Handicapping the Nobel Prize in Lit: Philip Roth vs. E.L. James?

Let it not be said that the folks at Ladbrokes don’t have a sense of humor. There, at the end of their annual list of  Nobel Prize in Literature odds, sits E.L. James at 500/1. For you non-degenerate gamblers, 500/1 means if you bet $1, and E.L. James wins, you win $500. But you’d have to collect your winnings whilst dodging swarms of locusts, waves of fire and other signs of the apocalypse. So that would suck.

And but, we’re only a few weeks out from the announcement of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature (it’ll be announced some time the week of Oct. 8), or as I like to call it, “Countdown to Philip Roth Getting Hosed Again.” This year, Mr. Roth stands at a fairly respectable 16/1 shot. Last year, Roth was a 25/1 shot, so he’s improving.

If you don’t know much about the Nobel Prize in Literature, here’s the one line you can use at your next cocktail party, “I strongly believe the Nobel committee judges American writers unfairly due to American imperialism in the Bush years.” And then stand back and watch people try to decide if you’re being sarcastic or not. It’s good times.

No American has won the Prize since 1993, when Toni Morrison took it home. There’s all kinds of serious theories why. But it may just be as simple as the fact that some Swedish guy on the jury just doesn’t like American literature. Last year, before the prize was awarded, HuffPo reported that the jury had hired experts in non-European literature “in an attempt to broaden the scope of the Prize.” Still, a Swedish dude — not named Stieg Larsson — won. (His name is Tomas Tranströmer. And by the way, six of the last eight Prizes have gone to Europeans.)

So, do we Yanks have a real shot this year? Other than Roth’s decent odds, the American with the best odds is actually Bob Dylan at 10/1. Only Haruki Murakami at 7/1 is a bigger favorite. Last year, Riot Editor Jeff wrote an impassioned and well-reasoned piece on why Dylan should win. If I wasn’t such a Roth fan, he’d have convinced me. Other Americans of note: Cormac McCarthy (16/1), Thomas Pynchon (20/1 — and if Roth can’t break the American dry spell, Tommy’s my horse), and Don DeLillo, Joyce Carol Oates and E.L. Doctorow (all 33/1).

If you’re looking for a good bet, I’d suggest Chinese writer Mo Yan (12/1). Frankly, I don’t know him from Adam, but a Chinese writer has never won, so is it time? Plus, after all the Europeans lately (Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, anyone?), perhaps the committee will want to save some money on etching fees by choosing a guy whose name only has five letters.

For longshots (other than Christian Grey’s creator, of course), how about Salman Rushdie at 66/1, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at 50/1 (Man, was Half of a Yellow Sun good!) or Jonathan Franzen at 100/1 (just kidding…)?

Who’s your horse, and why?