Nobel Committee Salutes Neglected Books

October 11th, 2008

In an indirect tribute to neglected books, the selection committee awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature to the French novelist Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, who has managed to be successfully ignored by most of the English-speaking reading public for the last forty-some years. But this neglect is understandable, at least in the eyes of Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Nobel prize jury, who told an Associated Press reporter, “The US is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature …That ignorance is restraining.”

For a quick and admittedly crude assessment of where the US and UK stand with respect to other countries in the recognition of Monsieur Le Clézio’s work, I checked a variety of online bookstores to see how many of his books were currently in print and available for sale. Here are the results:

Overall, this rough survey suggests that U.S. publishers are not doing too bad in keeping up with Le Clézio’s work, at least compared to other countries. And though his novels have never rated very high with any but a small circle of academics and fans of the avant-garde, the fact is that the Atheneum Press was a faithful supporter, issuing fine hardback editions of most of his major novels until the mid-1970s. With the celebrity of a Nobel on his side, Le Clézio is certainly back in demand, and there is a good chance that at least some of these now out-of-print English translations will be coming back. So, in spite of Mr. Engdahl’s assessment, the American publishing industry and reading public tends to be pretty responsive to the Nobel Committee’s championing of a neglected writer–certainly more than they are to this site’s!

3 Responses to “Nobel Committee Salutes Neglected Books”

  1. Pat Hobby Says:

    Oh the disappointment that is in store for those who run out to their libraries to get the Le Clézio books…

  2. editor Says:

    Meaning? A bit dry?

    Nevertheless, what did get published here is now selling like hotcakes. I did a quick check on a couple of his titles right after getting the email alert about his being awarded the prize, and there were copies of first editions going for as little as $8. 48 hours later and the going rate was $50-75. And one eBayer was asking over $1,000 for one of his novels.

  3. Pat Hobby Says:

    Let’s just say that from the two books I have read of Le Clézio I would put him in your Justly Neglected category. Maybe if I could read him in French it would have been better.

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