Usually I like to space out my posts, but because I’ve been so lax in writing—but not in reading, though—and the end of the year approaches with still three categories to finish in our Classics Challenge 2015, I’m back, just two days after my last post.
This time we tackle the category of a work by a Nobel Prize winner.
An American author has not won since Toni Morrison did in 1993, leaving American critics and writers frothing at the mouth every October when the Swedish Academy dares to choose a writer from one of the 195 other countries in the world.
This year, after much angsty hand-wringing about whether it would be Philip Roth’s turn, the committee gave it to Belarusian Svetlana Alexievich “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time.” Well that sounds like a good beach read. I’d never heard of her, but I’m not alone. Only 14 percent of the nearly 10,000 people who responded to a survey at nobelprize.org, the official site of the Nobel Prize, had read any of Alexievich’s polyphonic monuments to suffering.
Still, the prize is a draw for anyone who loves to read. Awards can send people like me scrounging to find published works of writers who have stood the test of time. Maybe one year I’ll do a Nobel challenge and read something by every one of the 112 recipients, though where I’ll find something by, say, the 1905 winner Henryk Sienkiewicz, a Pole, honored “because of his outstanding merits as an epic writer.” So “epic” meant “awesome” even 110 years ago?
Anyhoo, because the year is coming to a close, I’m going big in a small way. Let me explain: This author created monumental work that are something I can plow through in a couple days. This American Nobel laureate whose work still has the power to move your soul is someone whose work isn’t meant to be read, per se: He meant for it to be performed.
Eugene O’Neill wrote towering works for the stage. Everyone may know the titles if they don’t know the plays themselves: “A Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” “The Iceman Cometh,” “Desire Under the Elms” and others. His work won four Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any American playwright and, as far as I can tell, the most of any American writer in any genre.
His work draws heavily on his own messed up family, peopled by drunks and other addicts. He was among the first of the American realists and his work can be embarrassingly corny (“Beyond the Horizon”), bizarre (“The Emperor Jones”) long (“Mourning Becomes Electra,” essentially a nine-hour play made up of three not-so-short plays), or mesmerizing (“Long Day’s Journey Into Night”). Sometimes, all of those together.
This won’t be a challenge to me, it’ll be a treat. I just hope I pick the right one.