Every three years or thereabouts, the gray worthies who make up the Swedish Academy show signs of intelligent life. Charged with annually awarding the Nobel Prize in literature, their taste runs generally to Scandinavian novelists beloved by readers from Reykjavik to Helsinki, to poets who cannot be understood in their own or any other tongue, to Americans (Saul Bellow excepted) who haven’t written a good book in years. Tolstoy was not good enough for them, neither was Joyce or Henry James. Nabokov, Auden, and André Malraux fell into their graves without attracting the Academy’s notice, and the claims of Borges and Graham Greene continue to be met with a serene indifference. No wonder, then, that when word of his anointment arrived by way of telephone calls to his Miami Beach apartment, Isaac Bashevis Singer responded skeptically. “I thought it must be a mistake or a joke,” he said. “I told my wife, ‘In any case, let’s eat breakfast.’”