Thursday, September 30, 2010

Place Your Bets...It's Nobel Prize Time!

Here's a strange book-dorky habit of mine: Each year, I eagerly, and I mean eagerly, anticipate the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Literature. It's the Heisman Trophy of the literary world, only multiplied by about 100 in terms of prestige. My anticipation always reaches damn near fever pitch when a British bookmaker called Ladbrokes releases its annual betting odds for who might win, as it did yesterday. The list combines two of my delightfully disparate favorite things: books and betting!

Who ya got? I'm taking Philip Roth (as I have every year since about 2004) at 18:1. (If you're not familiar with how odds work, 18:1 means that if you put down a $1 bet, you win $18.)  That may be a sucker bet, though. As I wrote last year, the committee seems to have decided to ignore Americans recently, and some conspiracy theorists say it's a protest of...well, a lot of things I can't get into here without going off on a political rant.

At any rate, no American has won since Toni Morrison in 1993. This year, Americans Thomas Pynchon and Joyce Carol Oates, perennial candidates for the prize, are also 18:1 odds, which as this New Yorker blog points out, is actually much longer odds than last year. (Don DeLillo, though, has improved from 25:1 last year to 22:1 this year.) A few other Americans dot the list — Maya Angelou is 25:1, Cormac McCarthy and Paul Auster are both 66:1 odds, and Bob Dylan (yes, that Bob Dylan...WTF?!) is 150:1. So, what all this really means is don't look for an American to break our 17-year prize-less drought this year.

According to Ladbrokes, the favorite (at 10:1) is a Swedish poet named Tomas Tranströmer. Are you familiar with his work?  Can't say that I am. (This Guardian piece tells us a little about him and his work. Is it poetry's year?) But then again, I hadn't heard of any of the winners when they were announced the last three years. The writer with the highest odds that I've actually heard of (but still, sadly, never read) is Huraki Murakami. 

The prize will be revealed about the second week in October. The exact date is always a secret until about the day before. Here's kind of a fun list of Nobel Prize in Literature facts.

So, who are you taking? Why?

(One point of clarifications: Since Ladbrokes doesn't take bets from the U.S., all this is totally just for fun.) 


  1. Oh what the hell. I'll take the long-shot Dylan for the win. Why not go for the big money?

  2. Wow! I, too, have been taking Philip Roth every year for the last, oh, decade or so. Sigh. I was trying to remember last night (off the top of my sieve-like mind) who was the last American to win, and I thought it was Toni Morrison...then I thought to myself, no, that can't be, even the Nobel committee and their famed prejudice against Americans can't have taken it that far.


    It'll be some unknown-except-in-his/her-own-country playwright or poet again.

  3. I vote for Haruki Murakami. He's popular but that doesn't mean he's not Nobel prize material!

  4. The prize will go to Cambodian writer Dithan Prin, author of "The Winter Sojourn of the Snow Monkey Journalist's Mother in the Yankee Prison-Palace of Love." The committee members will then offer to revoke the prize when it is revealed that the author doesn't exist, but when they realize nobody was going to read the winner's work anyway, they won't bother.

    Seriously, if the Nobel Prize for literature fell in the forest, would it make a sound?

  5. The Nobels are all but meaningless to me since I rarely know, or have read, any of the winners. Roth's new novel comes out in a few weeks and so I'm "betting" that it would be a happy coincidence if he won. (Confession: I've never read anything by P. Roth. I've WANTED to for years, but never got around to it. Nobels or no Nobels, I plan to read "Nemesis" soon.)

  6. Holy goodness! Adam Z all the way! Wow. So exciting.

  7. HMmm... I really don't know who to bet on. I'm just going to hope it's an American author :)

  8. @Sandy - I think if Dylan won the Nobel in Literature, the universe would explode.

    @Rebecca - Roth is waaaay overdue. Let's hope this is his year (but I'm not counting on it)...

    @Bird - Yeah, he's the biggest favorite among traditional novelists - so I'd be okay if he won!

    @Richard - At least you're not cynical! ;)

    @David - I can't wait for Nemesis, too. It would indeed be a happy coincidence if he won.

    @Naomi - That WOULD be really exciting if he won. You'd have to get me his autograph.

    @Brenna - USA! USA!

  9. I'm not sure Roth will ever win the Nobel. I feel like he's trying to force his way in there by publishing at a frenetic pace until he keels. Same for Joyce Carol Oates. Just don't see it happening. I mean, the Nobel folks don't have a predictable track record these days: Herta Muller, J.M.G. le Clezio, Elfriede Jelinek? Would they ever stoop to someone as mainstream as Roth & co.?

    I think it should be settled by feats of strength - grappling in the ring, perhaps. My money's on Cormac. :)

  10. I like tracking who wins the big book awards,too-I knew that the Brits placed bets on the Man Booker(the odds-on favorite this year is Emma Donoghue for Room and I hope she gets it,that book is amazingly good)but didn't know they included the Pulitzer in as well.

    I know Margaret Atwood's a Canadian but her odds are equal with Joyce Carol Oates,so I would like either one of these ladies to win. At least with Atwood,I've been able to read a couple of her books to completion-can't say the same for JCO. However,if JCO does win,I'm willing to try again.

    Hey,Greg,any thoughts about who will be up for the National Book Award?

  11. Oops-I meant the Nobel! Totally my bad,however,my original statements still stand-Atwood or Joyce Carol Oates for the win:)

  12. @Seth - But Roth has always published at a pretty feverish pace - and I think he'd be the LAST writer to care about Nobel. That said, sadly, I think you may be right that he'll never win. Feats of strength: I'd take McCarthy too!

    @lady T - I'd be happy if JCO or Atwood won, too - for the sole reason that I'd heard of them before. NBA: Good question. I think Franzen's Freedom will definitely be a nom. I'm hoping Amy Greene's Bloodroot, too. After that...hmmm....Don DeLillo? What do you think?

  13. I'd really like to see Nicholas Sparks get the acclaim he deserves.

    What about JM Coetzee? Did I spell that right? He's no Sparks but he's not so bad.

  14. I wouldn't be surprised if Freedom got a NBA nom,either-despite any misgivings regarding his current Oprah Book club status-and DeLillo's a safe bet there.

    If it was up to me,Justin Cronin's The Passage would be a major contender but that's a long shot at best. My personal picks that could make for great NBA nominees this year are The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees,Wench by Dolen Perkins Valdez and The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender.

  15. I'm looking forward to see who will win, even though the prize winners of the last several years (not only in noble) have been a bit disappointing (some I couldn't finish).

  16. This is a total no-brainer for me : Alice Munro. Period.

    She's in her eighties, she's bright, witty and her writing is beyond genius. In fact, her last book of shorts is still a bestseller here in Canada. She is often mentioned in the same breath as Chekov and there is a reason: she rocks!

    Go Alice.

  17. Speaking of Roth, did you see the interview of him on CBS's Sunday Morning this past weekend? Here's the link if you didn't see it:

  18. wait a second - you've never read Haruki Murakami?!? You best get on that, like, now!