When I started studying creative writing ten years ago, the first teacher I met asked the class what we were reading at that moment and why? What was it inside those books that interested us? It was a good way of trying to get to know who we were, where we came from literarily speaking, and eventually, where we wanted to go. These questions led me to reckon that since childhood, I was mostly dedicated to reading every book available on my mother’s bookshelf; and later, as an adult, whatever newspapers recommended as good reads. No order, no compass, no signage. It was just the compulsive obsession of reading, like a traveller in the wild.
Since then, and because reading comes first and writing sparkles afterwards, I’ve been advised many times to read as much, and as broadly, as I can – as the best way known to learn the art of writing. Throughout my studies I learned techniques and I wrote a lot, of course, but what I’m most thankful for is the acute guidance to select authors and books I received during those years. So who and what to read among the millions of books and authors out there? That was, and still is, the question. I have now an endless list of preferences that thickens every year, but generally speaking, and beyond personal tastes and opinions, I will say one can find superb quality in any Literature Nobel Prize Laureate.
Alfred Nobel signed his last will and testament on the 27th of November 1895, dedicating one part of his fortune to “the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”. From then until now, 114 authors from 39 nationalities, writing in 25 languages, have been awarded the prize. To date, the youngest Literature Laureate is Rudyard Kipling, best known for The Jungle Book, who was 41 years old when he was awarded the prize in 1907; and the oldest laureate is Doris Lessing, who was 88 years old when awarded the prize in 2007. Laureates have been recognized, read and imitated not only in their countries of origin, but across the world, giving visibility and depth to the human condition in a multiplicity of scenarios, contrasts, and changing environments. Truth is, literature, honoured by these laureates, vanishes frontiers, borders, and limits, underscoring the universal multicultural value of the written word.
From these many laureates, I would like to mention six that have specially touched my heart along the years. Some of them because of their elegance and capacity to express brilliant and complex ideas, others for their exceptional quality conveying emotions in the most simple, direct, clear way possible.
Colombian Gabriel García Márquez was awarded the Literature Nobel Prize in 1982, “for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent’s life and conflicts.” His unforgettable One Hundred Years of Solitude, and a handful of his other creations, rested quietly on my night table during all my youth. The book tells the story of the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo throughout the history of generations of the Buendía family.
In 1998 the award was granted to Portuguese author José Saramago, “who with parables sustained by imagination, compassion and irony continually enables us once again to apprehend an elusory reality.” His extraordinary book Blindness depicts memorably the profoundness of the human soul when challenged by physical and emotional turmoil amid a society that suffers an epidemic of blindness.
John M. Coetzee, South African, “who in innumerable guises portrays the surprising involvement of the outsider”, was awarded the prize in 2003. Waiting for the Barbarians stayed with me since I read it a few years ago. Powerful and elegant in its contained violence, it touched me profoundly. The book tells the story of a Magistrate that lives in a quiet, small colonial town at the frontier of an Empire, which is declared on state of emergency due to rumours that barbarians might be preparing to attack the town.
The prize was granted to Turkish author Orhan Pamuk in 2006, “who in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures.” His book My Name Is Red awakened in me a delicate interest for Eastern culture and its art. It’s a complex, although interesting book, with several viewpoints and narrators, that tell the story of artists and miniaturists – one of which is murdered – in Istanbul during the Ottoman Empire in the year 1500.
Mario Vargas Llosa, Peruvian, won the prize in 2010, “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat”. The Feast of the Goat is an extraordinary novel I enjoyed reading two years ago. The book portrays the assassination of dictator Rafael Trujillo, its aftermath and its significance for the inhabitants of the Dominican Republic between 1950 and 1996.
I had the pleasure of reading Canadian Alice Munro last year, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2013 for being the “master of the contemporary short story”. Too Much Happiness is a powerful book that contains ten very different stories filled with emotion, untold truths, violence, and unexpected resolution.
Why do I read the laureates? They are a guide. The brilliant star across a dark night. I might one day accomplish my desire to read them all. Who knows. In the meantime, I acknowledge there are so many other wonderful authors that captivate my gaze as well that I tend to drift away. But from time to time I come back, look at the sky, and set my compass again with the help of this North brilliant star.
[Source for the citations in text: “All Nobel Prizes in Literature”. Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 23 Nov 2017. <http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/>%5D
Paula Arellano Geoffroy is a Chilean writer that lives with her family in the Netherlands. She is also an engineer in forestry, but her true passion resides in working with both creative and technical writing. Always curious, avid reader and a perennial student, she is actually writing articles for different organizations, revising the draft of her first novel, and studying creative non-fiction and professional writing at an American university.