The principle behind the "Tournament of Books" is simple, stunning, and good: the 16 "best" literary fiction books of the year are thrown into a single elimination contest against one another, with a single critic reading both books in each bracket and then arbitrarily deciding who will win.
A world without villains must still have conflict!
The critics then write a curt, thousand-word essay about why they have made their decision. The best one so far is the one by David Rees about why he selected "City of Refuge" over "Harry, Revised."
So far, the books left standing are "2666" by Roberto Bolano, "City of Refuge," by Tom Piazza, "A Mercy," by Toni Morrison, "Shadow Country," by Peter Matthiessen, "The Lazarus Project," by Alexander Hemon, and "My Revolutions," by Hari Kunzru.
Notable upsets so far include the defeat of Marilynne Robinson's "Home," by "My Revolutions," the defeat of Joseph O'Neill's "Netherland," by "A Partisan's Daughter," and the defeat of Aravind Adiga's "The White Tiger" by "Harry, Revised." All of these books lost in the first round for strange reasons, such as outlandish plots robbing characters of the therapeutic space needed to "grow." That's the tough part about writing "literary fiction": your audience doesn't have much imagination and wants your book to be a shrunken, dangly totem they can add to the charm bracelet of their own grasping, unmoored ego.
However, these defeated books may make a surprise reappearance. There is a "Zombie" round late in the tournament where two books left for dead can be "resurrected" by online votes to get one last chance to compete against the bracket winners before the championship match judged by "All Judges + Amanda Hesser."
I can't say enough about how much I like this tournament. Many of the judges are simple people who work at "The Morning News" and not professional fiction writers nor literature critics. It is a real fiction audience: run-of-the-mill assholes who make decisions based on spurious inclinations and callow spite.
From the "ToB" website:
"No author asks to have his work pitted against the work of another, but that is what all awards do, in effect. The Nobel Prize is an Olympiad of words. The Man Booker is the Premier League Championship of Letters. Everyone knows that, behind the scenes, the National Book Award is both arbitrary and brutal, sort of like "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" meets Ultimate Fighting. The Tournament of Books is every bit as arbitrary, but we have simply lifted the curtain so the reader can actually see the caged octagon in which the books meet, barefoot and snarling."
Critics are always so ancillary in life. The "Tournament of Books" lets criticism matter by letting critics get drunk on their own power and to actually make a decision that MATTERS (sort of).
I did not read any of the books selected for this list except "2666," which I presume will win because of its excessive flattery of the cultured elite and because it is fun murder porn without being "low." My own feelings on the book are public record, but I bet you fifty bucks it will still win.
The winner of the "Tournament of Books" gets a prize called "The Rooster." I don't know what the fuck "The Morning News" is, but "Powell's Books" is where you should buy books online instead of Amazon.
Posted by miracle on Sat, 21 Mar 2009 03:42:33 -0400 -- permanent link