Weekly News Roundup, 10th October 2014: The Nobel Prize, Pick-and-Choose Grammar

This week's literary highlights from across the world

First things first: here at the Roundup, we’ve been speculating about the Nobel Prize in literature for weeks—at one point or another, we had pitted Japanese surrealist Haruki Murakami and Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o as the two heaviest hitters—but the 2014 Nobel Prize is an upset (isn’t it always?), going to French writer Patrick Modiano. The committee cited Modiano’s “art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation.”

Not even in the discussion this year was American standby Philip Roth, who seems to have resigned himself to perennial snubbing: “I wonder if I had called ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’ ‘The Orgasm Under Rapacious Capitalism,’ I would thereby have earned the favor of the Swedish Academy.” Hah. This sort of snub comes as no surprise, as a famous Nobel judge claims that Western literature is being laid to waste by the big business of creative writing courses and the general tendency toward “professionalization” in literature. 

Speaking of Nobel winners, over at the London Review of Books, Jenny Diski reflects on her relationship with British laureate Doris Lessing, who passed away almost a year ago. This famous French writer never won the Nobel, and may have been a little less warm-and-fuzzy than our Nobel laureate, but he’s (in)famous nonetheless: BBC investigates popular culture’s ongoing obsession with the Marquis de Sade. And lest you think otherwise, be reminded that counterculture can encompass a lot more than rough sex. Here’s a profile of Russian author Lyudmila Ulitskaya, a novelist who forces her readers (and her state) to confront tough moral truths.

Believe it or not, other things happened this week besides the Nobel. The American Literary Translators Association announced its shortlisted nominations for the National Translation Award, for one. France’s seminal literary prize, the Prix Goncourt, has released the second wave of its shortlist. This year’s German Book Prize goes to Kruso, written by Lutz Seiler. And finally, in unhappy news: this week witnessed the passing of German author Siegfried Lenz, who is most famous for having penned Deutschstunde and Heimatmuseum. 

In Germany, a roundabout way of uncovering some lost Truman Capote: some of the American writer’s lesser-known writings appear translated in ZEITmagazin, a German-language magazine, and are forthcoming in English-language publication in a year or so.

While languages across the world die out at breakneck pace, invented languages—Hollywood or otherwise—spark inspiration in legions of dedicated fans. What’s up with that? And another thing: while I love adverbs, some of the snobs of English usage don’t feel the same way… except for those in the legal sphere (which is to say I should be getting my J.D. instead of my M.F.A.). Meanwhile, cognitive scientist Steven Pinker writes on the origins of English-language grammar—avoid over-garnishing your word salad.