Arts & Culture

Howard Jacobson and Literary Jews that Win and don’t win Awards

Over the last few years, I’ve heard the following ideas thrown around recklessly: The publishing industry is dying. People don’t care about good books anymore. Jews never win book awards/the always hilarious “the people who vote on most literary awards … Read More

By / October 13, 2010

Over the last few years, I’ve heard the following ideas thrown around recklessly:

  • The publishing industry is dying.
  • People don’t care about good books anymore.
  • Jews never win book awards/the always hilarious “the people who vote on most literary awards don’t like Jews.”

My answers have usually been:

  • If traditional publishing is going the way of the dinosaurs, I’m not going to be the one to try and stop that from happening.
  • People have always read crappy books.  So what if Dan Brown and Glenn Beck sell more fiction than that guy you were in an MFA program with?
  • What literary people don’t like Jews?  I thought Ezra Pound and Céline died years ago?  In fact, if you think that people who vote on literary awards aren’t tossing trophies at Sam Lipsyte and Cynthia Ozick because they are members of the Tribe, you’re an absolute fool.

The idea that Jews don’t win book awards is actually the idea that Philip Roth never wins the Nobel for literature award.  And to be frank, so what? He’s won several major awards including 3 PEN/Faulkners in the last 20 years alone. People who say this base so much on the fact that year after year he seems to be “snubbed” for the Nobel.  It’s too bad that “Jewish writer” consistently means “Philip Roth.”

So what if Philip Roth never wins the Nobel for literature?  He will continue to fart out a new book every year for the rest of his life, then fart out a hundred more after he’s passed on to the next world, and people will continue to buy them long into the future.

Please don’t worry — I’m willing to bet that in the next 20 years, Jonathan Safran Foer will end up winning a Nobel.  Disregard your personal feelings towards the guy, because (somewhere) people really love him and his books, and those people tend to be the people voting for the Nobel.  In the meantime lest we forget, Harold Pinter won the Nobel five years ago.  That should be more than enough to fill the ridiculous quota some people seem to have in terms of Jews becoming Nobel laureates for writing.

With all that said, the Man Booker Prize is no joke, and Howard Jacobson, a Jew, is the newest recipient of the award.  That should really put to rest the stupid discussion that Jews don’t win major literary awards.  Not only that, he gave a serious boost of credibility to the comic novel, which is coming back into vogue (thank god).

Not making Jacobson’s victory into a Jewish thing is difficult for me.  I tend to define my Jewishness as the one characteristic I share with many amazing Jewish writers.  Sure, it’s only my ethnic background, and I can’t write half a lick as good as any of them, but it’s still nice to be able to say “hey naysayer, Jews got the literary game on lockdown, yo.  Step the funk off.”