The bets are on for the 2009 Nobel prize for literature

We won't learn the true identity of the winner till mid-October, but this is traditionally the time of year when Britain's oddsmakers start their calculated guessing as to who will win the 2009 Nobel prize for literature. This year, according to British-based gambling company Ladbrokes, the oddest are shortest (4 to 1) for Israeli novelist Amos Oz.

However, as the Guardian points out, Oz shouldn't invest too much time in writing an acceptance speech – at least, not yet. Last year's winner, French novelist JMG Le Clézio, was originally given odds of 14 to 1 by Ladbrokes. (Oz, meanwhile, was at the top of most bookies' lists last year.)

Other points of interest on the list: Despite last year's pronouncement by top jury member Horace Engdhal that American writers were unlikely candidates for the prize as they were ignorant of world trends and insular and didn't "really participate in the big dialogue of literature," there are a few Americans – Joyce Carol Oates and Philip Roth both at 7 to 1, and Thomas Pynchon at 9 to 1 – reasonably high up on the list.

They're doing better than the British writers, anyway. A.S. Byatt's odds are ranked at 50 to 1, Salman Rushdie 80 to 1, and Beryl Bainbridge and Ian McEwan 100 to 1. (To add insult to injury, all four trail American folk songwriter Bob Dylan whose odds are a substantially stronger 25 to 1).

However, as a reminder that the bookies are perhaps not the most serious sources of literary speculation, the Literary Salon points out that Ladbrokes's initial list (since corrected) was rife with misspellings. Among them: " 'Luis Goytisola' (surely they mean Juan Goytisolo), 'Antoni Tabucchi', 'Umberto Ecco', The Kindly Ones-author 'Jonathan Little' , and 'Michael Tournier'. And, as every year, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o is listed under a name he hasn't published under in decades, James Ngugi."

So perhaps a very large grain of salt needs to be taken as we peruse these lists.

(Chapter & Verse readers are reminded that the Monitor's 9/21/09 Books podcast can be accessed either through iTunes or by clicking here.)

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