Tag Archives: Nobel Prize

Put off

The Hardened Librarian (she’s really Den luttrade bibliotekarien) was blogging about what put her off reading when she was at school. It’s a relief to hear that others – even librarians – feel like that. I know I was certainly put off some books, and authors, by well-meaning teachers.

To some extent ‘all’ Swedish literature got to me. But as with so many things when you are growing up, you don’t know that what you’re experiencing isn’t normal. I must have assumed that in becoming an almost adult I simply had to read adult and ‘proper’ literature, and by definition it would be, if not boring, then not as riveting as it ought to.

Why should it be natural to move from exciting books at twelve, to adult boredom at 14? We’ve already established that in my day we had none of the YA. Hence the sudden move to adult classics. I wonder if (Swedish) schools today serve up more teen oriented reading material? Or do teachers pick adult books because they have forgotten already? Or because it’s the only ‘right’ thing to do?

John Steinbeck, Pärlan

I believe THL and I must be about the same age. We both read, and liked, Nevil Shute and John Steinbeck. Note that these two authors lack in Swedish-ness. I have never read many adult Swedish books. But I have friends who did, and do. I even have friends in the UK, leading English-speaking lives, but who wouldn’t dream of reading in English. Me, I always felt I was destined to come here, and to read books in my other language.

A few years ago when I interviewed Tim Bowler, he mentioned his favourite Swedish writers, and I didn’t dare admit that I didn’t agree with him. (Sorry!) Maybe I should get Tim and THL in the same room and they could discuss Pär Lagerkvist. Could be interesting.

The stupid thing is that I was so taken by the idea that I had grown up that I continued reading all this adult, but oh-so-boring stuff. I wonder why? Just think what fun I could have had in better company.

What puts English speaking teenagers off? At least many of the classics – albeit long – are reasonably interesting and readable. Though I’m grateful I saved Austen & Co until my twenties. I suspect I was more receptive to lengthy romances by then.

In the UK it seems to be customary to know which football team people, including your teachers, support. I think I can do a literary sort of line through my various teachers, showing the favourite author for each of them. When Heinrich Böll was awarded the Nobel, I read his most recent book. My German teacher adored Böll. I read several of his books. I am fairly sure I didn’t like any of them. Why did I do it?

I suppose it’s a good idea to try new writers, and not be too prejudiced. But to continue the punishment once you’ve established you don’t like someone’s writing, strikes me as madness.

Bookwitch bites #115

Steve Cole had some great news to share this week. He will be writing four (yes!) new Young Bond novels, with the first coming next autumn. He even had to go get a nice new photograph of himself, as befits an Ian Fleming replacement.

Steve Cole

Some longlists are longer than others. The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award list is longer than ever this year, with 238 names of hopefuls. 54 are there for the first time (which just goes to show people get nominated and nominated until they win…), presumably getting all excited about the possibility of winning five million kronor.

I was going to say that the Nordic countries have put forward more names than others, but I happened to notice that the UK list was longer still. See below. For the rest of the 238 you have to download the pdf yourself.

UK nominees for ALMA 2014

This week also saw the announcement of other Swedish related prizes, and I’m pleased for Alice Munro and Canada. A bit shocked to learn that only 13 women have been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, however…

The other Nobel Prize that made the Bookwitch family very happy was the Physics prize to Peter Higgs. It almost feels as if we’d been awarded the prize ourselves.

Peter Higgs

Malorie Blackman has announced ‘a campaign to support fiction for young adults in the UK during her two year term in the post. A highlight of this will be the first ever YA Literature Convention, hosted at the London Film and Comic Con in July 2014. Blackman will also be working with Booktrust on a search for the rising stars in the UKYA community.’ I think that sounds terrific, and I’m looking into ways of splitting down the middle so I can go to lots of events all at once.

And finally something on a smaller scale, but who knows? ‘Anyone’ could make it to be children’s laureate or discover a boson or write James Bond books. Here is a challenge for students doing A-levels. The Connell Guides are giving £1000 for the best essay in a competition to be judged by William Boyd. Submissions in January, but they want students to start writing now. So I suggest doing just that. Write! Who knows where it might end? (In Stockholm, shaking some royal hand.)

Isol and Victoria

If I rant about the lack of television coverage of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award ceremony in the UK, someone is bound to tell me it was on somewhere. (Was it?) I was lucky several years running in that I went to Sweden for half term and there it was, right on time. Big celebration with royalty and everything.

Music. Speeches. Foreign award winners shivering under blankets. With so much rubbish readily available, why not broadcast a little ceremony and very little pomp, even if it is rather foreign?

Argentinian winner Isol even danced the tango. Apparently. I bet Seamus Heaney didn’t do Riverdance for the Nobel prize.

She’s short, Isol. Although that sounds both too personal as well as rude (nothing wrong with being short). What I probably mean is I had no idea Crown Princess Victoria is quite so tall. We’ve not yet had cause to meet up, so I didn’t know. Taller than the minister for culture.

Isol and Crown Princess Victoria, by Stefan Tell

You see, if I’d been able to watch, I’d not have to resort to going on about what people looked like in the official photographs.

I expect there was less shivering, and possibly no blankets this year. They appear to have moved the whole shindig indoors. It doesn’t matter about the Swedish royals. They have practised sitting out of doors – totally umbrella-less – and smiling through almost anything. But foreigners, they are a more tender species.

As well as short. I can think of several non-tall winners. Philip Pullman, on the other hand, turned out to be taller than I had expected, so he probably beat Victoria.

And I still worry about the sheer amount of money. Is it right to give that much to one individual? I’d almost decided it wasn’t, but then I thought about people winning the lottery. All they’ve done is buy a ticket. At least these winners are professional writers and artists; one of whom is chosen every year.

Perhaps it is OK. Especially for someone who tangoes.

How noble

Beware of marrying someone who stands a chance of being awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics! That is, if you don’t feel like having the King of Sweden as your dinner partner at the Nobel dinner. Reverse my advice if you do. (And by the time Crown Princess Victoria is Queen, you will probably need to win the prize yourself. Unless we start getting a few more female scientists.)

I need to mention that you can’t ever expect to win a Nobel Prize. Nor can you apply for it, and there is no queueing system. Countless books mention the happy outcome of a Nobel Prize as something the really outstanding will eventually receive. Most clever people – even in books – are never quite that outstanding.

Just thought I’d dash any hopes. Hence my suggestion of marriage. Choose well.

Nobel Dinner

There is so much happening in Sweden on Nobel Day (10th December) every year. Prize ceremonies. Dinners. Everything televised. Followed later by interviews and round table chats with the winners, who always turn out to be not only intelligent, but witty and fascinating company.

My pesky GP Cousin (after all these years, still four years my senior) seems to share my fondness for the round table chat. When we were last together in December some years ago, it’s what we sat down to watch on television, in the middle of his dinner party. That’s when he worried that the Grandmother might find this far too complicated to follow. That’s when I told him she’s a Physics graduate so no need to worry.

But, anyway. Here in exile we miss most of the fun. And then I was chatting to Swiss Lady on the phone the other day. She explained how she’d managed to get most of her Christmas baking done in the peace and quiet when GP Cousin was in Stockholm. I agreed it’s always good to ‘get rid of’ the boys every now and then.

As an afterthought she mentioned what he’d been doing. My ancient cousin had worked as a wine waiter at the Nobel dinner.

And he thinks I’m crazy for doing my bookwitching…

ALMA and Guus

In the end I forgot. And that was despite having written it down in three places. So when I was meant to listen to the live announcement of who would be the 2012 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award winner, I was enjoying a mug of Earl Grey, away from my laptop. Just think, I’d even been offered to be bussed in for the event (that is assumimg I’d been in Stockholm in the first place to be carted to Vimmerby for the big moment).

Guus Kuijer books

And once I’d seen the news, I was overcome by one big whopping xenophobic thought. I am ashamed of myself. Just because I haven’t even heard of a writer, does not mean they are no good or not deserving. I should not, must not, feel that the English-speaking world of books trumps everywhere else (apart, obviously, from Swedish books). But I did, for about ten seconds.

After all, I never once doubted the worthiness of Ryoji Arai who shared with Philip Pullman. After meeting him, even less so, and that’s despite this book of his I have which I can’t read because it’s all in Japanese.

So, I am very happy for Guus Kuijer, whose name I will practise pronouncing for the next few days. His entry on English Wikipedia is suitably, xenophobically short. But I gather that Guus has written a tremendous number of excellent books, for many many years. He has won lots of awards. And it is hardly surprising that the ALMA jury have decided he is this year’s winner. It follows much the same principles that the Nobel prize does. Pick someone no one else has heard of.

Larry Lempert ALMA 2012

Actually, having belatedly checked out the live announcement I’m grateful I wasn’t there. It even out-did the one two years ago. Maybe it’s a Vimmerby effect?

At least they tried

The Tomas Tranströmer pocket book. What does that make you think of? I have it on so-so authority from Son that Peter Englund of the Swedish Academy used the word pocket book on Thursday, when talking about Tranströmer and his work.

He meant paperback. At least we think he did.

Pocket book is a linguistic false friend, because it just sounds so English. Whereas it really is Swedish for paperback.

Someone who does know they are paperbacks is my old employer, the bookshop in Halmstad. (I will be discreet, and not identify it further.) They have a good selection of books in English, and I noticed they had rearranged the shop a little, and above the new shelves they had a banner, clearly stating what they contain.

So, they did say English paperbacks. Then, Crimes and Thrillers. And finally, Fictions and Novels.

It doesn’t sound so bad.

The Crimes is obvious. They just don’t know about plural versus not counting, so to speak. I suspect the Fictions stands for novels. Because I’m fairly confident their Novels stands for short stories.

And there we are!

They tried.

So did another Swedish bookshop, many years ago, in another town. The town was overrun by visiting teachers or librarians or whatever, for some conference. The type of people who could be expected to turn up at the town’s bookshop. So the shop put a welcome note in the window. It said ‘Välkommen.’

I was in there when one of the ‘välkommen’ visitors popped in and pulled a member of staff aside and said she was very touched and it was very sweet, but it was wrong. (At this point I began to worry, because I hadn’t caught the wrongness of it, as I sailed through the door.)

It seems she required the note to say ‘Välkomna.’ In the plural. Because the town was full of lots of them.

Her comment was not terribly välkommen, as I recall. It’s like when you bring a gift and the recipient says they don’t want it. (You can always throw it away afterwards. Quietly. When no one is looking.)

What do you think? Would you feel välkomna by the Fictions and Crimes offered?

And anyway, as you enter the shop, you just might only be thinking of yourself. You are welcome. Never mind all the others.

Bookwitch bites #62

I’m beginning to feel like the Sesame Witch, and here I am again, bringing you the letter T.

For those of you who haven’t yet heard the voice of Shaun Tan (yes I know, I go on about him a lot), here he is  in the Guardian podcast, interviewed by Michelle Pauli in Stockholm earlier this year.

Shaun Tan podcast.

And please note how clever those young children are, being interviewed in a foreign language. (Just wanted to point that out.)

This week the winner of another Swedish award for literature was announced. Tomas Tranströmer is this year’s Nobel prize winner, and I read somewhere that he is the most translated poet in the world. So many Ts…

Continuing with the awards, Theresa Breslin has just won the Young Quills prize for historical fiction, with Prisoner of the Inquisition. Is it my imagination, or is Theresa and that book of hers winning a lot?

Before I leave you to go and drink some tea, I will return briefly to the letter B and the blasphemous and banned Meg Rosoff. Her darling creature Eck, that we all adore and would love to call our own, is about to become real. Sort of. In the book he must have been created by Bob (God, to you and me), since Bob created everything.

In real life, Eck – who has a very long tongue – is being created by a Mr Godlee, who is a friend of Meg’s. You couldn’t make it up, could you? In order to part with money, please contact Meg.

There was no dog…

Eck

Eck

Horace and the paperback

I read my previously mentioned house magazine over lunch, and it wasn’t so much inspiration, as anger, which came over me. And I’m sorry if I’m repeating this ad nauseam, but what is wrong with paperbacks? And how come some people really can’t see that keeping books has to come to an end some time, unless something changes?

They had pages of the most wonderful bookcases, but they forget that ordinary people run out of floor space for more bookcases, or money for some of the more expensive ones. And even if that doesn’t happen, there will always be one book, sooner or later, that won’t fit, because it’s full. I cleared the worst excesses before Christmas, by handing some books over to Oxfam, but mainly by brushing the problem under the carpet on a temporary basis. (Yes, I know. Fairly bulky and uneven for a carpet.)

But for people who aren’t ordinary, like Horace Engdahl of the Swedish Academy, books are a hygiene problem! He’s the one who tells the world each year who gets the Nobel prize for literature. I’m still working on the hygiene aspect of books. One of the magazine’s standard questions, which drives me mad every time (do they know, and do they do it on purpose?), is “Do you keep paperbacks?” Horace keeps them “if they have something sensible in them”.

Why would paperbacks have a less worthwhile content? They may not look good enough to some, but the contents? Even Nobel prize winners have books out in paperback. In fact, when I bought my Pinters years ago, I saw nothing but paperbacks in the shops. His silences are equally powerful without the hard cover.

The next page in the magazine then goes on to show bookshelves for paperbacks. Do they need to be separated? Segregated. Discriminated against. I don’t get it.

Lessing on books, and less books for me

Doris Lessing’s Nobel acceptance speech was mentioned twice to me yesterday before I had time to read it. Call me a cynic, but I generally don’t expect much from these things, but this time I really felt inspired. It was well written (not surprisingly), easy to read and on such a very important subject.

Having moaned quite recently here about having too many books, and what on earth I can do about it, I feel thoroughly ashamed. Oxfam has been the intended recipient, for when I can actually decide what to keep and what can go. But now I wonder if this is good enough.

Not all my surplus would be suitable for the readers in Zimbabwe that Doris Lessing wrote about, but a lot of it would be fine. How can I get my books to somewhere like that, without doing silly things like getting on a plane with suitcases full of books?

Coincidentally, just two days ago Daughter was bemoaning the disappearance of Dickens from the school library. Not that she wants to read Dickens you understand (for GCSE they read two chapters of Great Expectations…), but as a book lover she felt that dumping a shelf full of fresh new hardback Dickens was wrong. The official reason is that the books hadn’t been taken out by students. From my own time as a volunteer in that library I suspect that the books were simply dumped. They can’t be recycled as paper, and for some reason the school can’t take them to a charity shop.

It makes me want to cry.