Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Where's The Sportsbook in Literature?

Over at Tradesports, I see that they have current bets on the date of Osama's and Zarquawi's capture, sports of all kinds, metereological events, financial statistics, and the date of Karl Rove's resignation. The "exchange site"--not a betting book, of course not a bookie--also offered odds on Supreme Court and Papal candidates.

However!

There is no handicapping of candidates for Nobel Prizes. Maybe Tradesports will open a book on the 2005 Peace prize, which is often a finely tuned political message, but a search of the site's database for "nobel" yielded no results.

What I would like to see more betting about is the Nobel prize in Literature.

The Swedish Academy is currently in its summer session, which means that there already exists a short list of maybe five candidates for the prize in literature. Who could those candidates be? Who will emerge in October as the "best"? Is there a method or a politics to the selection history? Who should be considered or should win?


So, while past performance does not determine final results, and all that...below the fold I'll try to, erm, run the numbers as best an English major can.

Stats.
Here's a link to the Nobel's website list of past winners. So far, I can say one thing about the list of past winners: women haven't yet won two years running. Here's another list with a breakdown of winners' country affiliation, which can be slightly misleading. But from that data, I'm saying that the Nobel awarders seem to have discovered non-European literature around 1966. According to the country-affiliation data on this second list, a comparatively long European/US-affiliated series of winners was broken in 2003 with Coetzee's nomination. (However, Gao Xingjian's award is counted as French and Naipaul's as British; take that as you understand it.) I would guess that the odds of a European or US writer are slightly better for this year.

Trends to look for.
1. original language of publication (the awards seem biassed in favor of the big four: English, French, German, and Spanish.)

2. correlatability of award-winning work or country of origin to current events

3. poetry vs. prose (And what's with that weird period in the early 1950s when the Academy awarded Russell and Churchill the prize?)

4. thematic vs. formal importance of work


Current English-Language Favorites.
Myself, I think that Rushdie will be put on hold for another year or so. He writes in English on post-colonial issues, so Coetzee's 2003 award will have the Academy looking elsewhere for awhile. We haven't had a poet since 1996, or thereabouts, so we might be due. In English-language poetry, I would love to see Paul Muldoon up for it, but Ashberry would be more likely.

Resources.
The best online guide I've found to international authors is the Complete Review and its attendant blog, the Literary Saloon. These people are serious about their literature--and furious when provincialism or bad translations prevent good stuff from getting an audience. They're probably much too serious to handicap a Nobel race, but their site would certainly provide valuable resources for those who would.

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