The Problem with Initials

Vintage engraving of Woman reading newspaper, Late Victorian, 19th Century

“Your TLS subscription is about to expire,” the e-mail says.

Well, perhaps I will re-subscribe. I glanced at this week’s issue, and dutifully read two essays on classics, one on The Odyssey, the other on Pliny. Both articles seemed, well, facile.

Then the new N.B. columnist, M.C., was snotty about Louise Glück, the first American writer to win the Nobel Prize since Toni Morrison in 1993.

M.C. says pompously,

… it’s not an amaranthine mandarinate in Stockholm that matters in the long term; it’s the writing. And time itself, they say, will be the judge of that.

Yes, the Nobel Prize in Literature may sometimes attach itself to a writer who seems worth reading – regarding this year’s laureate, the American poet Louise Glück, you might have surmised as much by noting the modest accolades she has already garnered: the Bollingen Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Poet Laureateship and so on.

M.C. concludes that the Nobel Prize for Literature does not matter to posterity. It matters to me! I love Doris Lessing, Peter Handke, Yeats, Sigrid Undset, Knut Hamsun, Thomas Mann, Sinclair Lewis, Faulkner, Heinrich Boll, Garcia Marquz…. So many great Nobel winners!

I did enjoy M.C.’s previous two (or three?) columns. We need our book columnists, and they are rare these days. But I have decided there are too many initials in the TLS: N.B., M.C., and J.C. (James Campbell), the former writer of the N.B. column. It might be better to rename the column, so we do not compare M.C. with J.C.

I am thrilled that I haven’t seen the “singular they”in the column. There are standards to uphold!