Americans don’t read the world’s best literature?

Two authors won the Nobel Prize in Literature this year: Peter Handke and Olga Tokarczuk. I hadn’t heard of either of these writers so I figured I would head over to Amazon and pick the ones that got the best reader reviews.

The Amazon page for Handke lists books with, mostly, between 0 and 5 reviews. For Olga Tokarczuk, there are just two books, with a maximum of 44 reviews. Compare to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Ode to Victimhood (4,200+ reviews), anything by Stephen King (up to 10,000 reviews!), Michelle Obama’s How to Marry a Successful Man (15,500+ reviews), etc.

Do we conclude that these recent Laureates are not truly great authors? Or that Americans don’t bother to read authors of great literature?

I want to give Slow Homecoming a try, since it starts in Alaska. Flights seems promising since it is about travel.

Readers: Had you heard of these authors? Planning to read anything by them?


  • Wikipedia says Peter Handke questioned the demonization of Slobodan Milošević (thus upsetting the European righteous)
  • the Wikipedia page for Olga Tokarczuk says “she has leftist convictions” (so she might agree with Slobodan Milošević, at least, on the merits of socialism?)
  • NYT article on these prizes quotes Olga Tokarczuk as an enthusiast for low-skill migrants going to the U.S. (but not to her own homeland of Poland, it seems!): She also referenced increasingly severe immigration policies in the United States. “Twelve years ago there was no mention of the idea of walls or borders, which were originally adopted by totalitarian systems,” she said. “Back then I must admit that I was sure that we had put totalitarianism behind us.”

7 thoughts on “Americans don’t read the world’s best literature?

  1. So you’re saying the nobel committee still has some sense in not awarding the social justice writers or the wife of a nobel prize winner. Still, they should have awarded it to a certain blog commenter. There are still nobel prizes in divorce litigation, taildraggers, helicopters, & twin engine pistons to be awarded.

  2. I recently read Olga Tokarczuk;s “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead.” She’s definitely a talented writer, but I found the plot a little too coy. A lot of people like it though. On Goodreads it has 3.96 stars out of 5 and 546 reviews. I’ll probably give “Flights” a try based on that first book and her Nobel win.

    The Nobels can be a good way to recognize talented authors that otherwise would not get wide exposure because of where they live. Best seller lists in the United States are mostly not the place to look for the world’s best literature.

  3. What percentage of the Amazon reviews would you guess are by people who have read the books they are reviewing. I have noticed that when it comes to well known political figures the reviews tend to focus on the person rather than the book, which seems to suggest that the reviewer has not in fact read the book. So for example have you ever been in anyone’s home where the books you mention are prominently displayed or has one of your friends or colleagues ever noted one of these works as a wonderful book he had read? As for the Nobelists, from what I have read it does not seem that either is particularly worth reading & as for Handke not because of his politics — the Nobel Prize for Literature has a long history of often, though not always, being awarded to undistinguished writers and often though not always neglecting writers whose works would stand the test of time. Would be interesting for people who know the sciences to know whether this is the case there too.

  4. As a rule Nobel prize is going to the people who can not monetize their work. There are some exceptions, such as Bob Dylan and Bark Obama, but they reinforce the rule.

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