When Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature last year, most of us could hum along as the scratchy voice sung folk lyrics. If not, we pulled up Spotify, searched the laureate’s name, and familiarized ourselves with Dylan’s poetry in quick, four-minute hits.
Novelist and screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro earned the prize this year, and I’m guessing plenty of students didn’t recognize his name — much less attach it to one of his novels — when the Swedish Academy announced it had smiled upon another genius.
I’ve never read Ishiguro, but I have bumped his best-known books high on my reading list, scheduling them for fall break or sooner — you should, too. Here’s why: Unlike many Nobel Prize winners, Ishiguro earned this award by writing good books, not by championing a political statement.
The New York Times of all places offered this explanation of his selection: The academy chose Ishiguro because his work deserved the honor, not because his work offered any kind of political agenda. We live in a nation whose people have made political statements of football games, music, movies, social media, tragedies. But here we have a man and his stories, free of agenda. Hallelujah.
Ishiguro has written seven novels, all of which have demanded the attention of critics and pleasure readers alike. His stories hop places and eras, touring Japan (his birthplace) and England (his home) as he weaves different narratives through pre- and post-World War II before plummeting into Medieval England.
Sara Danius, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, described his style in a way that would have any Hillsdale book worm scribbling Ishiguro’s books on their Christmas lists.
“If you mix Jane Austen and Franz Kafka then you have Kazuo Ishiguro in a nutshell, but you have to add a little bit of Marcel Proust into the mix,” Danius told the Times.
As for his books, Ishiguro enjoys exploring time and memory.
“I’ve always liked the texture of memory. I like it that a scene pulled from the narrator’s memory is blurred at the edges, layered with all sorts of emotions, and open to manipulation,” Ishiguro told the Readers Read blog. “I love all these subtle things you can do when you tell a story through someone’s memories.”
Ishiguro’s favorite novelist is Charlotte Brontë, although she has only recently surpassed his love for Fyodor Dostoyevsky. He longs for another Jane Austen novel that would explore love beyond the wedding day. He obsesses over new translations of the “Odyssey” and the “Iliad.” He has anthologies of Flannery O’Connor and Carson McCuller stacked next to his nightstand. And, most endearingly, he adores Joni Mitchell, the Canadian singer-songwriter who graced the 70’s.
Ishiguro enthralls me because we have a lot in common (except for his sheer genius and award-winning craft). We like music, we like books, and we like Joni Mitchell.
But I want to read his literature because he has sold me on his soft, humorous voice. I don’t feel pressured to read his books so I can be the best version of whatever political identity I’ve assumed. I don’t feel assaulted by an agenda.
I just want to read his books. I hope you do, too.