Critical Mass



Remember Pierre Bayard’s How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, the charming prevarication of a title that launched an apparently infinite number of no less po-faced reviews last year? Judging by my in-box and the reactions of plenty of intelligent friends, the selection of JMG Le Clézio to receive this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature may have inverted the terms of Bayard’s title. Simply put, I can’t find a lot of English-speaking folks familiar with his work. And I don’t think I’m alone in this. Whose fault is that? My own and my fellow readers, who turn into the Griswald family when it comes to contemporary foreign lit? The publishing houses that stay away from potentially difficult-seeming work in translation? The critical review sections that cover only a minor number of translated titles and virtually never pay attention to publishing outside of the US (of the major literary reviews, do any other than the Times Literary Supplement review non-English-language titles?)?

Interestingly, these questions appear again and again in the journalistic coverage of Le Clézio’s award. M.A. Orthofer—as is his wont, and for which we should all be thankful—has an incredibly in-depth selection of world reaction to the Nobel Committee’s decision at his lapidary site, The Literary Saloon at the Complete Review.