Saturday, March 31, 2012

"The Sisters Brothers" Wins Tourney of Books

By Paul Gagne, Guest Blogger

The 2012 Tournament of Books concluded yesterday with a championship matchup between Teju Cole’s debut novel Open City and Patrick deWitt’s work The Sisters Brothers. It was a dream matchup – for me at least, as I had read both books – and in the end, deWitt’s modern western novel outgunned all other competitors. 

As I wrote in my initial review of Open City, surprisingly little happens in the novel. Still, its thoughtfulness and quiet power will stay with me more than any other book in the tournament. That The Sisters Brothers, a western set in 1850s northern California, prevailed in the opinion of ten out of sixteen judges, owes to three things chiefly – Eli, the winning main character in Sisters, the amount of sheer incident in Sisters versus the lack of same in Open City, and a worry that Teju Cole is aping the style of W.G. Sebald, whose work I have not read (though Austerlitz has been on my to-be-read radar for quite some time).

The Sisters Brothers is a fine diversion, featuring short-short-short chapters (sixty in total in under 400 pages) that are ideally suited for modern attention spans, while Open City introduces us to a novelist whose debut work demonstrates, at least in part, what it means to have consciousness, and ultimately, to be human.

I’m sorry, but this matchup is a no contest for me in favor of Open City. Unfortunately, a majority of the judges didn’t agree.

As for this year’s Tournament of Books, it introduced me to several books I wouldn’t have read otherwise, including both titles in the championship match. And heck, it got me to read 6 books in 6 weeks (giving a big boost to my challenge goal!), which I haven’t done since I commuted via the subway back in my Boston days.

Speaking of goodreads, add me as a “friend” on the site, and perhaps we can keep each other informed about great things to read, as well as get ready for next year’s Tournament of Books. 

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