Books: The Green Bouquet

One of the enduring literary parlor games is listing the immortal losers of the Nobel Prize: Tolstoy, Proust, Joyce, Kafka and Rilke are but a few. Despite the vagaries of the judging, the award remains by far the most coveted prize for writers, partly because it is a huge windfall ($98,100). There are always famous bridesmaids waiting for the big green bouquet. At present they include Vladimir Nabokov, the finest novelist alive; Norman Mailer, the most protean writer; and poets like W.H. Auden and Robert Lowell.

As has been rumored for weeks, this year's winner is West German Novelist Heinrich Böll, respected...

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