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Arts and Entertainment

Who Will Win The Nobel Prize For Literature This Year, According To Online Bookies

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Literature is news that stays news, the most agreeable way of ignoring life, the question minus the answer, our great archive of human expression, or similar to the droppings of the goats among the rocks, all depending on whom you ask. (In this case, Ezra Pound, Fernando Pessoa, Roland Barthes, Sven Birkerts, and D.H. Lawrence's wife, respectively). It is not, however, typically considered to be the domain of high-stakes online bet makers.

All that changes every October, when the Swedish Academy starts handing out the laurels—and the biggest names in online bookmaking lay down the odds for which often obscure writer will soon become (albeit briefly) a household name.

The Swedish Academy began handing out Nobel Prizes Monday and will announce one a day through Friday. By the end of the week, 2017 will be just another year you didn't win a Nobel Prize (unless, of course, you were those guys at Caltech). And on Thursday, they'll award the coveted prize for literature, which—as even non-Nobel watchers know—surprised many when it was awarded to Bob Dylan last year.

The literature prize awards “the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction,” according to Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel's original terms. We don't really know what exactly that means either. Nor, it seems, does the Washington Post. "The terms of [Nobel's] will leave the prize’s exact intentions tantalizingly vague — making the literature award one of the most debated and entertaining of the Nobel Prizes," the Post explained in a story yesterday.

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Recipients are chosen by a five-member subset of the 18-member Swedish Academy (comprised of "writers, linguists, literary scholars, historians and a prominent jurist"), and the entire process is notoriously opaque. Unlike many other literary prizes, there is no public shortlist and the deliberations are extremely secretive—all of which makes nailing down the odds more difficult for bookmakers than, say, the average horse race. Ladbrokes has been placing bets on Nobel odds for more than decade, and the British company is best known of all the firms taking bets on the literature prize, according to the New Yorker. Ladbrokes' literature odds used to be compiled by Magnus Puke, the company's “Nordic Sports and Novelty Odds Compiler,” who told Bloomberg in 2011 that he came up with his list by "working literary contacts, hanging out in online forums and keeping an eye on Twitter." A Ladbrokes spokesperson told the New Yorker that Puke, who also wrote love poetry in his spare time, has since “moved elsewhere and has passed the baton to a colleague who uses very similar methods.”

Without further ado, here is how Ladbrokes is currently breaking down the top five slots in the race (plus odds from other major sites):

Ngugi Wa Thiong'o: 4/1 odds
For what it's worth, this isn't the first year that the Kenyan author and playwright's name has hovered near the top of the list. The writer "has been a favorite to win for years," according to a Washington Post column last year bemoaning the fact that Thiong'o hadn't won the 2016 prize. Ladbrokes had also placed his odds at 4:1 last year. Thiong’o, according to the Post, "captures the progression from the raw plunder and violence of colonialism to the corruption of national Third World elites by the predatory forces of global capitalism" in his work. According to betting research center NicerOdds, Unibet and Bettson (two other big European online gambling sites) both see Thiong'o's chances as slightly less likely, giving him 9/2 (or 4.5/1) odds.

Haruki Murakami: 5/1 odds
Like Thiong'o, Japanese writer Haruki Murakami has been a favorite to win in years past—so much so that there is a veritable literature of tweets decrying his non-awarding, including our personal favorite:

Unibet and Bettson both favor Murakami over Thiong'o for the prize, placing him at 5/2 and 7/2 odds, respectively.

Margaret Atwood: 6/1 odds
Recent success for the Margaret Atwood-based Hulu show has actually hurt, not helped the Canadian writer's shot at the prize, at least according to Ladbrokes. “We’ve had to cut Margaret Atwood’s odds ... following ‘The Handmaid’s Tale”s Emmy win last week,” Alex Apati, a spokesman for Ladbroke’s, said in a recent email to the Washington Post. Bettson also has Atwood at 6/1 odds, and Unibet has her at 13/2 odds.

Ko Un: 8/1 odds
Korea's most famous poet became a Buddhist monk after witnessing the devastation of the Korean War. He left the monastery in 1962, and was "detained, tortured, and imprisoned repeatedly for his opposition to the military regime" in the 1970s and early '80s, according to the Poetry Foundation. He has published more than 100 books, including translations of his poetry into more than a dozen languages.

Bettson and Unibet, however, see Ko Un's chances as far slimmer, placing his odds at 29/1 and 25/1, respectively.

Yan Lianke: 8/1 odds
This novelist and short story writer lives in Beijing, although some of his most heralded work is banned in his native China. No other writer "in today’s China has so consistently explored, dissected and mocked the past six and a half decades of Chinese communist rule," according to the Guardian. The New York Times has praised "his superlative gifts for storytelling and penetrating eye for truth." Bettson and Unibet have Lianke at 12/1 and 10/1 odds respectively.

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Honorable Mentions
Ladbrokes has also hammered out a lengthy list of other long[er] shot options and their respective odds, including Don DeLillo (14/1 odds), Joyce Carol Oates and Philip Roth (both 25/1 odds), Ursula Le Guin (33/1 odds), Milan Kundera (50/1 odds), Cormac McCarthy, Joan Didion, Thomas Pynchon and Julian Barnes (all 66/1 odds), Salman Rushdie (80/1 odds), and Hilary Mantel (100/1 odds).