Review: 'In Praise Of Reading And Fiction' The remarks of Mario Vargas Llosa at the Nobel lecture celebrating his receipt of the prize for literature in 2010 have been published. The speech praises the value of fiction. Alan Cheuse, who teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., has a review — and contrasts Llosa's thoughts with those of novelist Phillip Roth, who's been quoted recently as having lost his interest in fiction.

Review: 'In Praise Of Reading And Fiction'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, host: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: And I'm Robert Siegel.

When Mario Vargas Llosa was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature last year, he delivered a lecture called "In Praise of Reading and Fiction." Well, now, that lecture has been published and our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, thinks it's well worth reading.

ALAN CHEUSE: Vargas Llosa's Nobel acceptance speech prints out only to 40 pages in hard cover, but it presents a big argument and a striking, if not surprising, testimonial.

The most important thing that has ever happened to me, the Nobel winner declares on the very first page, I learned to read at the age of five in Brother Justiniano's class at the De la Salle Academy in Cochabomba. I remember clearly, he says, how the magic of translating the words in books into images enriched my life, breaking the barriers of time and space. Reading changed his fate, Vargas Llosa says, turning dreams into life and life into dreams and placing the universe of literature within the reach of the boy he once was.

Reading the great writers served as a tutorial for him in the art of fiction. Furthermore, as a writer who spent years in politics in his home country, the Peruvian giant declares that, without fiction, we would be less aware of the importance of freedom in making life livable.

How odd that in this same season, another prize winner, novelist Philip Roth, on the occasion of being awarded the International Man Booker Prize, announced in an interview in the Financial Times of London that he wasn't reading fiction anymore.

I don't read it at all, Roth said. I read other things, history, biography. I don't have the same interest in fiction that I once did. I don't know, I wised up.

Chaucer renounced his work on his deathbed. Tolstoy did pretty much the same. What's up with Roth's renunciation? He seems to be the wise guy and Mario Vargas Llosa all the wiser.

SIEGEL: The Nobel lecture from Mario Vargas Llosa, now in book form, is called "In Praise of Reading and Fiction."

Alan Cheuse teaches writing at Georgia Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.