What the Swedes Read

A New Monthly Column

by Daniel Handler

This issue contains the first of a new column written by Daniel Handler. For each installment, he’ll read and write about one book by each winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. When he’s done, the Believer will throw a party in Stockholm to celebrate his achievement. We’re pretty sure this will be in 2025, but keep your calendar open.


  • LAUREATE: Saint-John Perse (1960, France)
  • BOOK READ: Seamarks (trans. Wallace Fowlie)

If you want to sell me on something, tell me it’s important. Call a novel interesting and I’m interested, but call it the masterpiece of the greatest Basque novelist of the nineteenth century and it’s on my bedstand before you can say “criminally overlooked.” I’ve read books by the most influential of Louisiana poets, the greatest postwar Western European essayists, and the most powerful Islamic women novelists of their generations, and when I’ve disliked them I’ve sometimes re-read them, so convinced that my skills aren’t up to their stature, rather than vice versa. It’s a bit silly, but I can think of no less silly way of deciding what to read.

This is presumably how Seamarks, by Saint-John Perse, ended up in my home.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

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