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  1. Let me start by saying that this little essay is not about Bob Dylan, that I've been planning on writing it for weeks, and that it was this tweet I just now saw by Jon Karl which prompts me to write it now. Nobel's Dynamite I have seen dozens of complaints by credible writers about Bob Dylan winning the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. What I've been thinking is exactly what I haven't seen, but is touched on by George Will in this column: "The Prize That Bob Dylan Really Deserves" by George Will on washingtonpost.com The Nobel Prize in Literature has exploded in the past four years. Although I can't pretend to have read even half of all Nobel Prize Literature winners, I do know that it has generally been regarded as "a novelist's prize," yes, with some exceptions, but it was generally considered to be the ultimate honor for long-form writers. The Nobel committee, in 2013, began a massive expansion of what "literature" means, and in doing so, has probably increased the pool of candidates by one order, perhaps two orders, of magnitude. In 2013, Alice Munro, the fine writer of short stories (such as "Runaway"), took home the medal, and was called, with absolute seriousness: "our generation's Chekhov." Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), the Russian master-playwright and short-story writer, had been reincarnated in Canada, and the Nobel Prize in Literature had opened itself up to short-form writing. When you talk about the event of "running," are you referring to marathons, or do you mean sprints? Both are perfectly valid forms of running, and by extrapolation, it makes good sense to include authors of short stories as well as novels (Vladimir Nabokov be damned). Munro's victory could easily be subtitled, "Zweig's Revenge," even though, as Lloyd Bentsen might have said, "Alice Munro is no Stefan Zweig." Still, the Nobel Prize in Literature was now available to all of us writers with the attention span of a gnat who just flew through a puff of itching powder. After Patrick Modiano exhaled the smoke, then came 2015: the second puff, and the year of the non-writer. Belarusian Svetlana Alexievich, a wonderfully relentless journalist, was awarded the prize. I had never even heard of Alexievich, so I read "Voices from Chernobyl," a methodically packaged compilation of people's responses to interview questions, assembled and presented in a cohesive fashion so the reader, by the end of the book, has a good idea of what it was, and is, like to be anywhere near the Chernobyl disaster. Yet, the thing that stuck with me the most was that Alexievich did not write one, single word in this book that I'm aware of, with the exception of section titles - all she did was compile, organize, and present other people's words. There's nothing wrong with this, and Alexievich is to be celebrated, not criticized - she wasn't out campaigning to win the Nobel Prize; she was merely awarded it. You cannot fault her for that, but it does raise a question in my mind: If Alexievich won the Nobel Prize in Literature, then why can't I win it for having "written" donrockwell.com? I do the exact same thing she did in this book - I take other people's words, organize them, index them, and present them in a cohesive fashion so that the reader has a clear picture of what's going on. Awarding the Nobel Prize to Alexievich opened it up, not only to every single journalist in this world, but also to website moderators who perform their duties in a similar fashion as she. With the acknowledgment that I possibly lack sufficient talent, I am left with one nagging question: Why *shouldn't* I win the Nobel Prize in Literature? I'm as good as anyone in the world at what I do, and I do essentially the same thing as Svetlana Alexievich. And now we're in 2016, the year of the songwriter. I do not know enough about Bob Dylan, the Minnesotan troubadour, as a literary figure, to make any credible statements about whether he should, or shouldn't, have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, even though he has been seriously compared to both Shakespeare and Homer (and I don't mean Simpson). But what I can say is that, since Dylan won it, the award has been opened up to every songwriter in existence. I don't mean composers, I don't mean musicians; I mean songwriters: people who write lyrics, and set them to music. However many people were eligible to win the Nobel Prize in Literature after Mo Yan won in 2012, there were probably ten-times more who were eligible to win at the end of 2015, and now there are probably ten-times more than that eligible to win at the end of 2016. The Nobel committee - right or wrong - has expanded the meaning of "literature" to a degree which many people haven't yet thought through. Next in line? Screenwriters, editors, rappers, preachers (where is Billy Graham's award?), speechwriters, graffiti artists, orators, pianists, attorneys, tennis players (is Roger Federer not a poet using a tennis racket instead of a pen?) - where does it all end? Or does it end? Or, did it end in 2012?
  2. The great Magical Realism author Gabriel Garcia Márquez died today at age 87. He is one of the few authors that wrote a passage so strong, that I remember where I was when I read it. Márquez is one of my primary influencers as a writer, although I shouldn't call myself a "writer" in the same sentence with his name. From "One Hundred Years Of Solitude," at the moment when José Arcadio Buendí­a, son of Úrsula Iguarán, dies from a mysterious gunshot wound: "A trickle of blood came out under the door, crossed the living room, went out into the street, continued on in a straight line across the uneven terraces, went down steps and climbed over curbs, passed along the Street of the Turks, turned a corner to the right and another to the left, made a right angle at the Buendí­a's house, went in under the closed door, crossed through the parlor, hugging the walls so as not to stain the rugs, went on to the other living room, made a wide curve to avoid the dining-room table, went along the porch with the begonias, and passed without being seen under Amaranta's chair as she gave an arithmetic lesson to Aureliano José, and went through the pantry and came out in the kitchen, where Ürsula was getting ready to crack thirty-six eggs to make bread. "Holy Mother of God!" Ürsula shouted." From this passage alone, the reader knew, beyond any doubt, that Ürsula was fully aware it was her son that died. This may be his most famous passage, and "One Hundred Years Of Solitude" is required reading, but it does Márquez a great injustice not to explore him in much greater depth. The short story, for example, "The Incredible and Sad Tale Of Innocent Erendira and Her Heartless Grandmother," found here, can be read in one evening, and is every bit as profound (in Spanish, "Innocent Eréndira" is written as "Cándida Eréndira," and the story is a riff on Candide by Voltaire). I wrote a passage from it the first night I ever met Chris Cunningham.
  3. It pains me to say that the great German author, Günter Grass, 1999 Nobel Prize winner for Literature and author of "The Tin Drum," has passed away at age 87. "Renowned German Author Günter Grass Dies, Age 87" on dw.de (Deutsche Welle) "Günter Grass, Nobel-Winning German Novelist, Dies Age 87" on theguardian.com "Günter Grass, Who Confronted Germany's Past As Well As His Own, Dies At 87" on npr.org "Günter Grass, Nobel Prize Winner, Dies Age 87" on telegraph.co.uk "Günter Grass, German Novelist and Social Critic, Dies at 87" on nytimes.com Last year, we lost Gabriel Garcia Marquez; this year, we lost Günter Grass. Like Marquez's "100 Years of Solitude," Grass's "The TIn Drum" is one of the most important works of contemporary literature I've ever read. A giant has left us today. Please share your thoughts and feelings about this great German author - this has hit me pretty hard, and I'd love to see some discussion of his life's work. "The Tin Drum" (1959) is one of those literary works which you'll most likely find more rewarding to read before seeing the film (1979), although the film is excellent, having won a Palme D'Or and an Academy Award.
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