Odds Makers Bet on Nobel Prize for Literature

Many share their choice of who deserve the Nobel Prize for Literature. But at Ladbrokes.com, bets are taken. The British betting site requires scrolling through football, horse racing, cricket, darts, golf, and politics before you arrive at the page for the literature prize.

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DEBORAH AMOS, host:

The Nobel Prize for Literature is the next one up, announced later today in Sweden. Who will win is anybody's guess, but that doesn't stop people from trying. Some are even willing to put money on it.

NPR's Lynn Neary reports.

LYNN NEARY: It's a little hard to imagine, but some people really do bet on the Nobel Prize for Literature. At Ladbrokes.com, a British betting agency, you have to scroll through football, horse racing, greyhound racing, cricket, darts, golf, basketball, even politics - before you arrive at the page for the literature prize.

Lanbrokes' spokesman Nick Weinberg says there's a surprising amount of interest in the prize.

Mr. NICK WEINBERG (Spokesman, Ladbrokes.com): We see a lot - a lot of interest from our Scandinavian customers. But it's not just confined to the Scandinavian market. It's really interest for a number of customers in all corners of the country and indeed the continent.

NEARY: This year, American writer Philip Roth is the odds-on favorite, followed by Japan's Haruki Murakami and Israel's Amos Oz.

A number of poets are high upon the list this year, including Australian Les Murray and Syrian-born Adonis.

David McCann, professor of Korean Literature at Harvard University, hopes this will be the year for Korean poet Ko Un, a former monk who was active in the Korean democracy movement. With a lot of attention focused on the political situation in Korea and a growing interest in Korean culture, McCann thinks the Nobel committee may give him the nod.

Dr. DAVID McCANN (Korean Literature Professor, Harvard University): Ko Un has been one of the writers from Korea whose name is always there at this time of year, and for the last couple of years, in particular. It would be great this year if this was the thing that happened.

NEARY: Two women who are perennial favorites, once again, are being given decent odds, the prolific American novelist Joyce Carol Oates and Canadian Margaret Atwood.

Only 10 women have won the Literature prize since 1901. One of them, a little known feminist writer Elfriede Jelinek, was a surprise winner in 2004. McGill University literature professor Nathalie Cooke thinks the odds may favor Margaret Atwood this year.

Professor NATHALIE COOKE (Associate Dean, Research and Graduate Studies, McGill University): Not only because she's a woman, because she's a good writer, but also because she's a Canadian. And we actually haven't had a prize in literature awarded to a Canadian yet.

NEARY: Cooke believes Atwood's way of looking at the world isn't keeping with the kind of work the Nobel committee has recognized in the past.

Prof. COOKE: Toni Morrison, for example, won it in the 1993. Harold Pinter in 2005. I mean, these are people who are not providing a roseate view of the world. They're showing to a very startling - a shocking reality is in there. I think hoping, not only to push the envelope of the genre in which they're working, but that are actually hoping to prompt us to act and to improve our world.

NEARY: The Nobel Prize committee is notoriously secretive about the finalist for the award. And though speculation about the winner is always rampant, it's usually wrong.

So it's a little hard to understand how Ladbrokes comes up with its favorites. Weinberg says they maintain a list of contenders from year to year and they consult with people in the world of literature. But Weinberg says the bettors are not necessarily experts on the nuances of literature or the ways of the Nobel committee.

Mr. WEINBERG: We usually find much by these punters, by the same token, myself haven't read all of these authors. We stick with the people that I now see, Philip Roth, Amos Oz, the real big names. You usually see lots of hope.

NEARY: Whoever wins the Nobel Prize for Literature this year will receive the award at a ceremony in Stockholm on December 10th.

Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.

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