Monday, September 8, 2008

An Award for Herman Wouk

"This is not at all bad, except as prose."

That was Gore Vidal's caustic evaluation of Herman Wouk's famous novel, The Winds of War. Vidal's disdain is far from universal, however, as will be made clear this week when Herman Wouk is presented the first Library of Congress Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Writing of Fiction. In his citation, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington says, "Herman Wouk's work epitomizes the historical novel and its ability to transcend its time and place to achieve universality in character and themes."

Wouk, now 93 years old, is probably best known for The Caine Mutiny, his 1951 Pulitzer Prize winner which he later adapted for the stage; and his two epic World War II novels from the 1970s: The Winds of War, and War and Remembrance. Yet his long career includes many other quite different types of writings: novels about life in New York (Marjorie Morningstar and Youngblood Hawke), historical novels about the state of Israel (The Hope, and The Glory), nonfiction about Judaism (This Is My God), and even a book about a man's midlife crisis that Jimmy Buffett turned into a musical (Don't Stop the Carnival). His most recent novel, A Hole in Texas, deals with particle physics.

Herman Wouk has always straddled that blurry line between being a "literary" and a "commercial" writer. Yet his has undeniably been one of the most important literary careers of the last half-century. This recognition from the Library of Congress deservedly honors that career.

And it gives Gore Vidal something else to be grumpy about.

More about Herman Wouk and the Library of Congress can be found here.

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