Post Academic

Oddsmaking on the Nobel Prize in Literature?

On a Sunday morning in October, you’d think any talk about betting action would be on pro football, wouldn’t you?  But as the title of this post explains, it seems like you can pretty much put a wager on anything these days.  We know, we know, Mario Vargas Llosa already won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature, but what we’re talking about is that all the hoopla leading up to the actual announcement of the award was about the odds set by Ladbrokes on who would win.

"Mario Vargas Llosa, Miami Book Fair International 1985" by MDCarchives (Creative Commons license)

Just check out this report on from earlier in the week tipping UC Irvine’s very own Ngugi wa Thiong’o as a contender, topping the oddsmakers’ list at one point or another at 3-to-1.  In fact, I only found out about this new frontier in betting after I heard word that Ngugi was on the shortlist as a leading contender for the prestigious prize, which, in retrospect, may just have been white noise whipped up by…gamblers?  I don’t know Ngugi pretty much at all, though I was one of, like, five people at a grad student meet-and-greet when he was applying for the position he took. But I was pretty psyched about the possibility that a guy I see unassumingly shopping at the campus Albertson’s could be a Nobel winner, even if Ngugi has already accomplished much more impressive feats than that.

But I digress: By the time I logged onto the Ladbroke’s site the night before the announcement, the pecking order had shifted, with Cormac McCarthy with the best odds and Haruki Murakami also leapfrogging Ngugi at the last minute.  Vargas Llosa, to Ladbrokes’ credit, was always on the list, but a little further down.  Unfortunately, the Ladbrokes site doesn’t cache what the odds ended up at — when you click on the Google link to “nobel prize literature ladbrokes”, it goes to Scandinavian weather wagers.  Seriously.

Thinking more about this, just who exactly would bet on the Nobel Prize lit award and who would put so much money behind, say, Cormac McCarthy that it would change the odds so much?  I was originally thinking nerds,  but how many academic types have money to throw away on a bet?  And not many lit specialists — or actually any — have read all the authors you could put money on.  Heck, some of the more recent winners are even unknown to English-centric readers.  So I’m thinking that only eccentric readers of means, nationalists who would like to see their country’s culture get worldwide props, and the most degenerate bettors who will place a wager on anything (like Swedish snowfall odds) are the best, um, bets here?

Sorry we got on Nobel betting too late for you to get in on the action.  I was gonna say you could bet on the Man Booker Prize, but apparently Ladbrokes has suspended betting on it because a flood of money behind Tom McCarthy’s C seemed a little sketchy.