Odds vs sods

Yes, it is Nobel prize season once more. Bets have been laid, speculation is rife – is it ever anything else? – and we write now in the near-certainty that the Nobel prize in literature isn’t going to amuse us half as much as the betting and speculating do.

Alex Shephard, for example, in the New Republicentertains by running through the many supposed front-runners (they can’t all be at the front), from that “perennial Nobel favorite” Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o to British hopefuls such as Julian Barnes (no odds given, but “Honestly , [he] just seems like a nice bloke, and the books are fine”). Mr Shephard, who admits that he has a mixed record when it comes to making Nobel predictions, does not believe Haruki Murakami will win. “I have no idea if Murakami wants the Nobel Prize or if he expects it”, but “If Murakami wins, I will eat one of his fancy T-shirts.” (See NB, December 3, 2021, for the fancy T-shirts.)

People will be able to read what Murakami himself makes of literary prizes when his essay collection is published; Novelist as a Vocation (translated by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen) is due in a month’s time and includes a whole exasperated essay on the subject. It’s a little early to be quoting that book here; suffice to say, the collector of T-shirts claims to find the whole business quite trying.

More wisely, an old hand at TLS HQ suggested it might be Edna O’Brien’s turn. A nice idea but, as we said, when it comes to this particular prize, we have always preferred the idle rumination stage to the gory actuality. We write to you, obviously, out of the past, and assume that what we say will look ridiculously redundant once the Swedish verdict is delivered.

Literary anniversaries. Jonathan Bate writes from Arizona State University to point out that it is a century since the publication of Die Stadt ohne Juden (The City without Jews), a dystopian satire by Hugo Bettauer. Drawing on events of the time, the Austrian Bettauer portrays antisemitic populism taking hold in Vienna. It was a “thought experiment” from a writer who had already courted controversy (see Ritchie Robertson’s TLS review of TS Kord’s Lovable Crooks and Loathsome Jews, August 14, 2020). It was also a great success, being translated into English and adapted as a silent movie. Bettauer, however, was assassinated in 1925, by a young Nazi called Otto Rothstock; the recipient of a minimal judicial punishment, Rothstock appears not to have read The City without Jews for himself.

As Professor Bate explains in an essay published on that useful website The Conversation, such ignorance is not uncommon among would-be assassins and their masters. Hadi Matar, the man who attacked Salman Rushdie in upstate New York in August (see NB, September 2), said that he read “like, two pages” of The Satanic Verses. “I didn’t read the whole thing cover to cover.” In this respect, Matar has remained true to the path not only of Rothstock but of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who never read The Satanic Verses, either. We should be worried, Bate suggests, that “the number of college students getting degrees in literature is declining across the world.” “In our divided age, it is more important than ever for people to continue to learn the art of reading with imagination and empathy – and without the blinders of politics or religion.”

Literary anniversaries, contd. Margaret D. Stetz and Mark Samuels Lasner, the curators of Aubrey Beardsley, 150 Years Young (the exhibition at the Grolier Club, mentioned last week), write from the University of Delaware with word of two related sesquicentennials for this year. Beardsley was friendly with his close contemporaries Sir William Rothenstein (born January 29, 1872) and Sir Max Beerbohm (August 24, 1872), both of whom are also represented in the exhibition. (We were getting round to the latter, honest.) It is indeed odd to think that the other members of a “triumphant triumvirate of artistic and literary non-conformists” survived Beardsley by many decades, to become fêted grandees of the scene –” had he not died at age twenty-five, we might now be celebrating the anniversary of Sir Aubrey.”

The mention of all this literary and artistic high-flying is enough to make us feel giddy. How lucky we are that a steadying distraction may be found in art of another order. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ Coloring Book (Arcturus, £7.99), featuring line drawings by Juan Calle and Santiago Calle, offers those with a taste for 1920s party scenes, not to mention that enticing green light at the end of the dock, the chance to indulge themselves with a little stress -free art therapy. The true aficionado will, of course, already own a copy of ‘The Great Gatsby’ Coloring Book by Chellie Carroll, published in the US last year by the same outfit, Thunder Bay Press, who brought you Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’: A coloring book. If you have any brighter suggestions for literary coloring books, we are baffled but ready to hear them. The publisher of this new tribute to Fitzgerald, meanwhile, has also just released a Jane Austen coloring book. This we can understand. Please could you pass us the green cryon?

Correspondence. John Tippler writes from Spalding in Lincolnshire to reassure us that he does not care whether other people insert a comma before the word “and” (September 23). But in case you were wondering, he does so himself because “I tend to think in vocal terms when writing a list, and my inner voice leaves as big an interval between the penultimate item and that single ‘and’ as it does between any two of the earlier items”. This interests us as a piece of reasoning the pro-comma lobby doesn’t usually advance. “I also think that the comma preserves the idea that the ‘and’ reflects the connexion of all the items in the list, not just the final pair.” On this logic, we intend to start inserting the comma in lists of two, for avoidance of doubt. As in: “having one’s cake, and eating it” (sic).

Alastair Conan in Coulsdon points out that the apparently exhibition of Edward Lear’s sketches and landscape drawings at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery (also September 23) has a virtual predecessor: the art dealer Gu Peppiatt brought together around thirty such drawings and watercolours for an online exhibition last spring. It is in the nature of such exhibitions to melt away without trace, as this one almost has; At the time of writing, a handful of Lear’s landscapes, including one of those atmospheric watercolour “snapshots” from the banks of the Nile, are still for sale via peppiattfineart.co.uk.

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