Nobel Prize committee says on their page: "Over the years, the Nobel Prize in Literature has distinguished the works of authors from many different languages and cultural backgrounds. The Literature Prize has been awarded to unknown masters as well as authors acclaimed worldwide."
That is certainly one of the big points. I love reading books that have been recommended to me by friends, especially if I know those friends have a similar taste to mine. If I pick up the work of a Nobel Prize winner, it is not exactly a friend I know who recommended it but a group of people who know a lot more about literature than I do. They have decided that this author is the best choice for a prize in the year they award it. They have all read hundreds of books before making their decision. They don't just look at the bookshops and look which are the most popular books at the moment. I trust the members of the Swedish Academy that they look for interesting literature, something that deserves to be called a classic in a couple of hundred years.
There might be a lot of critics who claim that they randomly choose someone, that they cast lots over the names of authors who are currently discussed, whatever. I have read some works by Nobel Prize winners that I didn't really enjoy but - on the whole - I have found some wonderful authors among the recipients of this prize and I will happily continue selecting literature from their list.
The authors give me an insight into their culture that I hardly get through other works (that's why I do prefer, let's say, Le Clézio to Tranströmer), or at least, not that easily. I have read books by authors from all the continents, including those parts that I didn't know much about like Africa, Asia, India, Israel, Central America, South America, but also from European countries that are not as widely translated like Hungary, Norway, Romania Serbia, Turkey, but also from other countries that I did know a little about and from where I had read novels before including my own country, France, England or the US. Judging by the German authors that were awarded the prize, if all the others are just as great as they are (and I think they are), we have a wonderful selection of authors worth reading. And I am happy to dip into that list anytime I stand in front of my bookshelf and exclaim "I have nothing to read!"
A list of all Nobel Prizes in Literature.
Excerpts from books by prize winners.