This year’s Nobel winner on the importance of a good read
The most important thing that ever happened to newly minted Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa? It wasn’t the news two months ago that he had won the prize for literature, or the first time he ever published a book. It was, he said, learning how to read.
Vargas Llosa came to Stockholm to give the traditional pre-award lecture and he told a throng of listeners how books enriched his life, breaking the barriers of time and space. He said writing them helped him create a parallel life where one could take refuge against adversity, where the extraordinary was natural and the natural extraordinary.
This winter has been one of the coldest on record thus far for Stockholm so literature lovers in the Swedish capital were eager to soak up some Latin warmth to brighten one of the darkest days of the year. The hall, adorned with tall gold columns and crystal chandeliers, was packed with academics, publishers and a sizable entourage of Spanish speakers.
The day before, at a news conference, Vargas Llosa spoke about how his life had “entered into a vortex” after clinching the award as he joined the ranks of Ernest Hemingway, Rudyard Kipling and Pablo Neruda. Answering questions in Spanish, English and French, he also took the opportunity to lament what he saw as modern society’s obsession with vacuous entertainment.
In his lecture, the professorial Peruvian said literature helps us orient ourselves in the “labyrinth” where we are born and compensates for the frustrations real life inflicts upon us.
“We would be worse than we are without the good books we have read, more conformist, not as restless, more submissive, and the critical spirit — the engine of progress — would not even exist,” he told his audience.