“Have you read anything by Alice Munro?”
Last week, when it was announced that Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature, we expected a flood of people coming in to ask for her books. And while it’s been a bit more like a trickle (maybe our townspeople just aren’t into Canadian literature the way we thought they might be), we’ve heard a lot of the same things. “Have you read her books?” “Does she only write short stories?” “Do you like her books?”
This was an important win, not only because it is the NOBEL prize, and those are only given out to very special recipients, but because it’s the first win for a Canadian author. (There have been a number of squabbles about this online, mentioning author Saul Bellow who also won, and was born in Quebec. However, the general consensus is that he is American, having moved from Quebec to the US when he was 9 years old. So, we’ll leave that argument aside.) Munro’s stories are clearly Canadian—always—and so she must be celebrated as such.
So, the questions about her books have been interesting. It seems that the “average” person has not read her books, or if they have, it’s been as an assignment. From those who claim to love her books, I must admit, there is a renewed interest: we haven’t seen people running out of here with Alice Munro books prior to the win. Now they are. Hindsight, maybe.
While Munro’s life wasn’t magical in terms of writing success (she didn’t publish her first collection until she was 37 years old, and it took her many years to be known outside of Canada), she’s become something of a legend in her later years. She claimed to retire recently, but now I’m sure people are hoping she might give that idea up and pour herself into one (or two) more collection(s). Frankly, she almost ‘owes’ the world that much, don’t you think? More, please, Alice Munro!
Must we enjoy her books because she mentions small Canadian towns we might have driven through or inhabited? Can we readily admit we don’t find thrills reading about smalltown doctors or shopping at local hardware stores? Of course! It’s perfectly fine not to enjoy someone’s writing, even if others think we should, and we might be scorned for not loving it by snobbish literary types.
We should, however, rejoice in the fact that this spectacularly private Canadian accomplished something incredible in a genre that is difficult to market mainstream. We should celebrate that she is a woman who has persevered throughout a career that brought about many “no’s” and disappointments. And we should cheer loudly about the fact that she has been recognized as one of the World’s best. We don’t have to love her books, we just have to love her, as a fellow amazing Canadian. Because really, isn’t that who she writes about? The average Canadian person in extraordinary circumstances.