Friday, October 15, 2010

On The Recent Book Awards

OKAY, SO WE WERE wrong about the Nobel.  So what?  Mario Vargas Llosa!  Exciting.  I remember when I was teaching one of his novels back in the early 90s, he had recently mounted a bid for the presidency of Peru as a member of the neoliberal Frente Democratico party.  Never a conservative, Vargas Llosa and his politics--if not his literary style--have, nevertheless, inched to the right.

But, he's a deserving winner of the prize, especially since the Nobel committee has been rather forthright about their barometer for literary merit.  Less about aesthetic and more about "the big dialogue of literature," the Nobel Prize has, ironically, gone the opposite direction of Vargas Llosa and made a move to the left.  Citing his "trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt and defeat," the Nobel Prize Committee, yet again, advances theme over craft

This is not to say that Vargas Llosa is not a fine writer.  He is.  But, His style, his literary technique, his project of prose, was less interesting to the committee than his thematic trajectory.

In a bizarre moment, humorous on many levels, Bill Maher suggests that Vargas Llosa's victory indicates that the name of the prize should officially be changed:

On other book prize fronts, there was shock and awe and surprise and disgust and glee when it was announced that Jonathan Franzen's overly celebrated fourth novel, Freedom, was not a finalist for the National Book Award.  Is it reverse discrimination?  A punishment for two back-to-back glowing articles in The New York Times? A backlash against being hailed as the greatest American novelist?

Meanwhile, no one was upset by the poetry finalists, though Kay Ryan's collected poems, The Best of It is a notable absence.  Personally, I'm rooting for Terrance Hayes (who I thought would have been a really exciting inaugural poet). 

On a positive note, I was encouraged to see two books I love--Dan Beachy-Quick's The Nest, Swift Passerine and Rachel Loden's The Dick of the Dead named as finalists for the PEN USA Prize.

Lastly, a call for submissions: I'm looking for short posts 200-300 words on who you think the next poet to win the Nobel Prize should be. Email me ( with queries and suggestions.  We'll post the best ones later in the year.

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