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:
- 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.
- 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”.
- 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.
- I’ll start first with those works that are in English or have a good authoritative translation into English.
- 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.
- 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.
|1904||Frederic Mistral (or Jose Echegaray)|
|1908||Rudolph Christoph Eucken|
|1910||Paul von Heyse|
|1916||Verner von Heidenstam|
|1917||Karl Adolph Gjellerup or Henrik Pontoppidan|
|1923||William Butler Yeats|
|1925||George Bernard Shaw|
|1931||Erik Axel Karlfeldt|
|1937||Roger Martin du Gard|
|1938||Pearl S. Buck|
|1939||Frans Eemil Sillanpaa|
|1944||Johannes Vilhelm Jensen|
|1946||Hermann Hesse||The Glass Bead Game|
|1948||T. S. Eliot|
|1953||Winston Churchill||The History of the English-Speaking Peoples|
|1956||Juan Ramon Jimenez|
|1962||John Steinbeck||East of Eden|
|1966||Shmuel Yosef Agnon or Nelly Sachs|
|1967||Miguel Angel Asturias|
|1974||Eyvind Johnson or Harry Martinson|
|1978||Isaac Bashevis Singer|
|1982||Gabriel Garcia Marquez||One Hundred Years of Solitude [incomplete]|
|1983||William Golding||Lord of the Flies|
|1989||Camilo Jose Cela|
|2001||V. S. Naipaul||In a Free State|
|2003||J. M. Coetzee|
|2008||J. M. G. Le Clezio|
|2010||Mario Vargas Llosa|