The New York Times

Round Table: A Year Without the Nobel

THE TIMES’S STAFF BOOK CRITICS ON THE AWARD’S HISTORY AND WHOM THEY WOULD HAVE GIVEN IT TO THIS YEAR.

Right about this time of year is when the literary world would normally be praising, bemoaning or just scratching its collective head over the latest winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Alas, this year’s prize has been “postponed” (two will be awarded in 2019) because of a sex abuse scandal in the august halls of the Swedish Academy, which hands out the award. That scandal is being covered elsewhere in this newspaper. But to help fill the void of conversation around the prize itself, I recently spoke with The New York Times’s staff book critics — Dwight Garner, Parul Sehgal and Jennifer Szalai — about what the prize has meant (or not meant) to their own reading habits; their opinions of past winners (and past snubs); and whom they would bestow the honor upon this year if they could. — John Williams

Q: Will you miss the awarding of the prize this year? Has it meant anything to you in the past? Have you ever discovered a writer’s work because of it?

PARUL SEHGAL: Well, this is awkward. I fully intended to say that I was indifferent to the charade of the Nobel; that it’s madness to believe that literary excellence can be conferred by committee. Adam Kirsch has a good line about the Swedish Academy being the Politburo of literature.

But when I sat down to write, what did I see on the bookshelf across from me but my wizened copy of Kenzaburo Oe’s “A Personal Matter.” And below it, Yasunari Kawabata’s wonderfully licentious “House

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