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.
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .
It’s a rare and wonderful book that begins and ends with violence and humor. At the start of Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret is in a hospital waiting for the birth of his first child while nurses, in. . .
Last year, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was an unexpected critical hit. Now, it’s just been published in the U.S. and has already received a great deal of positive critical attention. The Vegetarian was a bold book to attempt as an. . .
It’s been almost a year since the publication of Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, but despite being included on the 2015 PEN Translation award longlist, and some pretty vocal support from key indie presses, the book has. . .
Jorge Eduardo Benavides’ novel La paz de los vencidos (The Peace of the Defeated) takes the form of a diary written by a nameless Peruvian thirty-something intellectual slumming it in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands. Recently relocated. . .
Anyone with any interest at all in contemporary Moroccan writing must start with Souffles. A cultural and political journal, Souffles (the French word for “breaths”) was founded in 1966 by Abdellatif Laâbi and Mostafa Nissabouri. Run by a group of. . .
Randall Jarrell once argued a point that I will now paraphrase and, in doing so, over-simplify: As a culture, we need book criticism, not book reviews. I sort of agree, but let’s not get into all of that. Having finished. . .