I’ve been a bit behind on mentioning the 2015 Tournament of Books. The contestants were announced last month. As usual, here’s the list with a three star rating system for those I've read: ☆ - not worthy, ☆☆ - good, ★★★ - great.
- Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball ☆☆
- A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall by Will Chancellor ☆
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr ★★★
- Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante
- An Untamed State by Roxane Gay ★★★
- Wittgenstein Jr by Lars Iyer
- A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
- Redeployment by Phil Klay
- Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel ☆☆
- The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell ★★★
- Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng ☆☆
- Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill ★★★
- Adam by Ariel Schrag
- The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters ☆
- Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer ☆☆
- All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld ★★★
Thus far, my early favorite is, of course, The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. It's a fantastic book, similar in design to Cloud Atlas, but better. Both All the Light We Cannot See and Dept. of Speculation are distant runner's up. All the Light is great story, told in very short and easy to digest chapters, and Speculation is a funny, heartrending, strange, and ultimately redemptive story of marriage.
The list of books for the 2014 Tournament of Books has been released. Once again, I plan to keep the list up to date with what I’ve read and whether I thought each book is good enough to win. One star (☆) means I didn’t like it but managed to finish it, two stars (☆☆) means I liked it but I didn’t think it should win, and three stars (★★★) means it was one of the better books I read this (or last) year and I’d be happy if it won the Tournament. The last several years my personal favorites going into the contest have been eliminated, but thus far I haven’t been disappointed with the eventual winner.
- At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcón
- The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
- The Tuner of Silences by Mia Couto
- The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
- How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid
- The Dinner by Herman Koch
- The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
- Long Division by Kiese Laymon
- The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
- Hill William by Scott McClanahan ☆☆
- The Son by Philipp Meyer
- A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki ☆☆
- Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
- The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
- The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara ☆☆
- Pre-Tournament Playoff winner
Pre-Tournament Playoff Round
I’ve got a lot of reading to do between now and March, since I’ve only read two of the seventeen books chosen. Some seem like pretty obvious choices, but at least half of them are unfamiliar to me. And I just started reading The Flamethrowers, so I can’t even start on these until I’m done with that book. The good news is that all of them are available as eBooks from my local bookseller (Gulliver’s Books). That probably means they are in Amazon’s Kindle library as well.
The 2013 Tournament of Books starts on Monday, and the brackets were announced yesterday. There’s a great tournament diagram available for download, but rather than try to figure out how to fill it in electronically so it was legible, I generated a traditional bracket-style diagram with my picks filled out (at the bottom of the post).
The diagram creation script I wrote last year doesn’t include a pre-round bracket, used this year to decide between Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (my pick), Fobbit, and Yellow Birds, so I just filled in the obvious (to me!) choice in the top spot of the first round.
The first round presents some challenges for the judges. I’ll be interested in the contest between Bring Up the Bodies and HHhH both of which are historical fiction and were very good. Mantel’s previous book in the story of Thomas Cromwell (Wolf Hall) won the Tournament in 2009, and Bodies is as good as that book. But HHhH is an creative and entertaining mix of semi-fiction, history, and the author’s thoughts and concerns about the story / history he is writing. It’s a different style of book than what is typically in the Tournament (although more traditional that Building Stories, I suppose), and I wonder how it will compete against such an obvious favorite to win.
The Round House vs. The Fault In Our Stars and The Orphan Master’s Son vs. Where’d You Go, Bernedette are contests between excellent books that are completely different in tone and subject (Native American sexual assault and terminal cancer in adolescents / North Korean oppression and madcap antics from a stifled architectural genius). Instead of getting two pairings that are similar in the first round (like Bodies and HHhH) and then two very different books in the second, the different books will be competing against each other initially.
Although Billy Lynn has acheived some literary notariety and is the book I’d like to see win, I think the real heavyweights in the Tournament are Gone Girl and Bring Up the Bodies. I expect to see these two go far, maybe to the final round.
Finally, will there be another book that goes deep into the Tournament that I really didn’t like (like Lightning Rods last year)? I didn’t even try to read Dear Life, couldn’t finish Ivyland, and didn’t enjoy How Should a Person Be? I’m hoping for round one elimination for these books.
Get your diagrams ready and start reading the results on Monday!
Here they are, with three star rating system for those I've read, ☆ - not worthy, ☆☆ - good, ★★★ - great. I couldn’t finish Ivyland and wasn’t interested in Dear Life at all, so neither of those are contenders for me.
- HHhH by Laurent Binet ★★★
- The Round House by Louise Erdrich ☆☆
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn ★★★
- The Fault in Our Stars by John Green ★★★
- Arcadia by Lauren Groff ☆☆
- How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti ☆
- May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes ☆☆
- The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson ★★★
- Ivyland by Miles Klee
- Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel ★★★
- The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller ☆☆
- Dear Life by Alice Munro
- Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple ☆☆
- Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter ☆☆
- Building Stories by Chris Ware ★★★
- (Winner of the Pre-Tournament Playoff Round, below)
Pre-Tournament Playoff Round:
- Fobbit by David Abrams ☆☆
- Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain ★★★
- The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
I’ve now read all the main tournament books I’m going to, and two of the “Iraq / Afghanistan” books that are in the Pre-Tournament Playoff. My current pick is Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, but I wouldn’t be upset if Building Stories, The Fault in Our Stars, Gone Girl, HHhH or Bring Up the Bodies wound up winning. The Orphan Master’s Son is also excellent, but maybe a shade below the other five. Still left to read is the other pre-tournament pick (and the two others I don’t want to waste my time on…).
Ouch. Well, my favorite book in this year’s Tournament of Books (The Art of Fielding) was taken out by Open City this morning. I also wasn’t too happy with Lightning Rods defeating Salvage the Bones earlier in the week. I felt like Lightning Rods was a far to simplistic (and dated) satire of work, and I had a hard time getting past that the book was almost entirely about hiring women to be prostitutes in order to alleviate sexual harassment suits and to improve male efficiency in the office. Parts of it were pretty funny, but compared against a well-written Katrina novel told from the perspective of a poor, pregnant teenager, I just don’t see it. The judge felt Salvage the Bones was too MFA, but I’d take overwrought writing and some technical errors over a book-length Porky’s movie anytime. Well, most of the time.
As for Open City, I liked it. The writing was nice. And there was a disturbing twist near the end that emphasized the same point that Barnes was making in his book: the way we view our past probably doesn’t match reality, or the way others view the things we did. But it had no plot to speak of, and only the narrator as a meaningful character. By the end, I’m not sure he was even a character I wanted to listen to. The Art of Fielding had a full story, multiple interesting characters, and I totally enjoyed the whole thing. To steal a phrase from one of the Tournament commentators, the book is in my wheelhouse: it’s about baseball, takes place at a small liberal arts college not unlike where I went to school, and there are smart people in it, saying intelligent things, but not necessarily doing them.
Here’s hoping Fielding comes back as a zombie.
Anyway, here’s what my brackets look like now:
I think 1Q84 and The Tiger’s Wife will be a close call, depending on whether the reviewer enjoys Murakami’s style of writing or not, or whether they enjoyed the stories in The Tiger’s Wife enough to look past the weak plot. I view the other brackets as pretty obvious choices, but one thing you learn by paying attention during a contest like this is that reading is a very subjective experience and if you enjoy a book, it’s really easy to ignore what other readers consider to be fatal flaws. Mentioned thus far: chewing the bark of a tree instead of just scraping it off (State of Wonder), the mechanics of operating a tractor (Salvage the Bones), failing the Bechtel Test (most of the books in the contest), MFA-ness in the writing (Tiger, Bones) how pleasant the characters or storyline was (Green Girl), and lots more.
Tomato tomahto, eh?
Update: Ugh. Lightning Rods just beat Sense of an Ending to move on. Guess I was wrong about which contests would be close.