Like those who comment under this blog, I take pride in having read many fiction writers. But, for me, a look at the list of “Nobel Prize in Literature” recipients punctures that pride a bit.
That major honor was first offered in 1901, and since then 112 people have won it. But I’ve read only 31 of those writers — in some cases, only a small sample of their work.
Those 31: Rudyard Kipling (1907 winner), Rabindranath Tagore (1913), Anatole France (1921), William Butler Yeats (1923), George Bernard Shaw (1925), Sinclair Lewis (1930), Eugene O’Neill (1936), Pearl S. Buck (1938), Herman Hesse (1946), T.S. Eliot (1948), William Faulkner (1949), Par Lagerkvist (1951), Ernest Hemingway (1954), Albert Camus (1957), Boris Pasternak (1958), John Steinbeck (1962), Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1970), Pablo Neruda (1971), Saul Bellow (1976), Isaac Bashevis Singer (1978), Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1982), William Golding (1983), Wole Soyinka (1986), Nadine Gordimer (1991), Toni Morrison (1993), V.S. Naipaul (2001), Orhan Pamuk (2006), Doris Lessing (2007), J.M.G. Le Clezio (2008), Mario Vargas Llosa (2010), and Alice Munro (2013).
(Kipling, 42, was the youngest of the 112 winners and Lessing, 88, the oldest — with 64 the average age.)
Why haven’t I read more Nobel recipients? Well, there are many great non-Nobel authors to enjoy. 🙂 Also, I’m drawn to many works by female authors, and women have unfortunately won the prize only 14 times. Then there’s the matter of some authors being little known in the U.S. (or even their own countries) until winning the prize; some not having English translations of their work before (and in certain cases even after) receiving the Nobel; some having a reputation for not being easy to read; and some hailing from countries with which I might feel I don’t have enough cultural knowledge to fully appreciate their writing. I like to read sometimes-challenging authors from a fairly wide range of countries, but I could do better.
Since 1901, the most Nobel recipients have come from France (15), followed by the United States and United Kingdom (10 apiece), Germany and Sweden (8 apiece), Italy and Spain (6 apiece), etc. Among the many other countries represented in the winners’ circle have been Australia, Belarus, Canada, China, Colombia, Guatemala, Iceland, India, Ireland, Japan, Mauritius, Mexico, Nigeria, Poland, Russia, Saint Lucia, and Turkey.
The Nobel has certainly spurred me to read some writers for the first time — including J.M.G. Le Clezio and Alice Munro. Other writers I’ve read with little or no thought of them having been Nobel recipients (Sinclair Lewis, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and others).
Here’s a link to the list of Nobel literature recipients. How many have you read? Who are your favorites? Any other thoughts on the prize and the authors who’ve won it?
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I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.