too sensitive to trends," his complaints are strictly amateur hour when compared to those of 19th century critic Sidney Smith, who blasted all things American in the January 1820 issue of the Edinburgh Review:


"The Americans are a brave, industrious, and acute people; but they have hitherto given no indications of genius, and made no approaches to the heroic, either in their morality or character. They are but a recent offset indeed from England; and should make it their chief boast, for many generations to come, that they are sprung from the same race with Bacon and Shakespeare and Newton. Considering their numbers, indeed, and the favorable circumstances in which they have been placed, they have yet done marvelously little to assert the honor of such a descent, or to show that their English blood has been exalted or refined by their republican training and institutions...

"...they have done absolutely nothing for the Sciences, for the Arts, for Literature, or even for the statesman-like studies of Politics or Political Economy...

"In the four quarters of the globe, who reads an American book? or goes to an American play? or looks at an American picture or statue? . . .

"When these questions are fairly and favorably answered, their laudatory epithets may be allowed: But, till that can be done, we would seriously advise them to keep clear of superlatives."
Suffice it to say, Americans were not amused--and it was in this rather poisonous atmosphere that an upstart American writer named Washington Irving dared to publish The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon in London in the spring of 1820.

The Sketch Book had been well-received on its publication in the United States in 1819 -- rightly so, as it's the book that contains "Rip van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" -- and now, in an effort to protect his copyright from European piracy, Irving nervously issued a version of his book in the English market, under the imprint of London's most distinguished publisher, John Murray.

The Sketch Book not only sold spectacularly well -- it can, in fact, rightly be called America's first international bestseller -- but it won over even refined British readers, who grudgingly conceded that this American upstart could write. "Everywhere I find in it the marks of a mind of the utmost elegance and refinement," wrote a surprised William Godwin, "a thing as you know that I was not exactly prepared to look for in an American."

So, there you go, Horace Engdahl. European disdain for American writers is as old as American publishing itself. American writers have heard it all before, and they've generally proven the critics wrong. I'm confident that American writers will continue to rise above such condescension and defy such expectations -- for their ability to do so is also as old as American publishing itself.

Ms Hollands
10-02-2008, 08:21 PM
Generalisation, from either side, sucks. I don't see how you can cut an entire nation out.

<silly hat>
...but anyway, what about Australia? Are our countrymen and women still in the running?
</silly hat>

Cranky
10-02-2008, 09:15 PM
Generalisation, from either side, sucks. I don't see how you can cut an entire nation out.

<silly hat>
...but anyway, what about Australia? Are our countrymen and women still in the running?
</silly hat>

Naw, you're just a bunch of whippersnappers, too. Pretty much everyone outside of Europe must be, according to this guy.

IceCreamEmpress
10-02-2008, 09:26 PM
I never said that it was - my point was to counter the suggestion that Europeans are automatically prejudiced against US arts.

No, and I get that. This gentleman is clearly a rear end in a top hat. But I think that there were folks on the thread who were overlooking the broader negative implications of his comment.


The guy who made that statement about US fiction is clearly a numpty. But he's also achieved what he set out to achieve, which is to get people talking about the Literature prize and who wins it.

I doubt he set out to get people talking about what an insular dipstick he is, though, and that seems to be a chief feature of the response to this.

CaroGirl
10-02-2008, 09:28 PM
I doubt he set out to get people talking about what an insular dipstick he is, though, and that seems to be a chief feature of the response to this.
Yes. Irony is obviously lost on rear ends who wear top hats.

Willowmound
10-03-2008, 02:03 AM
When Irena Sendler lost to Al Gore, I gave up on the Nobel awards.

Literature and Peace aren't even awarded by the same country.

eyeblink
10-08-2008, 11:40 PM
Pick someone at random from the street and ask them to name 5 Nobel Laureates for Literature and they're going to struggle.

Doris Lessing, Saul Bellow, William Golding, Patrick White, Toni Morrison. That's without looking any of them up - and I've read more than one novel each by the first four. (I keep meaning to try Morrison sometime.) I realise I'm not someone random in the street though :)

Two of those five are American. (Lessing and Golding are/were British and White was Australian.) Also, one of my favourite writers, living or dead, is frequently mentioned as a Nobel contender (Joyce Carol Oates) so yes I do have an interest in this. Funny that American writing is now being called insular - for at least the past two decades, probably longer, it was English (not necessarily British) writing that was on the end of that particular stick, often by British critics in thrall to the wide open spaces of the American novel.

You cannot generalise about literary prizes. There isn't a typical Booker novel, as is implied elsewhere in this thread. I've read some wonderful novels that have won or been nominated for the Booker. And no doubt there are others which approach the consistency of dishwater.