The Nobel Prize for Literature, a distant relationship

“Reading is a very personal pleasure,” replied my teacher Diana Frías in a Facebook post I made in 2016, when I commented that the only winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature that I had read were Octavio Paz and Gabriel García Márquez, although only this one. News of a kidnapping and many journalistic articles, like that of Vargas Llosa. Six years later I have added Svetlana Alexievich to that poor list, whose award I celebrated for being a journalist and I remembered that my mother once bought me Platero and meby Juan Ramon Jimenez.

In spite of everything, I consider myself a good reader, even though the authors I like are “so minor”, ​​as a former ITAM colleague once told me who, poor thing, didn’t know that his newly discovered Kundera hadn’t won the Swedish award. By simple numbers I can not be proud of reading Nobel winners, but not otherwise, it is simply a matter of taste. Because when it comes to prizes, apart from the one awarded by the Swedish Academy, I have read more winners of the Alfaguara Prize (Tomás Eloy Martínez, Santiago Roncagliolo, Juan Gabriel Vásquez, Guillermo Arriaga, Eduardo Sacheri, Patricio Pron and Cristian Alarcón –a Xavier Velasco I do not tell because I could not Devil Guardian–); the Hammett Prize (Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Andreu Martín, Daniel Chavarría, Rolo Díez, Guillermo Saccomanno, Ricardo Piglia, Juan Sasturain, Leonardo Padura, Juan Hernández Luna, Rafael Ramírez Heredia, Juan Damonte and Francisco González Ledesma) or the Édgar Prizes ( Raymond Chandler, Donald E. Westlake, Stuart M. Kaminsky, Ian Rankin and the infallible Stephen King).

Saramago, the great chosen one

Although my readings are not governed by the prizes that an author has won, I took on the task of asking some dear reader friends what is the criteria they follow to select the books they read and if the Nobel Prize is a requirement to it. With pleasure I read that after having obtained the aforementioned award, some adopted the Portuguese José Saramago among their favorite writers.

“I never wait for the nominees or Nobel laureates to know what I read or not, I guide myself more by the recommendations of readers I trust. Maybe I have read several Nobel Prizes, but I don’t have them registered, Saramago and Octavio Paz come to mind. I am not dazzled by award-winning authors, either from the Nobel Prize or from other prizes, such as the Alfaguara. When an author I like, regardless of being nominated or awarded, sometimes I am very obsessive and read all of his work, ”says Marilú Acosta, my family doctor and a doctoral student in modern letters from the Universidad Iberoamericana.

The writer from Puebla Maru San Martín, one of the founders of the National Book Fair of Mexican Women Writers (Fenalem), is guided more by the nominees than by the award-winning authors in choosing her readings.

“The nominees have an influence, when I see them I start to read a bit of their work, for example Murakami, who has been nominated several times and I don’t like it. Or Margaret Atwood, who I love, has been nominated several times and hasn’t won. If I don’t like the selection that the Academy makes of his work, I don’t read the author even if he wins, I’m not going to run out and look for his books. I am going to continue reading Atwood even if she is not awarded”.

For Pablo Aguirre Solana, political scientist and master in Data Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Nobel-winning authors are an “intellectual curiosity.”

“My first decision to read are the topics that interest me and what I want to know or learn about. The Nobels are a kind of curiosity to be ‘up to date’, to know what is happening in the world and that is in the background. The Nobels do not have a determining weight in my decision to read, they are a kind of intellectual curiosity, if you can call it that, about what this person has to tell me.

Maru Monroy, a journalist and enthusiastic participant in “Mis Libros de 2022”, a reading group that I have had on Facebook since 2008, thinks similarly.

“I don’t schedule my readings, I ‘play by ear’ and I have no qualms about adding new ones or suspending others, it all depends on how hooked I am. Regarding the Nobels, I often ask, find out and start, because I don’t know them. If they hook me, I add them and if not, I let them pass”.

Federico Álvarez Braga, a lawyer by training and the most prolific reader in my Facebook reading groups, points out that of the latest Nobel winners, only Saramago was among the authors he frequents.

“I keep the name (of the winners), because with few exceptions, I never know them and, eventually, in the future I read something. Only Saramago was included in my list of authors; from the Turk (Orham Pamuk) I got to the second book; (Toni) Morrison was boring to me and (Doris) Lessing had read it before the award. Of the rest, the synopses, because their themes did not attract me at all”.

Víctor Manuel Villanueva, journalist and doctor of history, also acknowledges that the only author he “adopted” as a result of the Nobel Prize was the Portuguese.

Claudia Urbina, a communicologist from the University of Canberra and a reading promoter, shares an interesting way of getting children closer to literature, although not necessarily to the award-winning authors.

“My choice of reading depends much more on what I like and how I feel at the moment, that’s what my book clubs are about. The world of books is a lot of pose, of wanting to look very intellectual and this Nobel Prize lends itself a lot to that. In my classes I like to tell the children that in addition to the Grammys, the Oscar or the Ballon d’Or, topics much closer to them, there is a very important award for writers and that fascinates them. There are authors like Alice Munro, who if she hadn’t won the Nobel, she would never have turned to see her, but there are others like Saramago, whom she already read, who gave me great pleasure that she won the Nobel”.

I have definitely never been interested in a writer winning the Nobel to start reading it, although I recognize notable “debts” to Saramago himself, Camus, Hemingway or Hesse. Nor do I have and have never compared a Bob Dylan album, although I like some of his songs in the voice of other interpreters.

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The Nobel Prize for Literature, a distant relationship