Top Nobel jurist says Americans are too isolated and insular to merit top literature award, touches off verbal scuffles with Yankee literati.
I do think Horace Engdahl has a point when he says, "They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining."
How far afield does your reading routinely take you? Glancing at my own bookshelf, I would say 80% to 85% of it is American. And I'm a book-crazy ex-pat.
Last foreign book I read: Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan (Nigerian novellas and stories). The book is stunning, marvelous, horrifying. But I automatically snapped back and plowed through three or four American novels in a row without reflecting on my choices -- as if returning home from vacation. That is insular, I think, or at least shows a strong insular tendency.
I think I know why I instinctively reach for the Campbell's soup, though: the rhythms of American speech. That's my mother's milk. When I'm reading a translation, or hell, even something British or Irish, I am aware of the fact throughout. I may like it a great deal -- looking at you, Garcia Marquez, Dickens, Dostoyevsky -- but stylistically it's something else, a relatively exotic work coming out of a different tradition. And my own writing will never sound like it.
I would like to vow to try for a 50/50 split from now on.