With the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament getting underway this afternoon (I refuse to acknowledge the “First Four” games), Tom and I thought this would be a good time to talk about the fact that we both picked the exact same Final Four (Kentucky, Missouri, UNC, and Ohio State) and that The Morning News’s Tournament of Books is made up of a lot of mediocre books.Read More...
The Morning News Tournament of Books is BACK! For the uninitiated, this is a 16-book, bracket-style “tournament” designed to crown the . . . well, I’ll just let them explain it:
Today we’re announcing the shortlist for the 2012 Tournament of Books (for novels, of course, published in 2011) only a week or so into the New Year. See, this is the space where we remind everybody what a folly this exercise is. It’s stupid. A tiny and secretive cadre of people telling everyone else what the best novels of the year are is every bit as ridiculous as an electoral system where anonymously endowed Super PACs tell everyone else which willfully ignorant global-warming denier should be president.
Like we said, stupid. But we do it anyway. And the one thing we humbly offer is transparency, and a rooster for the winner. We do not meet in a closed conference room and slide our decision under the door scribbled on the back of a car-wash receipt, like they do with the Pulitzer. And unlike the National Book Award, we have a series of fail-safes designed to preserve the integrity of our prize by ensuring that we do not mistakenly include books that are homophones of the actual finalists in our shortlist. We are proud to say that the system ultimately worked, but not in time to avoid an apologetic phone call to to the biographer of British painter Copley Fielding.
In the Tournament of Books, you will know who the judges are. What their biases are. Which books they choose and why they are choosing them. In the past we’ve had judges who flipped coins. Judges who picked the book with the prettiest cover. Judges who didn’t finish one of the books. Judges who didn’t finish either book. Once we had a judge who so hated both books we had to literally subdue him physically to make him choose. (When we say “literally” we really do mean literally, though when we say “physically” we mean “politely in an email.”)
In other words, this is the best, non-serious book tournament being played (?) today. And as always, I think their list of 16 books sucks almost as bad as that stupid BCS thing and everything in the state of Alabama.
First off, the judges are definitely top-notch: Emma Straub, Mark Binelli, Oscar Villalon, Bethanne Patrick, Alex Abramovich, Walter Kirn, others.
But the books! Ugh. OK, maybe “meh” is more appropriate. Obviously, I’m disappointed that ONCE AGAIN, they overlooked all Open Letter titles. Zone, Scars, My Two Worlds, could compete with any of the 16 titles “they” selected.
I’ve only read parts of a few of these books, but just because it’s Wednesday, I’m going to break the field down into a few categories:
Deserve to Be There
Nathacha Appanah, The Last Brother (Go Graywolf!)
Teju Cole Open City (Sebald version 2011)
Helen Dewitt, Lightning Rods (Gloryholes! And I wrote about this for Rolling Stone)
Karen Russell, Swamplandia (Karen loves Bragi Olafsson’s The Ambassador!)
Kate Zambreno, Green Girl (We go way way back)
Had to Be There
Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending (Even his blank pages win awards)
Patrick DeWitt, The Sisters Brother (I know nothing about this except that it’s referenced everywhere)
Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot (Probably good, and ordained as such months before publication)
Chad Harbach, The Art of Fielding (See The Marriage Plot)
Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 (Big, totalizing, mesmerizing, infects your dreams—we get it already)
Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones (Automatic inclusion since it won the National Book Award)
If This Book Had a Face I’d Punch It
Tea Obreht, The Tiger’s Wife (OK, that’s really mean. I’m just so terribly sick of hearing about this book)
Books That Should Be Replaced with Open Letter/New Directions/Archipelago/NYRB Titles
Alan Hollinghurst, Stranger’s Child (Just the description makes me feel tired)
Michael Ondaatje, The Cat’s Table (We swam in the Blue Lagoon together)
Ann Patchett, State of Wonder (I have no opinion about this)
Donald Ray Pollock, Devil All the Time (Unless this book is set in Felicity, OH, I don’t care)
When this gets started in March, we’ll post some further sarcastic commentary. For now, you should order all 16 titles (+ the three Open Letter ones) from Powells.com the official sponsor of the contest.
I love tournaments in March—especially ones involving screamin’ Gus Johnson—but my love for the Morning News Tournament of Books ended this morning with The Savage Detectives being upset in the first round by Vendela Vida’s Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name.
It’s really not the who that bugs me—I know Vida’s got quite a following, and has obvious talent—but the why:
The Savage Detectives is complex, intellectual, and cool. I’m sure if I were to reread it I would pick up many subtleties and ambitions. Possibly, also, its importance—of which I’m passively convinced, but which has eluded me. [. . .]
So it comes to this: The world (and my bookcase) is full of carefully crafted puzzles and dense, demanding novels that must, and will, be read again and again. As such, they (being Bely and Faulkner, Sebald and Pavic, Gaddis and Gadda) are the darlings of my personal library. But I will not be re-reading Bolaño, because his playfulness is coarse and his crypticism is narrow.
The winner is Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name—a peculiar story that I will never re-read, because it was completely satisfactory the first time through. And these days, I’m all about immediate gratification and simple pleasures.
Umm, yeah. I can’t say anything nice, so I’ll end by pointing out that 74% of readers disagree with Elizabeth Kiem’s decision.
The Morning News just announced the book list for the 2008 Tournament of Books, a March Madness-styled book contest in which high profile litbloggers decide on the best book of the past year.
The complete list is below and features one translation—Roberto Bolano’s The Savage Detectives. I haven’t read many of these, but I am a big fan of Remainder. Regardless, the tournament is always fun to check in on.
The official bracket will be available in early-March, but for now, here’s the complete list of books:
Run by Ann Patchett
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson
Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris
Petropolis by Anya Ulinich
Ovenman by Jeff Parker
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
You Don’t Love Me Yet by Jonathan Lethem
New England White by Stephen L. Carter
Remainder by Tom McCarthy
The Shadow Catcher by Marianne Wiggins
The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño
Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida
Shining at the Bottom of the Sea by Stephen Marche
What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman
An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Brock Clarke
This slender, uncanny volume—the second, best-selling collection of stories by Russian author Ludmilla Petrushevskaya to appear in the U.S.—has already received considerable, well-deserved praise from many critics and high profile publications. Its seventeen short tales, averaging ten pages each, are. . .
The Urdu word basti refers to any space, intimate to worldly, and is often translated as “common place” or “a gathering place.” This book by Intizar Husain, who is widely regarded as one of the most important living Pakistani writers,. . .
The Whispering Muse, one of three books by Icelandic writer Sjón just published in North America, is nothing if not inventive. Stories within stories, shifting narration, leaps in time, and characters who transform from men to birds and back again—you’ve. . .
Luis Negrón’s debut collection Mundo Cruel is a journey through Puerto Rico’s gay world. Published in 2010, the book is already in its fifth Spanish edition. Here in the U.S., the collection has been published by Seven Stories Press and. . .
To have watched from one of your patios
the ancient stars
from the bank of shadow to have watched
the scattered lights
my ignorance has learned no names for
nor their places in constellations
to have heard the ring of. . .
When Icelandic author Andri Snær Magnason first published LoveStar, his darkly comic parable of corporate power and media influence run amok, the world was in a very different place. (This was back before both Facebook and Twitter, if you can. . .
When starting Hi, This Is Conchita and Other Stories, Santiago Roncagliolo’s second work to be translated into English, I was expecting Roncagliolo to explore the line between evil and religion that was front and center in Red April. Admittedly, I. . .