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By Paul Gagne, Guest Blogger
The folks over at The Morning News have been running the Tournament of Books concurrently with NCAA March Madness for eight years now, and it has helped to sustain a higher level of book discussion on the web.
If your favorite title gets eliminated before we reach the final four, don’t give up hope. There is also a Zombie round, in which a book knocked out in an early round comes back from the dead.
NPR explains the rules of the Tournament nicely, although if you think about the process of choosing the "best" book, what really makes one better than the other? This is not a heart-stopping contest decided by a buzzer-beater, and there won’t be any clutch fourth quarter free throw opportunities. There aren’t even points, after all. Judges bring biases to the table, and at least once, have admitted to not finishing both books they were assigned to evaluate. But like great basketball teams, books can have heart, they can finish strong, and on any given day, an underdog book can make a name for itself and inspire us all.
After reading only two of the titles in the 2011 competition, this year I’ve managed to read a record
7 6.75 titles – the Barnes, Hollinghurst, Ondaatje, Obreht, Pollock, and
Harbach (I’m in the middle of Open City
by Teju Cole). For the most part, I’ve been
disappointed, especially with two titles that our literary betters across the pond assured us would be top competitors. The Julian Barnes title (really, the Booker Prize for so little?) and the Hollinghurst, a lovely study of a family’s and a country’s authorial myth-making, both fell just a little short of expectations.
I enjoyed the Devil All the Time, as it harkens to Cormac McCarthy, Jim Thompson, and maybe even Flannery O’Connor. It’s depraved in all the right ways, although, with as much pulpy plot as it has, I doubt it’s a tournament winner.
The contest started last Thursday, and runs through the end of March. The Morning News people do a great job with their own commentary on the Tournament, and there are several sites around the web that add their voices, and even post odds on the eventual winner. The Tournament is a lot of fun, and we’ll be posting a couple of updates on it over the next few weeks. In the meantime, it’s not too late to get a couple of competing books read . . .