The Birdcage Archives

Tuesday 24 July 2018

The Man Booker Prize 2018 Longlist

Hello Gentle Reader

Following the heels of the Golden Booker Prize, the Booker Prize has released this year’s longlist for the coveted English language award. This year’s longlist has been praised as being exciting, diverse, and unusual when compared to prize lists of recent memory and in its past. Before we analyze and review the list any further, Gentle Reader, the following thirteen authors and their respective novels make up this year’s longlist. The following list is organized in particular order, and goes: writer – country – novel; without further ado, here is this year’s Booker Prize longlist:

Esi Edugyan – Canada – “Washington Black,”
Guy Gunaratne – United Kingdom – “In Our Mad And Furious City,”
Daisy Johnson – United Kingdom – “Everything Under,”
Donal Ryan – Ireland – “From A Low And Quiet Sea,”
Belinda Bauer – United Kingdom – “Snap,”
Michael Ondaatje – Canada – “Warlight,”
Sally Rooney – Ireland – “Normal People,”
Richard Powers – United States – “The Overstory,”
Anna Burns – United Kingdom – “Milkman,”
Robin Robertson – United Kingdom – “The Long Take,”
Rachel Kushner – United States – “The Mars Room,”
Sophie Mackintosh – United Kingdom – “The Water Cure,”
Nick Drnaso – United States – “Sabrina,”

Of the thirteen writers and novels listed, once again it is immediate clear that the United Kingdom dominates the list with the most writers listed at six, followed by the United States with three, and two for both Ireland and Canada. The list has been praised for having an abundance of female writers included in it, with seven female writers. In discussing the list, the chair of this year’s Booker Prize judges, Kwame Anthony Appiah, states it should come to no surprise that some of the works included are dystopian in nature, considering the current political environment currently facing the world, and numerous topical issues are discussed concerning: “slavery, ecology, missing persons, inner-city violence, young love, prisons, trauma, race.”

On the list is Michael Ondaatje, who has just recently won the Golden Booker Prize, and over twenty years ago, won the Booker Prize in nineteen-ninety two for his novel: “The English Patient.” Fellow Canadian writer, Esi Edugyan, also finds herself included on this year’s longlist, after previously being shortlisted in two-thousand and eleven.

There are several curious inductees on this year’s longlist; the most noted is the American author Nick Drnaso, and his graphic novel, “Sabrina.” This is the first time in the awards history a graphic novel has ever been longlisted for the prize, and comes as the first time (to my knowledge) a graphic novel was submitted for consideration. Its inclusion has gathered praise by the public and media, who see the Booker Prize opening its door to becoming relevant and welcoming and recognizing the unique position graphic novels inhabit in today’s unique literary world. Beyond its form, “Sabrina,” has been hailed as a finely crafted piece of narrative fiction, where it discusses the disappearance of a young girl, and the state of today’s media saturated world with the 24 news feed and television networks. Its subject matter is considered highly riveting and extremely relevant in today’s world of media saturation, and questions of media literacy and journalistic integrity. Following Nick Drnaso and his graphic novel, as a unique pick, comes the United Kingdom novelist Belinda Bauer. Bauer is well regarded in the United Kingdom as a crime writer. The last time a crime novel was included on the Booker Prize longlist or shortlist, was in two-thousand and eleven, which was a rather controversial year for the Booker Prize, where questions were raised with regards to literary integrity versus entertainment and readability. Personally, I am far to skeptical to think that in seven years the times have progressed (or reduced) to a compromise of literary achievement for popular appeal, at which point awards like the Booker Prize, are expected to make consignments to include both forms of writing. Yet, “Snap,” by Belinda Bauer is being considered transcendental, of the argument between high literary merit and popular fiction. There is no denying her career has been based in and around genre fiction, but her novel “Snap,” has been called an intelligent novel which undermines the pitfalls and tropes of crime fiction, and instead deals with trauma—in this case, three children abandoned by their mother and their survival tactics physical and psychological, as they build their lives and come to terms with the maternal absence. “Snap,” has been praised as a novel which can work both within genre and move beyond it, willing to use generally accepted genre tropes to tell compelling and humanistic works of literature. This is why Belinda Bauer has been longlisted; and perhaps this is why its induction is acceptable then awards of years past. The final curious longlisted work comes for the English writer Robin Robertson, and his novel “The Long Take,” which is noted for mixing both prose and verse. “The Long Take,” is considered a formal experimentation between prose and poetry, and openly parades itself as a difficult piece of work to pin down. That being said, it’s being praised as original, innovative, and strikingly refreshing in today’s literary geography. It takes a pastiche of different components (noir narrative, poetry, and prose) to create a startling unique novel, which defies both classification and expectation. “The Long Take,” is considered a heavy contender, and a noteworthy book vying for this year’s Booker Prize.

When reviewed as a whole, this year’s Book Prize appears to be one of the most interesting, relevant and diverse lists drafted in recent memory. I do have reservations about including a graphic novel on the list, but it makes for an interesting read, and more than anything it will grab headlines, and open a discussion on the matter. Overall, it’s a unique list, one which does not favour an old guard; but rather new and young writers, new forms, as well as topics and themes which are pressing concerns of today’s world, and reflective of the political and sociological climate.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

For Further Reading Please see the following articles from the Man Booker Foundation website and The Guardian newspaper:

Tuesday 17 July 2018

A Night Spent with Wisława Szymborska

Hello Gentle Reader

The late poet and Nobel Laureate, Wisława Szymborska, was often noted for being shy or reclusive. She never traveled abroad as a visiting lecturer; she rarely gave interviews, and was fiercely protective of her privacy. For this she was famously called: “the Greta Garbo of world poetry.” Yet this depiction is often unkindly inappropriate, as it paints the poet as a dangerous brown-recluse spider, where she would attack with venom and vitriol, in the event someone trespassed on her shadow, let alone approached her. She may have declined interviews, she may have been shy (even bashful), and she certainly had no desire to engage or lecture on aspects of poetry; but she was never hostile. In fact friends remember the late poet as an incredibly generous, kind, warm and personable person, who possessed a endearing wit and gentle humour, spiked with a keen eye for the ironic. She just happened to facilitate a distinction between her poetry and herself. She firmly believed that her poems stated enough on their own, and never required her assistance in promotion or clarification. She once stated in an interview, when asked why didn’t give interviews (or how rare they were) she is said to have replied (according to herself in the documentary: “End and Beginning: Meeting Wisława Szymborska):

“Because at the time of my birth I signed a contract . . . and there was no mention of giving interviews.”

She would further state:

“And anyway, an interview is only interesting if the author—the person who is interviewed, talks about himself. And I don’t like talking about myself.”

She further ruminates that journalist ask about politics, which is yet another topic she does not prefer to discuss either. She often joked about the lives of poets when compared to scientists or artists; where great films can be made about their lives and their discoveries, or their artistic achievements. But for a poet she ironically coos in her Nobel lecture:

“But poets are the worst. Their work is hopelessly unphotogenic. Someone sits at a table or lies on a sofa while staring motionless at a wall or ceiling. Once in a while this person writes down seven lines only to cross out one of them fifteen minutes later, and then another hour passes, during which nothing happens ... Who could stand to watch this kind of thing?

(Szymborska, Wisława: The Poet and The World. Retrieved from

Even during her Nobel Lecture in nineteen-ninety six, the poet was hesitant to discuss the subject of poetry. Her lecture is known as being of the shortest lectures ever given. Even during her lecture, where she was to discuss poetry in some regard or another, she skeptically and humorously danced around the subject, evading any concrete statement on the matter. Yet she entertains poets, with regard to humanity as a whole. Though she confesses poetry in itself is not a profession, and therefore makes it sound rather frivolous. Despite this, she assures though in attendance and reading at later dates:  all poets wish to be read, appreciated and understood. She mentions the eccentric poets of previous years; ones who, dressed up in a variety of costumes and dresses; and behaved unconventionally. But they too would have to resign themselves from the party at one time or another shut the door and confront the white page, which is the only aspect of poetry that matters.

When it came to inspiration, Wisława Szymborska makes it quite clear no profession—especially poetry—has any monopoly on the matter. Yet, she expresses thanks to how grateful all poets (as well as: writers, artists, scientists, academics, philosophers) should be, in order to pursue their inclinations and predictions, which allows them to transcend the daily grind of existence. Where she counts them as ‘Fortunes darlings.’

Wisława Szymborska’s reticence on the matter of poetry and her reluctance to participating in interviews, worked in her favour. She steadily and skillfully avoided the pitfalls of falling into the snares of windbaggery—so in the event she did decide to discuss a matter or offer some insight or perspective on the matter of poetry, it was never stale or being reiterated. Her statements carried original thought and lighthearted gravity on the subject. Her gem like statements are few and far between, and are tragically brief. She never spoke for long on the subject of poetry, and rarely extended or elucidated her statements. Yet thankfully, towards the end of her life, she participated in a documentary by the Dutch journalist and filmmaker, John Albert Jansen, called: “End and Beginning: Meeting Meeting Wisława Szymborska,” which has been produced and distributed (I believe) by Jansen’s film company: Oogland Film Productions.

The other night, I had the wonderful opportunity to watch the above mentioned documentary. In just a short fifty-five minutes, Wisława Szymborska becomes a subject of film, all the while evading the microscope like glare and curiosity of the camera. When she is on the screen, her attention is directed away from the camera towards a friend (Ewa Lipska) or perhaps John Albert Jansen himself. She rarely looks into the camera, but when she does there’s a mischievous glint in her eyes, as she tells an anecdote or a joke. She is curiously evasive, and when is shown she appears distant, as she declines to acknowledge the cameras presence for long. It becomes concrete: Wisława Szymborska, poet and person; despite being a subject of a film is not a spectacle or an exhibit. This casual distance, however, only strengthens the intimacy of the documentary. Rather than making Szymborska a subject open to questioning and interrogations; while having her talk to her friends or other guests in her apartment, allows the viewers to become a casual observer of her usual interactions.

The films subject as already discussed is Wisława Szymborska, who artfully dodges and weaves away from the harsh glares of the camera. The film is intercepted with poetry readings, commentary from Szymborska and friends, as well as poetic scenes of urban and rural landscapes. In one particular scene, Ewa Lipska escorts camera and viewer to: Krupnicza Street number 22, where she informs them that it was a famous residence of many post-war polish writers, including Wisława Szymborska and her then husband Adam Włodek (they divorced in 1958, but remained good friends throughout their lives. He died in 1986). The scene is winter, and the sky a grey twilight. Ewa Lipska, stands beneath curved art nouveau like balconies, while the snow acts on its nature, and beckons gravities calls. In the distance sires ring out. The landscape is bleak and draped in greys, the concrete buildings lament better times. Yet, Lipska remembers fondly the memories of the time, when Wisława Szymborska lived there, and when Lipska herself inhabited the place later on. The parties they had were famous, she states; and remembers how one woman—a real looker—name Lola, had an admirer who would come and sit on the iron spiral staircase, and play his guitar for her. These private concerts usually took place after he was released from jail.

Of course no film about the poet could ever miss discussing the Nobel Prize. With humour found in her poems, friends describe the situation during the Nobel dinner, where Wisława Szymborska, lit a cigarette after the dinner. Of course, there was no smoking permitted in the gala dinner, in the Stockholm town hall. Dinner is served in gilded plates. Yet the dear poet, seated next to his majesty the King, lit a cigarette anyway. The king, according to the friends, seeing no other way out of the situation, lit a cigarette alongside her; and with slight humour there two wisps of smoke could be seen drifting in the sterile hall. This is just one of the many stories shared (not in the documentary but all around) with regards to Wisława Szymborska and the Nobel Prize—often referred to as: The Stockholm Tragedy, by friends and acquaintances.

The film closes with friends describing the poet. Each one comments on her remarkability as a legend of world poetry, while retaining her discretion and independence, where she is not enveloped or surrounded by gossip. One called her reserved, and warned if she did not maintain that reserved tone she would fall to pieces. Another praises her ability to imagine the different manifestations of people, and with thoughtful (and once again) reserved precision, depicts and celebrates them. Another, remarks on his admiration for the late poet and her acute perspective of the world, where she could cut through the difficulties of life like a razorblade, and with knowledge and wit, understand the irony, the beauty, and the ever splendid pleasures of the reality called life. This same friend has offered the best description of Szymborska’s poetry—it’s true, she is often called the Mozart of World Poetry, but the title is strikingly pompous and does not fit with the diminutive and graceful Wisława Szymborska—he called her poetry, constrained prose, which I found to be a fitting image of her poetry. Her poetry is deceptively simple, but welcoming and approachable. Within a few lines, Szymborska can at once celebrate the wonders and mysteries of life, and in the next, playfully scold human beings for being erring and unnecessarily vain, only to once again celebrate the mistakes they make.

End and Beginning: Meeting Wisława Szymborska,” would not be called a biographical film or documentary that is biographical in nature either. It’s a wonderful depiction of the poet, as well as portrait painted by friends. She is not seen sitting at the kitchen table or laying on the kitchen sofa, staring vacantly into space waiting for inspiration, she is gracefully animate as she talks, reminisces, and reads her poetry. Yet as a subject, she is easily elusive and evades being integrated or questioned. It’s an intimate film and a wonderful watch. Certainly my night with Wisława Szymborska, was well spent and a true delight. Fair warning though Gentle Reader, in the event you are able to see the film, and you watch it, do not expect Szymborska to betray her reticence; she may have welcomed the camera into the her home, and talked with friends, recited poetry, and told anecdotes, she never betrays her discretions or betrays her thoughts.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

Tuesday 10 July 2018

Liu Xia, Leaves China & Arrives in Berlin

Hello Gentle Reader

The widow of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, Liu Xia, has been released from her eight year house arrest conviction, and been granted access leave from China. She has arrived in Berlin, where she was greeted by friends and lobbyists who have been pressuring the totalitarian government of China, to have her released from house arrest. China has officially stated that Liu Xia is (or was) not under house arrest, and had all freedoms of rights to move around.

Since two-thousand and ten, Liu Xia has been detained and kept under house arrest, by Chinese authorities, after her late husband, Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Xiaobo, was sentenced to eleven years in prison in two-thousand and nine, after drafting the political reform manifesto Charter 08, which called for free democratic elections and reforms in China. The Chinese government tried and sentenced Xiaobo to eleven years in prison for subverting state powers and authority. Last year (July thirteenth), Liu Xiaobo, died due to liver cancer. China’s government faced global outrage due to Liu Xiaobo’s mock trial (where he was not allowed to speak during his trial or read a statement, and family and foreign diplomats were barred from observing the trial), as well as his incarnation, and eventual death due to liver cancer; where it was deemed, he suffered beyond a humane conditions, due to his incarceration.

After Liu Xiaobo had received the Nobel Peace Prize, Liu Xia was sentenced to house arrest, and for eight years suffered crippling depression, and other health issues related to cardiovascular complications. Again, the Chinese government remains firm that Liu Xia was never under house arrest and was free to leave at any time.

Now after eight years, thanks in large party to lobbyists and activists, as well as notable public intellectuals, such as Nobel Laureate Herta Müller and dissident Chinese writer and poet Liao Yiwu, and of course the tenacity of German diplomats and Chancellor Angela Merkel, who are being considered the strong arms who sought Liu Xia’s release and autonomy to leave China.

With regards to her release, Chinese authorities and government officials have merely stated she has left and gone abroad to seek medical assistance. No further comment was offered. Yet, many believe it was free-trade deals, and the fact as the anniversary of Liu Xiaobo’s death approaches, her continual and unlawful imprisonment would only gain more global coverage, and the issue once again delay or thwart diplomatic relations.

Now, however, Liu Xia is fee, and can start rebuilding a normal life in Berlin. It is stated that a living situation and assistance has been organized by Herta Müller and Liao Yiwu, but the initial and main concern is her health. Afterwards, Liu Xia can focus on rebuilding and reintegrating back into a society, after eight years of isolation. With her new found freedom, Liu Xia can once again write poetry and draw, after years of her work either being prohibited, confiscated, and destroyed.

Concerns, however, remain of Liu Xia’s brother who has been detained and tried by the Chinese authorities. The official reason for his detention is: fraud; but global authorities and watch dogs, believe it is a retaliating move against Liu Xia and the late Liu Xiaobo. There have been international calls for Liu Hui to be freed from his incarceration. There is no word as of yet on the fate of Liu Hui.

For now though Gentle Reader, the world rejoices, and for Liu Xia she can breathe a sigh of relief; all the while the Chinese government grits their teeth resentment.

It should be noted: since her incarceration, Liu Xia’s poetry has gained global appeal and circulation. It’ll be curious to see what her release will bring.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

For Further Reading, please see the following Aritcles from The Guardian and Deutsche Welle.

Monday 9 July 2018

The Alternative Nobel Longlist

Hello Gentle Reader

It is now up and readily available, the Alternative Nobel Prize for Literature has released its forty-seven strong longlist consisting of the following writers in alphabetical order, followed by country.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Nigeria
Johannes Anyuru – Sweden
Margaret Atwood – Canada
Paul Auster – America
Silvia Avallone – Italy
Nina Bouraoui – France
Anne Carson – Canada
Maryse Condé – Guadeloupe (French Language)
Don DeLillo – America
Inger Edelfeldt – Sweden
Kerstin Ekman – Sweden
Elena Ferrante – Italy
Neil Gaiman – United Kingdom
Jens Ganman – Sweden
Siri Hustvedt – America
Jenny Jägerfeld – Sweden
Jonas Hassen Khemiri – Sweden
Jamaica Kincaid – Antigua and Barbuda/America
David Levithan – America  
Édouard Louis – France
Sara Lövestam – Sweden
Ulf Lundell – Sweden
Cormac McCarthy – America
Ian McEwan – United Kingdom
Haruki Murakami – Japan
Joyce Carol Oates – America
Nnedi Okorafor – Nigeria
Sofi Oksanen – Finland
Amos Oz – Israel
Sara Paborn – Sweden
Agneta Pleijel – Sweden
Thomas Pynchon – America
Marilynne Robinson – America
Meg Rosoff – America
J.K. Rowling – United Kingdom
Arundhati Roy – India (English language)
Jessica Schiefauer – Sweden
Jón Kalman Stefánsson – Iceland
Patti Smith –America
Zadie Smith – United Kingdom
Peter Stamm – Switzerland
Sara Stridsberg – Sweden
Donna Tartt – America
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o – Kenya
Kim Thúy – Vietnam/Canada
Olga Tokarczuk – Poland
Jeanette Winterson – United Kingdom

There they are, Gentle Reader, the forty-seven librarian nominated and longlisted authors for this year’s Alternative Nobel Prize for Literature, which has been setup by the New Academy. Below is a review and analysis of the list.

A Total of 47 writers have been longlisted. From the longlisted authors, the following have been divided into countries that possess the greatest number of nominees:

12 are Swedish
12 are American
5 are from the United Kingdom
2 from France
2 from Italy
2 from Nigeria
3 from Canada
1 from Switzerland
1 from Iceland
1 from Japan
1 from Kenya
1 from Israel
1 from Poland
1 from Finland
1 From India
1 from Guadeloupe

It appears (at least with the Swedish Libraries) there is home advantage, followed by America, then the United Kingdom, Canada , then France, Nigeria, and Italy, followed by the singular countries.

The longlist shows no disparity between age. The youngest author on the list is twenty-five years old (Édouard Louis) and the oldest to my knowledge is eighty-six years old (Cormac McCarthy). The above list compiled is a mixture of usual speculated candidates for the Nobel Prize for Literature: Cormac McCarthy, Joyce Carol Oates, Amos Oz, Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, Haruki Murakami, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o and Margaret Atwood. The list also includes, what would be considered unusual contestants on the typical Nobel Prize for Literature: global literary icons: Neil Gaiman, J.K. Rowling, and Elena Ferrante. Due to the age discrepancy and inductuction of many young authors, it’s fair to say that not all candidates have yet completely established their literary careers, when considered along other writers such as: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Amos Oz, or Cormac McCarthy. Many of the writers listed have only a few books to their name such as, Donna Tartt (but she does look dashing in a tie), or Édouard Louis, or Arundhati Roy, or Marilynne Robinson, or Sofi Oksanen. Further analysis reveals young adult authors have also been taken into consideration young adult authors, such as J.K. Rowling, David Levithan, and Nnedi Okorafor. Speaking further of young adult fiction, fantasy and science fiction authors also make it to the list with: J.K. Rowling and Nnedi Okorafor. Apparently, musicians/singers are also considered contendiable for the award (after all the Nobel Prize for Literature, did go to Bob Dylan in two-thousand and sixteen) with the punk poet, Patti Smith, being included on the list (and yes technically she has written books, but is still more renowned for her music and lyricism then her poetry).

Here’s, however, where the list gets interesting. Two former members of the Swedish Academy are also included on the list:  Kerstin Ekman, who had been inactive with the Swedish Academy since nineteen-eighty nine, and finally was able to resign recently; and Sara Stridsberg. Oh, what sweet irony. Speaking of the Swedish Academy, Agneta Pleijel is also nominated for the Alternative Nobel. What makes Agneta Pleijel notable in this regard is the fact she won the Nordic Prize, when the Swedish Academy erupted into its scandal, and soon found itself faltering in flames. She received the award from Sara Stridsberg (when she was a member) on behalf of Sara Danius, who at the time preoccupied with scandal and in-fighting. Agneta Pleijel is also currently nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize.

Overall, the longlist for this year’s Alternative Nobel (for Literature), is at best populistic in thought and execution. The longlist would not be considered extremely diverse overall; and it lacks the pomp and ceremony of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Consider it the diet-Nobel; its contenders popular or well known or some instances, not writing in lighter areas that are not conventionally associated with serious literature (though that makes one sound rather elitist). Yet, when reviewed and pondered its best to consider this as nothing more than great satire, and another call for the Swedish Academy to decide on what future it will decide to embrace and embark on. As previously noted, the pressure is mounting. Yet in the end: isn’t this sweet noble Nobel Satire, at its finest?

If you’d like to cast your vote on who you believe should go forward to the shortlist please go Here, review the longlisted authors and cast your vote before August 14th.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

Pressure Mounts on the Swedish Academy

Hello Gentle Reader

Lars Heikensten, the Executive Director of the Nobel Foundation, has once again opened up about the Swedish Academy and its crisis, and what the Nobel Foundation will do in the event the Swedish Academy chooses to induct its planned two laureates in two-thousand and nineteen, even if it doesn’t restore confidence with the public. Lars Heikensten has made it quite clear that the Swedish Academy, work on restoring faith and trust with the public, become more transparent, before considering future Nobel Laureates; or in the event the Swedish Academy continues to act in its current matter, and still choose two Nobel Laureates in two-thousand and nineteen, the Nobel Foundation will refuse to relinquish the prize money of 9 million Swedish Krona (which is $1.3 million Canadian or just over $1 million American; or € 879,089.64 (Euro) or £ 777,358.94 (Pound)).

In doing so, Lars Heikensten, hopes it makes it quite clear to the Swedish Academy that reform is not optional, it is necessary; and a failure to make sufficient adjustments to itself as an organization as well as a Nobel endorsed organization, would risk the Nobel Prize for Literature’s reputation being further tarnished. Previously, Lars Heikensten, had made it quite clear there was no deadline for two-thousand and nineteen for the Nobel Prize for Literature, at which point he encouraged the Swedish Academy, to instead seek to reform and getting its own affairs in order, before considering announcing any future Nobel Laureates. In these following statements, Mr. Heikensten is making it quite clear that if the Swedish Academy fails to reform, the Nobel Foundation will utilize its own soft power and authority, to encourage the academy’s adjustments, which may mean withholding the prize money.

The remaining members of the Swedish Academy are currently on summer break, but the crisis still boils to the surface now and again. An alternative Nobel Prize for Literature has been created by other Swedish Intellectuals and public personalities (though I consider this more satirical then serious), and there have been calls and protests that the remaining members of the Swedish Academy resign, as well as three former prominent members demand the resignation of Horace Engdahl, and Sara Danius entertaining and publicly encouraging the idea that all siting members of the Swedish Academy resign. There has been no word lately, as to what reforms and amendments the remaining members of the Swedish Academy have inducted. In this,   Lars Heikensten, sees an issue with the Swedish Academy and the rest of the world is a lack of transparency, honesty, and communication. When the crisis initially erupted (due to poor internal governance) the Swedish Academy was incapable of acting in a public relations matter with the outside world, and fumbled terribly, which led to the members fighting amongst themselves and eventually public resignations; before the King of Sweden changed the statutes, to allow members to actually resign, and have the empty seats filled. With regards to their public scandal and lack of coherent and unified communication Lars Heikensten is encouraging the Swedish Academy to become more open to the outside world, while not violating the statutes and the will of Alfred Nobel; but it must be prepared to answer (in a unified response) to the queries and concerns of the outside world, and not dissent publicly, as we’ve seen during these past few months.

As for finding an alternative institution to award the Nobel Prize for Literature, Mr. Heikensten had commented that there were legal issues, and reaffirmed both he and the Nobel Foundation, wished to see the Swedish Academy, continue to the award the Nobel Prize for Literature, but once again reiterated they must restore confidence in the people, they must become transparent, and they must reform their internal structure to ensure they are able to mitigate and ensure no future crisis’s of this magnitude ever erupt again; which will mean the Swedish Academy needs to tighten its conflict of interest policies, and ensure the statute of confidentiality and secrecy remain unbroken—which the previous crisis had declared: both were broken by: Katarina Frostenson; who it should be added has yet to vacate her seat officially from the Swedish Academy, and whose husband has also been formally charged with the rape.

Still no word on whether or not the Swedish Academy has taken any immediate steps towards reconciliation and reformation. All the world knows is the academy has revised its statutes of appointment for life, to allow members to now officially resign, which four seats now sit vacant; and four members remain inactive: Sara Danius (former Permanent Secretary, and casualty of the crisis), Peter Englund (former Permanent Secretary), Kjell Espmark, and Katarina Frostenson. This also means, no new members can be inducted at this time, meaning the Swedish Academy is short the necessary members to hold a quorum and come to a consensus on any future Nobel Prize for Literature Laureate. Yet, no word from the Swedish Academy or it’s pro tempore Permanent Secretary, on the fate of the Swedish Academy and its reforms; or how it will conduct its future business and dealings, while being short the necessary members.

Lars Heikensten’s, words are not solely directed at the Swedish Academy, but at all Nobel awarding institutions. With the rise of populism, criticism of media, questions with regards to journalist integrity, and the integrity of information, as well as how information is communicated, Lars Heikensten warns that all institutions with the relation to the Nobel Prize, must act accordingly and transparently to ensure the reputation of the awards are never tarnished or jeopardized, and remain pillars of human endeavors and ideals; and never slip or fall into scandal or grounds of simple competition.

As for the fate of the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Swedish Academy, it’s anyone’s game at this time about what awaits both the award and the institution. My personal opinion as it stands is perhaps it is best for the members of the Swedish Academy ultimately resign, considering their  previous displays of public disagreements, and lack of internal governance; at which point a fresh faced academy will begin to rebuild the reputation of both the Swedish Academy and the Nobel Prize for Literature. In such times, it is best when all parties understand that personal benefit is best put aside, in favour of the more meaningful symbols and organizations, such as the Nobel Prizes.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

For Further Reading, please see the two following articles from the Financial Times, where Lars Heikensten discusses the crisis’s of the Nobel Prizes, and what it means to work for the Nobel Prize Foundation:

Nobel Prize in literature at risk of another postponement

Nobel Foundation’s Lars Heikensten: dealing with crises

Sunday 8 July 2018

The Golden Man Booker Prize Winner

Hello Gentle Reader

To commemorate fifty years, the Booker Prize Foundation, had created the Golden Booker Prize, where a panel of judges would survey the past five decades of Booker Prize Winners, and create a short list of winning authors and novels. The shortlist consisted of the following:

V.S. Naipaul – “In a Free State,”
Hilary Mantel – “Wolf Hall,”
Michael Ondaatje – “The English Patient,”
Penelope Lively – “Moon Tiger,”
George Saunders – “Lincoln in the Bardo,”

Of these five writers and their winning novel, the public was asked to vote on who they thought was the most outranking writer and novel, for this year’s Golden Booker Prize. After voting had commenced, the Golden Booker Prize Winner is: the Canadian author, Michael Ondaatje, with his novel: “The English Patient.”

The Golden Booker Prize, received a few backhanded compliments and more outward complaints from readers and the public, and the shortlist baffled a few due to it neglecting some very famous Booker Prize winning authors, such as: Salman Rushdie, J.M. Coetzee, and Peter Carey; and for including the recent winner George Saunders on the list. Yet through the criticism, the panel stuck to their judgements and created the above shortlist, and with it the public voted on who they thought was the most deserving of the fifty year accolade.

Michael Ondaatje has been lukewarm to the news, instead speaking praise towards other writers, specifically V.S. Naipaul, who Ondaatje had said was a master of the times, and certainly more deserving the award; to Hilary Mantel’s momentous and deserving novel: “Wolf Hall.” He spoke fondly of how other writers such as Alice Munro never won the award; and how he felt “The English Patient,” despite its previous Booker Win, and its current win; had numerous issues within it, from pacing to other faded areas which required more attention.

Yet it was the public’s vote that deemed “The English Patient,” the Golden Booker Prize winner.

Congregations are certainly in order for Michael Ondaatje, as he takes the Golden Booker Prize.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

To Read Michael Ondaatje’s reaction and news on this years award please see the following article from The Guardian:

The English Patient wins public poll of best Man Booker in 50 years

Tuesday 3 July 2018

The Violent Virtues of Gardening

Hello Gentle Reader

Gardening carries the weighty air of being either chore or a product of desperate boredom. As a child my mother kept a garden—both flower and vegetable. The front flowerbeds were filled with petunias; there was the perennial rose bush (though it was annihilated in a hail storm after sixteen years of rule), which has since been replaced by three bleeding hearts; the now extinct golden rod, and numerous trumpeting lilies from Asiatic to Tiger; and the purple columbine which spread and sprouted all over. The flower pots grew a plethora of annuals, the most common once again being a multitude of petunias—from white to pink, to purple and red; then mixed with numerous other nameless flowers, which I never planned on knowing the name of and never did. These flowers and plants were my mother’s greatest hobby in the summer. She’d be out planting and watering, and then weeding. The lawn was of course my father’s greatest joy or priority, when it came to gardening—or his preferred semantic: landscaping. Once a week the mower would be out and cutting the grass; usually on a Saturday morning, after breakfast and coffee, meaning the lawn was being cut at nine ‘O’clock sharp. In the evening for a half-hour on each side, the lawn was watered, until it ran into the street. In the back my father would give a similar treatment, with a cut and water in the evening. In the back facing south, was my mother’s vegetable garden which grew a variety of vegetables starting with the potatoes on the far east, before moving to cucumbers and zucchini, then came a row of radishes (the quickest to grow), then a couple row of carrots, followed by onions, lettuce, Swiss chard, and on the far west side ending with beets and maybe a row of squash.

When summer rolled around in my childhood it always brought to mind the positive and the negatives of the sunshine reprieve. First positive, no more school for two months—which back then felt like ages. This meant time for hanging out with friends and doing activities, maybe reading a book or two, and of course sleeping in, in the mornings. Afterwards the list became a downhill thought process of other expectations and realities. First, chores. Come summer with no homework meant more household chores—such as helping cut the grass or help plant, water and of course weed the garden; assist in cleaning the house and making dinners. Then second came the dreaded thought of long-haul car rides to visit relatives in far flung provinces, in either a gilded cage or a desolate landscape; this meant eight to ten hours in a vehicle with my family, not including rest stops, which could always add a further fifteen to thirty minutes to the trip; and after the trip there, there is always the return trip home, which meant: the lawn needed to be cut, the plants watered and the garden would need even more weeding then before we left. Then there is always the debate on whether or not to go camping—one of my most dreaded thoughts of my youth; outdoors in isolation (at least relative to home and people we knew), where we sat around fires, slept in a tent or two, and had showers in some communal bath house (thankfully with private stalls—if we were lucky). This usually resulted in me getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, smelling like a cat rescued from a burning house, and being burned by the sun on at least three different occasions—the point at the end of it all was nature to tell me: it despised me, it hated me. Of course if we went camping and got back from camping then once again: the lawn would needed to be mowed, plants would need to be watered, and the garden would once again require more attention than when we’d left it.

With most chores I found a way to cunningly weasel my way out of it. After numerous attempts at shredding the lawn with the mower and the weed-whacker, my father in blatant red faced irritation and frustration would remove me from the power tools and tell me to go find something else to do, before complaining to my mother, who would take the opportunity to pull me into the garden, which was always in a constant battle of being overrun with weeds. I’d be drug along to the back of the yard, into the border of the garden, where I was to survey the landscape from potato to beet or squash; I surveyed this leafy nursey like domestic jungle.

Gardening is a violent pastime. One in which I think an individual either thoroughly enjoys or somehow finds therapeutic. While on the other hand is nothing more than a usual weekend or evening chore. It requires a detailed discriminate eye, to tell the difference between vegetable and weed. This willful weakness, was one of my many attempts at trying to get out of gardening, either by mistakenly pulling a weak vegetable over a weed—or in some cases a couple of vegetables instead of weeds, but no matter how many I would attempt to pull or how frustrated I would make my mother, I was expected to put in my twenty-minutes of sentencing and help out with the weeding, before being allowed to tackle some other chore, like vacuuming the house, doing the dishes, or cleaning a bathroom, before being released from my sentence and allowed to spend my free time how I wished. Yet come the morning, there was the expectation to help out with the twenty minutes in the garden, before the sun got to hot and burned you. Of course gardening had its positive points as well. Such as harvesting, plucking the ripe and ready plants from the ground and rinsing them with the garden hose to be eaten. Yet, to this day I still remember trying my first radish plucked from its earthen womb, and the kick that red toed vegetable gave me, that my tongue still feels its spicy bite; and still avoid the hellish root even now. My mother also shared her wisdom during these twenty minute intervals and her thoughts on life. One of the most important lessons, it seems was gardening taught patience and hard work. Gardening as she said, taught harvest wisdom, which meant one needed the tenacity in order to plant a garden and then stick with it, through watering and weeding; and when it came closer to autumn, covering it in old blankets to protect the plants from frost. Yet, through it all gardening has remained a relentless chore, and could never be perceived as a hobby or therapeutic relaxing venture.

Now in my much older and mature years, I’ve finally gave gardening a shot—even though in years past I called it the product of desperation born out of boredom. Yet in the spring I planted potatoes, zucchini, carrots, radishes (by my mother’s request), green onion, yellow onion, cauliflower, three tomato plants (by my mother’s request), beans, Swiss chard, lettuce and squash. The planting was not difficult, though not entirely enjoyable. Yet after a couple of weeks it was slightly exciting to see shoots and green leaves pop up in the damp earth of the garden. After a few more weeks they kept on growing with slight more excitement on my part. Perhaps in this early stages, I thought, maybe gardening wasn’t that bad and even had its own merits—after all people have written books on gardening and landscaping, people make professions out of it, and some people (like the my one neighbor) can always be spotted out and about in their yard working diligently to make the flowers bloom and the trees leaf, while ensuring the grass is immaculately green. Then after a couple of more weeks, the weeds had moved in and right at the opportune time, where it became impossible to distinguish vegetable from weed. Through the internet and repeated consultations with my mother I did my best to distinguish which was weed and which were plant, and this time actually attempt to have the detailed discriminating eye in order to accomplish the task.

Armed with a hand held trowel, cultivator, and hoe, I sought to do battle in what was once my garden which was now being overrun with vert vibrant weeds. Needless to say in five minutes I ripped through like a hurricane. I pulled three quarters of forgotten dill, and shredded the entire row of green onions. A few causalities have survived in the carrot row. I mistakenly stepped on a few Swiss chard plants as well as the lettuce. After this few five minutes of carnage and destruction I retired from the garden to sit on the step and reflect on the events that unfolded. I had made quite a mess, and found myself with a renewed hatred towards gardening. Thankfully there was no one around to see my clumsy and chaotic mess, with the exception of one neighbour who apparently enjoys flaunting his gym body in the backyard in the afternoons tanning, while wearing the most minimal swim suit he can squeeze into. I sat on the deck reviewing the devastation I had sown in my patch of idle idyllic Eden, and thought to myself: no wonder Patrica Highsmith enjoyed this as a past time. It’s violent. She could pluck and pull, evict and disregard with her own whimsy. I on the other hand, lacked either conviction or discriminating principles in order to see the subtle differences between the competing flora. As I sipped my coffee, my barely clad neighbour got up, and wrapped his towel around his neck, after which he casually strutted with peacock coolness towards the fence; the scent of tanning lotion wafted into my yard, as he rested on the fence, lifted his sunglasses and nonchalantly posed in his brief swim suit, to survey the garden which had just suffered five minutes of my own Ares like reign. He commented on what happened by simply stating: “not much of a gardener,” before jokingly smiling at me. I took another sip of my coffee before responding that it was not a talent of mine; at which point he laughed and said he only cut the grass, anything that required actual care and attention was beyond his gardening abilities. All I could say was, I should follow a similar path, but have vowed to try again; at which point he lowered his sun glasses smiled and said good luck before heading in doors, all the while slowly strutting in his suit for all to see, while the scent of tanning lotion continued to waft off his tanned body. This entire scene sounds homoerotic but trust me it was more uncomfortable and even slightly infuriating at moments, as I felt as if he were mocking me my attempts to garden and cultivate, grow and eventually harvest.

A couple weeks later I’ve harvested the radishes and sent them back to my mother. My neighbour routinely sunbathes and watches me attempt gardening, while wearing the most minimal suits he can muster. As for the garden its recovering, slowly. The weeds and I are still in a constant battle, but cauliflower has begun to grow, and even florets can be seen. The Swiss chard and lettuce are recovering, and what remains of the dill appears to be growing back healthy. It’s not a lost cause yet, but the entire experience reaffirms a few things with regards to gardening: it’s violent; it’s difficult which requires the tenacity and patience my mother said; and it’s still a past time which I think requires an individual to be so desperately bored in order to seriously consider. In the meantime, it appears to entertain my neighbour, as he sunbathes and smiles at my repeated and defeatist attempts at winning the battle between weed and vegetable.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said:

“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”

To which I respond with this: Gardening, is a virtue in which I have yet to discover..

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary