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Thread: The Second Best

  1. #1

    Default The Second Best

    Hi Everybody,

    I thought it would be fun to play a bit with the whole "what's the best work by that Nobel Prize Winning writer?" and promote, instead, the question of what constitutes the second best book by that Nobel Prize Winning writer. How it works is quite simple - going through the list of Nobel winners, outline which work of theirs you consider to be their second best "masterpiece". And - because lists don't lead to discussion, but words do - outline why. I would suggest you only do this for authors that you've actually read more than two books by, but I obviously can't control that. If you want to do this based on the reputation of a work the you're free to do so.

    Feel free to also turn this into a notelist of the works that you've read by the Nobelists. It would be interesting to see just which books all of you have read from each other these writers.

    I've attached a full list of all of the winners, feel free to copy and paste it to make your job a bit easier.

    2015 - Svetlana Alexievich
    2014 - Patrick Modiano
    2013 - Alice Munro
    2012 - Mo Yan
    2011 - Tomas Tranströmer
    2010 - Mario Vargas Llosa
    2009 - Herta Müller
    2008 - Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio
    2007 - Doris Lessing
    2006 - Orhan Pamuk
    2005 - Harold Pinter
    2004 - Elfriede Jelinek
    2003 - John M. Coetzee
    2002 - Imre Kertész
    2001 - Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul
    2000 - Gao Xingjian
    1999 - Günter Grass
    1998 - José Saramago
    1997 - Dario Fo
    1996 - Wislawa Szymborska
    1995 - Seamus Heaney
    1994 - Kenzaburo Oe
    1993 - Toni Morrison
    1992 - Derek Walcott
    1991 - Nadine Gordimer
    1990 - Octavio Paz
    1989 - Camilo José Cela
    1988 - Naguib Mahfouz
    1987 - Joseph Brodsky
    1986 - Wole Soyinka
    1985 - Claude Simon
    1984 - Jaroslav Seifert
    1983 - William Golding
    1982 - Gabriel García Márquez
    1981 - Elias Canetti
    1980 - Czeslaw Milosz
    1979 - Odysseus Elytis
    1978 - Isaac Bashevis Singer
    1976 - Saul Bellow
    1975 - Eugenio Montale
    1974 - Eyvind Johnson, Harry Martinson
    1973 - Patrick White
    1972 - Heinrich Böll
    1971 - Pablo Neruda
    1970 - Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn
    1969 - Samuel Beckett
    1968 - Yasunari Kawabata
    1967 - Miguel Angel Asturias
    1966 - Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Nelly Sachs
    1965 - Mikhail Aleksandrovich Sholokhov
    1964 - Jean-Paul Sartre
    1963 - Giorgos Seferis
    1962 - John Steinbeck
    1961 - Ivo Andric
    1960 - Saint-John Perse
    1959 - Salvatore Quasimodo
    1958 - Boris Leonidovich Pasternak
    1957 - Albert Camus
    1956 - Juan Ramón Jiménez
    1955 - Halldór Kiljan Laxness
    1954 - Ernest Miller Hemingway
    1953 - Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill
    1952 - François Mauriac
    1951 - Pär Fabian Lagerkvist
    1950 - Earl (Bertrand Arthur William) Russell
    1949 - William Faulkner
    1948 - Thomas Stearns Eliot
    1947 - André Paul Guillaume Gide
    1946 - Hermann Hesse
    1945 - Gabriela Mistral
    1944 - Johannes Vilhelm Jensen
    1939 - Frans Eemil Sillanpää
    1938 - Pearl Buck
    1937 - Roger Martin du Gard
    1936 - Eugene Gladstone O'Neill
    1934 - Luigi Pirandello
    1933 - Ivan Alekseyevich Bunin
    1932 - John Galsworthy
    1931 - Erik Axel Karlfeldt
    1930 - Sinclair Lewis
    1929 - Thomas Mann
    1928 - Sigrid Undset
    1927 - Henri Bergson
    1926 - Grazia Deledda
    1925 - George Bernard Shaw
    1924 - Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont
    1923 - William Butler Yeats
    1922 - Jacinto Benavente
    1921 - Anatole France
    1920 - Knut Pedersen Hamsun
    1919 - Carl Friedrich Georg Spitteler
    1917 - Karl Adolph Gjellerup, Henrik Pontoppidan
    1916 - Carl Gustaf Verner von Heidenstam
    1915 - Romain Rolland
    1913 - Rabindranath Tagore
    1912 - Gerhart Johann Robert Hauptmann
    1911 - Count Maurice (Mooris) Polidore Marie Bernhard Maeterlinck
    1910 - Paul Johann Ludwig Heyse
    1909 - Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf
    1908 - Rudolf Christoph Eucken
    1907 - Rudyard Kipling
    1906 - Giosuè Carducci
    1905 - Henryk Sienkiewicz
    1904 - Frédéric Mistral, José Echegaray y Eizaguirre
    1903 - Bjørnstjerne Martinus Bjørnson
    1902 - Christian Matthias Theodor Mommsen
    1901 - Sully Prudhomme

  2. #2

    Default Re: The Second Best

    Thanks for getting this started Vazquez. I'm glad that somebody else is willing to explore this question a bit - personally, I think that the idea of Second Bests allows us to question the Best of the Best as much as anything. I'll take your route and go with 5 Nobelists thus far, but I honestly haven't read many writers more than once or twice, so my contribution to this process can only be quite limited. I could add a few more to this, but I will save those for as the threads (hopefully) develops.

    2013 - Alice Munro - "Moons of Jupiter"

    Munro is one of my favourite writers, and in the top two or three of my favourite living writers. However, as her work is entirely that of Short Stories it is hard to know what kind of output to note here - individual stories, or full collections. I've opted for full collections, though I could point out individual stories as well if it is preferred. Moons of Jupiter is a fantastic collection of stories, as all of her collections are, but I think it rises slightly above the rest for its technical prowess as it starts to play with the form and structure of stories in ways that her previous work never did and her following work developed. Some highlghts include "Dulse", "Bardon Bus", "Labor Day Dinner", "Visitors", and "Moons of Jupiter".

    Also read: Runaway, Lives of Girls and Women, The View from Castle Rock
    Next Up: Friends of My Youth

    2007 - Doris Lessing - "Briefing for a Descent Into Hell"

    To be honest, I'm not sure that I have a right to promote this book as her second best, but I will anyways. I haven't read any of her masterworks, though exactly which of her works, aside from The Golden Notebook, are considered masterworks is up for constant debate. Of the three I have read, though, this is certainly the second best. It is remarkably inventive, has some truly fantastic writing, and is a wonderful satire of how we understand mental illness in the world. It is also a piece of science fiction (though I suspect Margaret Atwood would contend that it isn't all that science-fiction-ey), which is the body of work that Lessing thought was her most important contribution, and which is a genre that I often struggle to enjoy. That wasn't the case with this one. It felt grounded while also playing with the immense possibilities of the world around us. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Also read: The Fifth Child, The Good Terrorist
    Next Up: The Grass is Singing

    2001 - J.M. Coetzee - "The Age of Iron"

    As Vazquez points out, Coetzee is damned fine. I would content that he might be the most important fiction writer we have right now, and the most consistent. His work is damned good, awe-inspiring, a mixture of nightmares. And it is changing. He never stops changing his form and theme. His work from the 80s is very different from his work from the 00s, which is proving to be very different from his work in the 10s. And, as far as I'm concerned, everything is worthy of reading - and, everything that I've read is going to be re-read.

    I've selected Age of Iron, after some careful consideration, because it made too much sense to me that this kind of violence was possible. When I read it I thought I was reading fiction was it was meant to be written, some kind of vision of the future. It gave me nightmares, and it entered my understanding not only of South Africa but also of Canada - this is the kind of violence that could, possibly, come to dominate my country. As a product that discusses the idea of fear, the project of decolonialization, and the complex relations between settler and colonized that result, it is perhaps without equal. It is really damned good.

    Also Read: Waiting for the Barbarians, Foe, Life and Times of Michael K, The Childhood of Jesus
    Next Up: Boyhood

    1983 - William Golding - "The Spire"

    I've only read two by Golding, but I have thoroughly enjoyed both of them. This despite the fact that many consider Golding's Nobel as one of the great misfires of the prize - no Borges, Calvino, or Greene? Really?! I don't know if he is one of the greats of this great prize, but he was a very talented writer, unflinchingly earthy and human. I have selected The Spire because I think it plays with many themes which are of particular importance to those who wish to become something of themselves - pride and shame, disillusionment, and ambition. And I think it plays with them wonderfully. It may be that Golding's greatest talent was playing with physical threats which were the central symbols of the story, and here he does this masterfully. A wonderful little book, with some great writing and descriptions. I would be thrilled to ever be able to write about dust falling like this man.

    Also Read: The Lord of the Flies
    Next Up: Rites of Passage

    1957 - Albert Camus - "The Stranger"


    This is perhaps the most controversial selection I'll make to this thread. Quite simply, The Stranger is fantastic, but it isn't as good as The Plague. I love them both deeply, but, until I reread The Stranger I can't argue that it has the same weight or heft as The Plague. I can't argue that it engages with society quite as much - I can't argue that it is anything more than a little experiment. But what a good experiment. Read at any time in one's life I suspect The Stranger is illuminating to the ways in which we can and cannot relate to the society we find ourselves trapped in, and just what we can expect of one another. Was Camus important? You're damned right he was. Was this book important? You're damned right it was. And it still is. One of the great laureates as far as I'm concerned, with more than a couple masterpieces under his belt.

    Also Read: The Plague, The Myth of Sisyphus
    Next Up: The Fall

  3. #3
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    Default Re: The Second Best

    Kenzaburo Oe- A Personal Matter
    It's pretty much Oe's flagship book, at least in the US. Upon rereading, the ending is not as ill-fitting as some might suggest, but Oe definitely could have handled that better than he did. Still, the writing, the plot...it's one of my favorites, surpassed in Oe's oeuvre by only The Silent Cry, a much denser, less exciting, but ultimately more rewarding read.

    Mo Yan- The Garlic Ballads
    I know some posters on here hate this book, but it's what made me fall in love with Mo Yan's writing. Like Oe, his language hits me just right. And although the plot is a little predictable, the way the nonlinear plot unfolds struck me as having the gripping pacing of a thriller. Seeing Chinese poverty first hand also opened my eyes to the sort of things described in this book. Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out may be better, but this one still holds a special place in my bookshelves.

    Patrick Modiano- Missing Person/The Cafe of Lost Youth
    Yes, I'm cheating. But I can't pick just one. One is an intriguing detective story, the other is about cafe-goers recalling a young woman who went around in their circles some years prior. Neither is better than Dora Bruder, though.

    John Steinbeck- Cannery Row
    I have weird tastes for when it comes to Steinbeck. His most famous pieces never really resonated with me; I can see why they're so popular, but The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, etc, seemed like over-written, under-edited, black and white books. Cannery Row, a more subtle, more humorous book, is more my speed. It's about a group of bums and a scientist on the US's west coast and their day to day life. No life or death matters, no biblical allegories, just derelicts trying to throw Doc, the scientist, a party. His best, in my opinion, is his travelogue Travels with Charlie (the titular character is Steinbeck's dog).

    Saul Bellow- Henderson the Rain King?
    The reason for the question mark is that 6 or 7 years ago I read Augie March and was blown away. It quickly became one of my favorites but I'm not quite sure what I'd think of it if I read it again. But enough about that, Henderson the Rain King is a great comic novel. Here's a short synopsis: an American millionaire goes to Africa to try and find fulfillment, hijinks ensue. Eugene Henderson is a complete asshole, but Bellow makes sure he never becomes completely unlikable. He's not someone I'd want to interact with too much in person, but as a character, Henderson's dickish attitude is more amusing than annoying, much like Ignatius Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces. The character is a typical Bellovian hero, but it's interesting to see Bellow getting out of his comfort zone, making the plot be something few people had ever experienced.

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