In the December 22 & 29 issue of The New Yorker, I read a short story by Alice Munro, the veteran Canadian writer. (It’s called “Some Women,” and is found here. A subscription is required.) The writing is so good, it is eye-rubbing. It is perfectly simple, without a self-conscious line in it — without an affected or too-fine or overly “literary” line in it. There is no line about which you, or she, would say, “My, what an accomplished line that is.” Instead it is good, honest writing — well-nigh perfect.
After reading that prose, I felt sort of cleansed — as though weights and encrustations and layers of goop had been taken off.
In its report on Munro’s Nobel victory, the New York Times ends the first paragraph as follows: “Ms. Munro, 82, is the 13th woman to win the prize.” Okay. But when will reporters stop saying this? After the 20th woman wins? The 50th? The thousandth? Ever?
P.S. Now that Canadians are winning Nobel prizes for literature, perhaps Mark Steyn could be considered. Wouldn’t it be something if Steyn were the real Nobelist and Michael Mann the faux?
P.P.S. Here’s something that few know about the Nobel Prize in Literature: It’s supposed to be given for literature “in an ideal direction.” That’s the instruction of Alfred Nobel, in his will. As I say in my history of the peace prize, “Nobel is speaking of literature that edifies or uplifts — the kind that he himself dearly appreciated, and wrote.”
Now, it may well be that you write masterpieces of nihilism. Congratulations. May you win every literary award under the sun — but not the Nobel, which is intended for something else.
Also — get ready for this — the Nobel prizes, including the literature award, are not supposed to be lifetime-achievement awards. They’re supposed to be for work done in the preceding year. I could get into why. Anyway, this stipulation — this term of Nobel’s will — has been ignored for a very long time.