Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Starting XI: Nerdery Engage!

If there's one thing that gets me as nerdily riled up as sports, it's books. So October is just about the best time of year for me. There's the Major League Baseball playoffs, at least one guaranteed international match day, and the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

With dozens of teams still dreaming of qualification, there's plenty for international sports/book nerds to root for in the coming weeks. Including these 11 writers, who could give geeks like me not one, but two things to go crazy about in October (along with their country of origin and the most recent Ladbrokes odds in their favor)

Note, I only went with the authors with the highest odds who come from countries that are still in the hunt for a World Cup spot

I. Peter Nadas--Hungary 7/1
The artist: At once classical and experimental, Nadas is revered throughout the literary world as positively Proustian in his depth of detail and calibre of expression. As he builds conflict and division between people in our modern world, he also finds ways to bring them together, merging into a collective vision of humanity as shown in his novels, essays AND plays.
The odds of a double: The Magical Magyars are in the driver's seat for the runner-up spot in Group D, up a point with two games to play. Unfortunately up-and-coming Romania are set to face the bottom feeders of the group (Estonia and Andorra) while Hungary opens with Holland. Still, their recent 5-1 drubbing of Estonia (while the Estonians challenged the Dutch) suggests that they should not be trifled with. The biggest problem they both face is that favorites (both in futbol and in Nobel discussions) rarely win. How good are their odds of turning the double? About as good as Congress agreeing on anything other than the fact that America is awesome.

II. Assia Djebar--Algeria 10/1
The artist: The one African and the one woman on this list, Assia Djebar is the leading voice of passionate feminism in North Africa. Her novels address that feminist philosophy by casting modern women in a world immersed in traditional gender roles. Her debut novel (La Soif or The Mischief or literally The Thirst) earned her death threats for showing a decadent westernized woman in traditional Algeria. Her later work has been less controversial, but equally adamant about the role that women ought to play in an open society.
The odds of a double: Algeria opens against Burkina Faso around the time we'll hear about the Nobel. While the Burkinabe may be the most likely debutante left in Africa, Algeria has a little more international clout and a little more poise on the biggest stages. That combined with Djebar's own clout and poise suggest that the odds of an Algerian double are around odds that a Fox News Pundit screws up 8 Arabic names in 80 seconds.

III. Amos Oz--Israel 16/1
The artist: Oz has the combo platter of great writing and serious political clout. Both in his literature and his opinionated essays for Israeli newspapers, he advocates for peace and justice throughout Israel and the West Bank.  He remains prolific both in literature and in his non-fiction.
The odds of a double: Since the same people who give out the literature award give out the peace award too, the temptation to make political statements with both awards (as with Mo Yan and Orhan Pamuk) is pretty great. Meanwhile the national Blues and Whites have a pretty steep hill to climb needing powerhouses Russia and Portugal to falter while winning against Northern Ireland and in Portugal. Despite Oz's justifiable confidence, odds are only slightly better than peace breaking out in Gaza tomorrow.

IV. Milan Kundera--Czech Republic/France 25/1
The artist: Kundera's technically from the Czech Republic, but prefers to write, live and be recognized as French. One of the most popular writers internationally (based largely on the success and affection around The Unbearable Lightness of Being), Kundera's writing lives in the beautiful mixed up world between comedy and tragedy underneath totalitarian regimes. He writes to encourage, rather than pacify the reader's imagination, and in an increasingly literal world, that's rather refreshing.
The odds of a double: It depends on which country you want to go with. The French are sure of a playoff spot (and better if Spain somehow implodes) while the Czechs need to win in Malta and Bulgaria, while Denmark and Bulgaria lose both of their matches. While Kundera rarely disappoints his fans, the French and Czechs do it on a seemingly daily basis. So I'd say the odds are about as good as late night talk show hosts not making fun of the French.

V. Jon Fosse--Norway 25/1
The artist: Never underestimate the desire of Norwegians to award other Norwegians, all that nordic humility is thrown out the window on one day of the year--hence the tonnage of scandinavian laureates. Fosse certainly has Norway in his corner. He gets to live in a resident on the grounds of the Royal Palace, and at 53, he'll get to bunk with the kings and queens of Norway while watching people marvel at his ingenious dramas.
The odds of a double: The Norwegian national side has it all within their power with two matches against Slovenia and Iceland to break into the playoff picture, but the pressure on the Nobel committee to cast a broader net (and Fosse's relative youth and likely consistent status as a contender for the award) suggests that this may not be his time. I'd venture the Norwegian odds are about as good as the odds of American Cable news pronouncing a name with one of those slashy o things correctly on their first try.

VI. William Trevor--Ireland--33/1
The artist: One of the most acclaimed writers of the modern Irish era, Trevor is a grand statesman at a time when Irish writers could use one. 18 years after Seamus Haney won his Nobel, his forerunner, Trevor may be due for his turn at the podium. At turns Gothic and Chekovian, Trevor might seem to be  an imitator of the first rate, but that undercuts his strengths and inventions as a writer, offering a variety of protagonists, a number of narrative perspectives and a truly Irish sense of tragicomedy.
The odds of a double: Trevor may get some sympathy points for Haney's recent passing, but the boys in green won't. The Irish team will need something darn near approaching a miracle to beat Germany on the road and get a major goal differential boost to pass Austria and Sweden (assuming Austria beats Sweden as they need to). Their chances of turning the double are about equal to odds of Ireland running out of Guinness.

Who wouldn't want to rule that?
VII. Javier Marias--Spain--33/1
The artist: Marias is a man who thinks in terms of split identities in an ever changing and global world. He's also apparently the King of Redonda--a small island micronation that's not really a country or a kingdom at all, it's just a place where writers sit around and write and argue over whose in charge. At just 62 he would be very young for a laureate, and hasn't done quite as much as others on the list, but is already highly regarded in European literature.
The odds of a double: Naturally Spain is going to get in, they host bottom dwelling Belarus and Georgia and a win in either of them will put them in directly. Whether or not Marias actually has a shot to win the day this time around, he may help a double soon enough. I'd say there odds are about as good as Spain getting 8 goals in two matches.

VIII. Salman Rushdie--England--40/1
The artist: Rushdie is one of the best known writers on the planet. Being threatened with a fatwa by the Ayatollah will do that for you. So will being lampooned by Seinfeld when it was in its heyday. So are the great collection of best-selling, critically acclaimed works that make him a focal point of the press every time he publishes something, anything at all. He's a master of magical realism and a truly classic writer. 
The odds of a double: Gabriel Garcia-Marquez already has the magic realism medal, Rushdie's got that "always-a-bridesmaid-never-the-bride" air about him (like John Fowles and Vladmir Nabokov before him). And if there's any greater football choke artist than England I've yet to see them. That puts their odds of pulling the double somewhere around, George RR Martin publishing two books in the same calendar year.

IX. Leonard Nolens--Belgium--50/1
The artist: Little known outside of Antwerp, Nolens is a major postmodern figure in Flemish poetry. (I know, I know...so many great Flemish poets, so little time.) He has both an excellent poetic style and an insightful selection of journal entries that chronicle the artistic process. 
The odds of a double: Belgium is pretty clearly guaranteed a world cup berth, and Nolens is just the kind of underexposed European poet who is beloved by the Nobel committee. There are many better known authors in the running for the prize, but as any football fan will tell you, it's not always the best known team that wins. So I'd say it's about as likely as a show actually earning the title of "The New  Breaking Bad" in the next few months.

X. Ismail Kadare--Albania--50/1
The artist: The bard of the Balkans, Kadare, enjoys blending his own local mythology and modern social issues (such as dangerous and despotic regimes). While he has been exiled to France for undermining socialist status quo, he remains a beloved figure even though his recent output hasn't matched his greatest accomplishments. 
The odds of a double: While Kadare (by virtue of his high reknown and other glossy wins--such as the Man Booker International award) makes a good dark horse, Albania would be a jet black horse in the darkest cave on the darkest side of the moon. A win in Cyprus is likely, but they'd also need a win over front running Switzerland and stumbles from Iceland, Slovenia and Norway...eek. Turning the Albanian double is about as likely as Steven Segal starring at Stratford on Avon.
Really looks like a crowd
pleaser, doesn't it?

XI. Peter Handke--Austria--66/1
The artist: The controversial Austrian (who has frequently defended former dictator/genocide afficianado, Slobodan Milosovic) would be an odd choice for the Nobel committee, who prefers their controversial causes to have the backing of most UN members. But he did write The Goaie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick which uses a penalty shot as a metaphor for criminal behavior.
The odds of a double: Between Handke's controversial behavior and the fact that Austria likely needs a win on the road against a leading Swedish side, I'd say somewhere around all my students handing every assignment in on time for the rest of the year.

Of course, Haruki Murakami is the bookkeepers favorite, Joyce Carol Oates is the pop-culture favorite, and the Nobel prefers to award literally anyone but the favorite. So realistically, it's better to be a fan of the futbol teams than the writers.

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