Thursday, October 10, 2013

October 10: Isak Dinesen, Alice Munro, and the Nobel Prize

The book I was reading was this book I took out of the library by mistake.  They gave me the wrong book, and I didn't notice it till I got back to my room.  They gave me Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen. I thought it was going to stink, but it didn't.  It was a very good book...

 As I've said before, Holden has pretty good taste in authors.  Isak Dinesen was nominated at least two times for the Nobel Prize in Literature, both times making it to the "short list" of five authors under serious consideration.  She lost to Albert Camus one year, and I think she lost to a Russian writer the other time.

This morning, the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature was announced.  Everybody was expecting a Japanese novelist or a Romanian journalist.  It ended up being Canadian writer Alice Munro, who is 82 years old and writes only short stories.  It's the first time an author has been recognized by the Swedish Academy for short fiction.

My guess is that Munro is going to be a popular choice around the world.  She's internationally regarded as a master of the short story form, and she looks like a grandma.  I listened to a phone interview with her this morning, and she even sounds like a grandma.  You can't get angry about a grandma winning a prize.

Putting the grandma factor aside, however, I must say that some people in literature forums I visit had some fairly negative reactions to Munro's award.  Most of the criticism was based on her subject matter, which isn't considered important or worldly enough.  Others commented on the fact that the Swedish Academy chose her because she is a woman, and the Swedes are trying to even up the disparity between male and female laureates.

I think both of these reactions are, to put it bluntly, bullshit.  Let me explain.

Criticizing Alice Munro for writing about rural people in rural Canada living rural lives is like criticizing Charles Dickens for writing about London so much.  Her short stories have brilliant psychological insight and lightning moments of revelation.  Just because Munro confines her work to her own little piece of the world doesn't make her any less universal.

And dismissing Alice Munro's award as the Swedish Academy's attempt to even up some sort of Nobel gender seesaw is insulting.  Munro won the prize because she's an exceptional artist, not because she has a vagina instead of a penis.  To follow the gender argument to its inevitable, and misogynistic, end, that means that because Munro is a woman, her writing is necessarily inferior to writing by men.  Puh-lease.

So, Alice Munro won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature.  Get used to the idea, Munro-haters.  If you don't like it, take action.  Immigrate to Sweden, become a linguist or scholar of renown, hang around Stockholm a lot, pay-off some Swedish academics, and get elected to the Swedish Academy.  In the mean time, shut your pie holes.

That's a piece of Saint Marty's mind.

This year's winner

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