Any American who is hoping to find his or her name in the shortlist for the Nobel Prize in Literature next week had better brace herself (or himself) for a big disappointment.
Horace Engdahl, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, which administers the award, has declared that the literature scene in the United States is too insular and ignorant to compete with the European equivalent. "Of course there is powerful literature in all big cultures, but you can't get away from the fact that Europe still is the center of the literary world," he informed The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Asked for elaboration, he said that American writers were "too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture ... The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining."
Naturally, there has been an outburst of affronted reactions. Harold Augenbaum, executive director of the foundation which administers the National Book Awards, said he would rather like to send Engdahl a reading list of American literature.
Not a bad idea. Wasn't John Steinbeck a Nobel Prize-winner?
GalleyCat has been running a competition recently asking people to submit the names of books that have destroyed budding relationships. I've toyed with the idea of running something similar myself, asking people to submit the titles of books they consider altered their lives -- made something within themselves adjust. My own list would include quite a few U.S. greats, including Steinbeck. Others would be Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mocking Bird. And of course, Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville.
Other suggestions welcomed. European books included, of course.