I have been thinking about the 2008 non-cash, no notoriety award that is the Ellstrom Award for Literature. Named after JJ Ellstrom, see picture below, I feel compelled to make the right decision, if for no other reason than that I named the thing for my grandfather.
As I pointed out several days ago, I am considering a stiff field of books. I was quite impressed by them all. Think about Percy's Last Gentleman. It contains, to my way of thinking one of the greatest scenes in literature. The last 5th of the book is pretty spectacular. However, it also contains some skewed thinking, including subtle views of women and blacks that are hurdles I can't get over when naming my winner. Sorry Walker. (I'll write.)
Then, how about that book, Sand Child, by Tahar Ben Jelloun. It stuck in my mind for weeks. I still haven't figured it out. And that is the problem. A little too obscure. Great, but obscure. Perhaps I will read this book again and then I can consider it again next year.
Then there is that great book by Richard Wright, Black Boy and American Hunger. I think Wright painted an amazing self portrait on top of a canvas filled with revelations of culture and politics. I am not sure why this book didn't rise to the top of my list. It just didn't, perhaps writing style.
The last two books are about equal in my esteem. Vladimir Nabakov created two amazing characters in his book, Lolita. This work was not an easy one for me to even want to read. The subject matter seemed too much for me--a man molesting a child over and over again. Yet, Nabakov handled the subject matter so sensitively, delicately, completely, yet not more than necessary, that it is hard to say the book was anything but masterful. One would expect to come out on the other side of such a book either desensitized or perhaps hating Humbert Humbert, the man who stole Lolita's childhood. Yet the reader is not forced to become hardened, nor are they left without empathy for Humbert. And because of that we are able to see ourselves better, understand our own obsessions, and perhaps be more compassionate toward those who we normally would neither see nor value. This book is truly one of the classics of twentieth century writing.
But it is The Plague by Albert Camus that wins the 2008 Ellstrom Award for Literature.
Why, this book, you ask? I think it is that it faces death and suffering with grace, courage, and compassion, and hope. It is not an easy book, but it is a good one. And it is the one I chose.
Congratulations Albert and The Plague. Congratulations World.