Looks like you can use those SAS frequent flyer miles for something else, Philip. All award nerds and bored literary columnists can thank Horace Engdahl, permanent secretary of the literature jury for the Nobel Prize, for stirring things up today with his comments that Americans aren't qualified for the big prize they haven't won since 1993:
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 ... not the United States.... 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.
I had come to understand that no American (especially Roth) was getting the prize until Bush was out of office, but it looks like things may go deeper than that, and we in the provinces (where, admittedly, we could read a little more translated literature) will have to watch from the sidelines while Europe gives itself another one of those gold medals with the picture of the dynamite tycoon on it. David Remnick of the New Yorker gets the best response in the AP article: "And if he looked harder at the American scene that he dwells on, he would see the vitality in the generation of Roth, Updike, and DeLillo, as well as in many younger writers, some of them sons and daughters of immigrants writing in their adopted English. None of these poor souls, old or young, seem ravaged by the horrors of Coca-Cola." Speaking of insular, it's worth noting that of the eight books by Americans in our editors' top 10 last year, three are by first-generation immigrants and one by the son of immigrants.
Does his contempt extend to Canadians? I've been holding out for Alice Munro for some time now, but it's true that her work shows no influence of the work of Michel Houellebecq, so she may be ineligible. --Tom