The Laureates Project

Among my goals, I once decided that I wanted to read one book written by every Nobel Prize-winning author (to be specific, the Nobel Prize in Literature…my goal is not to read a ton of chemistry or physics textbooks…).  Because Nobel Prizes aren’t given out for specific works, that left me free to choose which books in particular to read, and I tend to prefer those that also won another award of some kind (I assume that even Nobel Prize winners can produce some dogs).  I haven’t gotten very far…at some point I convinced myself that the task was too big and I’d put in a lot of effort and never finish.  And I fall a little further behind each year, as it turns out.  But that’s the sort of jail-yard mentality that will keep me from ever discovering the thoughts of some great minds.  I’ve decided to reject that now.

There are good reasons to question whether the Nobel Prize list is the right list to read from.  The Nobel Committee, as I understand it, had demonstrable biases, especially in the early years, that excluded some great figures like Tolstoy on ideological grounds.  But the authors chosen also have considerable merit, despite any comparisons that might be made to others who didn’t get it.  They represent knowledge and insight into the human condition, both contemporary and timeless.  They are well-known giants of the craft, and others who have drifted out of our collective memory.  I’m excited to finally getting around to reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Gunter Grass, Rudyard Kipling; and I’m equally excited to meet some new names I’ve never heard of, including the first winner (Sully Prudhomme) and the most recent (Patrick Modiano)—both of France.

As life would have it, I have read five so far without really trying—I’ll talk about those at some point—and I have over 100 to go.  I’ve already met some great work and at least one that I felt was terrible.  Here are my ground rules:

  1. I will resist the temptation to read in order.  Yes, as an engineer that’s tempting.  Instead, I will find works that are timely and fit with whatever I am thinking about.
  2. I will try to pick works that have won another prize at some point.  Being not a great student of literature, I have only others’ opinions here at the outset to guide me to the works that are the “best”.
  3. I will allow myself to stop reading and try something different if I can’t get through a book.  That’s hard for me, because I have an engineer’s OCD-like need for closure.  But that is itself a little bit of my own jail walls that keep me from ever starting many things that I fear I might not finish.  Away with that.
  4. I’ll start first with those works that are in English or have a good authoritative translation into English.
  5. I will take notes and relate to the words, rather than being passively entertained.  I often read passively and don’t remember many details of those books.
  6. I make my way through the list as quickly or as slowly as necessary.  There may be over a hundred to read…but I have lots of time and won’t let the enormity of the task daunt me.

So there you have it.  I’m going to expand my mind in directions that right now are completely outside my knowledge. This page will serve as a running compendium of which works I’ve read and what I’m working on.

Year Author  Work Read
1901 Sully Prudhomme
1902 Theodor Mommsen
1903 Bjornstjerne Bjornson
1904 Frederic Mistral (or Jose Echegaray)
1905 Henryk Sienkiewicz
1906 Giosue Carducci
1907 Rudyard Kipling
1908 Rudolph Christoph Eucken
1909 Selma Lagerlof
1910 Paul von Heyse
1911 Maurice Maeterlinck
1912 Gerhart Hauptmann
1913 Rabindranath Tagore
1914
1915 Romain Rolland
1916 Verner von Heidenstam
1917 Karl Adolph Gjellerup or Henrik Pontoppidan
1918
1919 Carl Spitteler
1920 Knut Hamsun
1921 Anatole France
1922 Jacinto Benavente
1923 William Butler Yeats
1924 Wladyslaw Reymont
1925 George Bernard Shaw
1926 Grazia Deledda
1927 Henri Bergson
1928 Sigrid Undset
1929 Thomas Mann
1930 Sinclair Lewis
1931 Erik Axel Karlfeldt
1932 John Galsworthy
1933 Ivan Bunin
1934 Luigi Pirandello
1935
1936 Eugene O'Neill
1937 Roger Martin du Gard
1938 Pearl S. Buck
1939 Frans Eemil Sillanpaa
1940
1941
1942
1943
1944 Johannes Vilhelm Jensen
1945 Gabriela Mistral
1946 Hermann Hesse The Glass Bead Game
1947 Andre Gide
1948 T. S. Eliot
1949 William Faulkner
1950 Bertrand Russell
1951 Par Lagerkvist
1952 Francois Mauriac
1953 Winston Churchill  The History of the English-Speaking Peoples
1954 Ernest Hemingway
1955 Halldor Laxness
1956 Juan Ramon Jimenez
1957 Alber Camus
1958 Boris Pasternak
1959 Salvatore Quasimodo
1960 Saint-John Perse
1961 Ivo Andric
1962 John Steinbeck  East of Eden
1963 Giorgos Seferis
1964 Jean-Paul Sartre
1965 Mikhail Sholokhov
1966 Shmuel Yosef Agnon or Nelly Sachs
1967 Miguel Angel Asturias
1968 Yasunari Kawabata
1969 Samuel Beckett
1970 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
1971 Pablo Neruda
1972 Heinrich Boll
1973 Patrick White
1974 Eyvind Johnson or Harry Martinson
1975 Eugenio Montale
1976 Saul Bellow
1977 Vicente Aleixandre
1978 Isaac Bashevis Singer
1979 Odysseas Elytis
1980 Czeslaw Milosz
1981 Elias Canetti
1982 Gabriel Garcia Marquez  One Hundred Years of Solitude [incomplete]
1983 William Golding  Lord of the Flies
1984 Jaroslav Seifert
1985 Claude Simon
1986 Wole Soyinka
1987 Joseph Brodsky
1988 Naguib Mahfouz
1989 Camilo Jose Cela
1990 Octavio Paz
1991 Nadine Gordimer
1992 Derek Walcott
1993 Toni Morrison
1994 Kenzaburo Oe
1995 Seamus Heaney
1996 Wislawa Szymborska
1997 Dario Fo
1998 Jose Saramago
1999 Gunter Grass
2000 Gao Xingjian
2001 V. S. Naipaul  In a Free State
2002 Imre Kertesz
2003 J. M. Coetzee
2004 Elfriede Jelinek
2005 Harold Pinter
2006 Orhan Pamuk
2007 Doris Lessing
2008 J. M. G. Le Clezio
2009 Herta Muller
2010 Mario Vargas Llosa
2011 Tomas Transtromer
2012 Mo Yan
2013 Alice Munro
2014 Patrick Modiano