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.
The opening of Jón Gnarr’s novel/memoir The Indian is a playful bit of extravagant ego, telling the traditional story of creation, where the “Let there be light!” moment is also the moment of his birth on January 2nd, 1967. Then. . .
Mahasweta Devi is not only one of the most prolific Bengali authors, but she’s also an important activist. In fact, for Devi, the two seem to go together. As you can probably tell from the titles, she writes about women. . .
The prolific Spanish author Benito Pérez Galdós wrote his short novel, Tristana, during the closing years of the nineteenth century, a time when very few options were available to women of limited financial means who did not want a husband.. . .
Pedro Zarraluki’s The History of Silence (trans. Nick Caistor and Lorenza García) begins with the narrator and his wife, Irene, setting out to write a book about silence, itself called The History of Silence: “This is the story of how. . .
There are plenty of reasons you can fail to find the rhythm of a book. Sometimes it’s a matter of discarding initial assumptions or impressions, sometimes of resetting oneself. Zigmunds Skujiņš’s Flesh-Coloured Dominoes was a defining experience in the necessity. . .
In a culture that privileges prose, reviewing poetry is fairly pointless. And I’ve long since stopped caring about what the world reads and dropped the crusade to get Americans to read more poems. Part of the fault, as I’ve suggested. . .
I would like to pose the argument that it is rare for one to ever come across a truly passive protagonist in a novel. The protagonist (perhaps) of Three Light-Years, Claudio Viberti, is just that—a shy internist who lives in. . .
The last five days of the eleventh-century Icelandic politician, writer of sagas, and famous murder victim Snorri Sturleleson (the Norwegian spelling, Snorre, is preserved in the book) make up Thorvald Steen’s most recently translated historical fiction, The Little Horse. Murdered. . .
We all know Paris, or at least we think we know it. The Eiffel Tower. The Latin Quarter. The Champs-Élysées. The touristy stuff. In Dominique Fabre’s novel, Guys Like Me, we’re shown a different side of Paris: a gray, decaying. . .
One hundred pages into Birth of a Bridge, the prize-winning novel from French writer Maylis de Kerangal, the narrator describes how starting in November, birds come to nest in the wetlands of the fictional city of Coca, California, for three. . .