Considering the Nobel Bump
When I moved to London a year and a half ago, I determined that I would enjoy the novelty of being able to bet on the Nobel Prize for Literature. It has always been one of my favorite times on the literary calendar -- the season is changing to autumn, and there is a fresh bite to the air, and it feels hopeful that people are betting on literature and watching it as if it were a sporting event. It seems so unlikely to me, as an American, that there is any kind of way to bet on books besides to take a risk and buy and read them.
So last year I ran two miles in the rain after dropping off my son at nursery to a Ladbrokes betting site and risked everything on the odds-on favorite, Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong'o. I would have bet on several more people, but there was trouble processing my payment and the betting closed. I lost; Bob Dylan won. I didn't feel bad about spending money on a form of frivolity even after losing, I continued to feel a form of glee that such a thing could be done. I also had heard Dylan was a contender for years, and had even considered him in my early choices.
I had very little time this week to consider my betting, and like last year I barely made it to the betting parlour on time after bringing my son to school. I bet a spread of authors after reading a few predictions and decided that Margaret Atwood would be my favorite, followed by Thiong'o again, Korean poet Ko Un, and Spain's Javier Marias. I also thought about Kazuo Ishiguro, but he hadn't been given a chance in the press, and he seemed too young to me to be a likely contender. Ishiguro is one of my favorite writers. Remains of the Day is one of my favorite contemporary novels, it also happens to have been inspired by a song by Tom Waits, one of my favorite singers. And though I lost today, I was thrilled for the news.
I have worked at several bookstores over the years, and watched with fascination what happens when an author dies, or an author wins a major award. There is an immediate interest and refocusing on the writer's work and a sales bump. And now that I am a new to the trade as a rare book dealer, I wonder how the Nobel impacts sales of first editions. I have most of Ishiguro's firsts, plucked over the years from used bookstores, and I know there is a healthy price at book fairs put on firsts of Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go -- he is already popularly collected. It may seem cynical to care about the price of modern first editions, but I see it as establishing and investing in the idea of an author's having value in a world that makes very little room for the importance of writing. Today, signed first editions available online of Remains of the Day range from $200-600. I suspect by the end of the week that range will have doubled, and copies will be scarce for a while.
Images: (Top) Remains of the Day first edition via Wikipedia; (Bottom) Kazuo Ishiguro and A.N. Devers at a book signing. Courtesy of A.N. Devers.