Friday, February 20, 2009

Some We Like and Some We Hate

By Kevin Guilfoile

Over at The Atlantic film producer Lynda Obst is wondering whether anyone will watch the Oscars this year, in part because the Academy didn't nominate The Dark Knight, which, it's true, totally deserved it.

As a result all of America's awards anticipation has been redirected to The Morning News, where the brackets and judges for this year's Tournament of Books, sponsored by Powell's, have just been released. If you're not yet familiar, this is the event in which 16 of the most-hyped, best-reviewed books of the past year are seeded into an NCAA basketball-type bracket and forced to compete in a "Battle Royale of Literary Excellence," with the winning author being crowned Champion of Books and awarded a live rooster. (Full disclosure: I am affiliated with the ToB in that I got drunk one night and invented it, although the credit for actually making it into the book world's most coveted award belongs with others.)

Past champions include Junot Diaz, Cormac McCarthy, Ali Smith and David Mitchell, some of whom are even aware that they won. This year's combatants include Roberto BolaƱo, Toni Morrison, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Marilynne Robinson, while the star-studded judges include not only last year's winner Diaz, but also the hilarious writer and actor John Hodgman, whom you know as the PC in the "I'm a Mac and I'm a PC" commercials, as well as, in a mind-blowing moment of cross-geekery awesomeness, a brain surgeon on last week's Battlestar Galactica.

Each year the good folks at set a betting line where you can wager money that goes to charity for the chance to win one copy of every book in the tourney. When that goes live I will let you know. The tourney itself begins March 9.

In the meantime, if you want to know what to read next, this list is a great place to start. That's not to say you'll like every book--I've read 12 of them so far and of those I would recommend exactly six. But from its unsober beginnings, the Tournament of Books has turned out to be a fascinating (to me) exploration of the subjective nature of reading--the sometimes sophisticated and sometimes random reasons we prefer one book over another. Why books engage us or why they don't. Why some books enthrall us and others bore us. Why we sometimes prefer a book we "enjoy" over a book we "admire" and vice versa. If you want to get hardcore, check out this terrific and geeky statistical analysis of past tourney results. If you want to start a pool, Vroman's Booksore has the stuff.

Or wait until the judgments are in. Either way Powell's is offering a 30% discount on all the titles in this year's tourney.

Good deal. Plus there's a t-shirt.


Corey Wilde said...

I like it. Can we have a tournament just for crime fiction?

Mark Combes said...

I've only read one of the nominees which should make me feel bad but the one I read was 900 freaking pages. Yes, Shadow Country. Huge Mattheissen fan but as one reviewer said, it's a "capacious" book. I should get extra credit for reading this one.

Kevin Guilfoile said...

Mark, I've just about finished my 13th of the 16 books, but I still have SHADOW COUNTRY and 2666 to go. SHADOW COUNTRY was originally published as three separate books and Bolano had left instructions before he died for 2666 to be published as five.

So I pretty much have nine books to read in the next two weeks.

And yeah, Corey why don't we. Accepting nominations below for the 16 best/most-acclaimed crime fiction books of 2008.