Thursday, May 10, 2018

Is The Nobel Prize In Literature No Longer An Award Of Distinction?

The Nobel Prize in Literature has been a coveted award, much like a Pulitzer Prize, Emmy, Oscar, Tony or Grammy.  It has a long, rich, and respected history dating back over a century.  But it has now become synonymous with scandal.

The 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature has been postponed because the Swedish panel entrusted to do its job has fallen apart amidst a #MeToo controversy.  

According to the New York Times, “A Swedish newspaper reported that 18 women said they had been sexually assaulted or harassed by Jean-Claude Arnault who is closely tied to the Swedish Academy and is accused of using his stature in the arts world to try to coerce women into sex.  Other allegations against him emerged later, including a report that Mr. Arnault had groped Sweden’s crown princess, Victoria.”

Oh, my, what’s one to do?

The obvious:  The show must go on!

A prestigious body is not immune to scandal, but it should be insulated against crashing and burning.  Somehow it should’ve been able to nominate and select a winner.  It’s not fair to writers – or readers.  In death, divorce, war, or natural disaster, the prize must be awarded!

Unfortunately, the Nobel Prize has devalued itself.  This isn’t the first time it screwed up.

Two years ago it made the horrendous mistake of picking Bob Dylan, who is not a traditional author of books.  He was being rewarded for the poetic music that he penned decades earlier.  It distorted what the prize honors and made a mockery of itself.

Years earlier, on seven different occasions, it chose not to give out its award, believing no one was worthy.  How elitist and insulting is that?

We can’t let politics, prejudice, and cronyism distort the process by which qualified writers are selected.  Now we need to review the people and the process who sit and judge these writers.  Obviously the system is broken.

Maybe we should follow the path of Jean-Paul Sartre, who was awarded the prize in 1964, but refused it simply because he declined all awards.  But maybe the next person awarded the Nobel in Literature – whenever that will be – should decline it on the grounds the Nobel Prize Foundation is not worthy of its task.

All awards have their issues – who chooses and by what standards is always at odds with the masses – but when the award-giving body can’t even show up to do the job it was tasked with it’s time to move on.

We need other ways to honor and celebrate our great writers.  We may serve the world better by changing how awards are done.

For one, choosing a winner is almost impossible.  Who the hell can say with any certainty or foundation, that one author is better than those who penned any of the one million books last year?  Who can read all of those books?  Who can compare erotica with Jewish historical fiction or poetry with a thriller?  Who can say one book is better than all of the rest when so many books appeal to so many different types of people and even to various aspects of ourselves?  

Maybe we are best served by choosing a cluster of books, like a top 100 list for the year.

True, it’ll still be an exclusionary award, as all awards are, but it will honor more books, each of which could arguably be shown to be as good, if not better, than others on the very same list.  It would be better for the book world to have 100 books discussed rather than just one.  It would also be reflective of the massive quantity of quality of books out there.

When the first Nobel Prize in Literature was given, I would guess that fewer than 10,000 new books were published in a year.  Even 30 years ago saw under 50,000 new books released.  Now it’s over a million in the U.S.  What used to be the best book in 10,000 is now the best out of a million?  I don’t believe in that.  We should honor at least 1 out of every 10,000 books, so when a million are published, 100 honorees would make sense.

But we live in a society of winners and losers.  We want a singular, unified champion.  We obsess over winning, to the point we lose focus on what’s really important.

Besides, picking a winner of books is extremely hard.  There are no clear statistics to point to, as one would do with sports.  There are no points to score or specific feats to measure the way we look at touchdowns, home runs, goals, catches, steals, blocks, etc.  Even looking at book sales has its challenges of being accurate and of being a reflection of a book’s quality, importance or relevance.

The Nobel Prize in Literature has screwed up enough times for citizens and book-lovers to question if the award is given out fairly.  Now it’s under a microscope for failing to be given out. For authors, it’s like cancelling New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving Day, or one’s birthday.  The committee behind the awards needs to re-write a new ending to this sad chapter.

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2018. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource.”

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