While most Americans will be following their college basketball brackets this March, I’ll be following The Tournament of Books by The Morning News. Yes, this probably makes me hopelessly nerdy. I don’t care. I love it. The Tournament of Books starts on March 7 and I’m gearing up for the “battle royale.” I’m feeling pretty psyched that I’ve read six of the sixteen books that made the short list:
- The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
- Room by Emma Donaghue
- A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
- Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
- So Much for That by Lionel Shriver
- Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
I can make a few semi-educated guesses on potential contenders based on those novels that I have read thus far. Now, not knowing how the bracket will shape up yet, I can’t yet make my very best guess as to the ultimate winner. However, as I’ve mentioned before, A Visit From the Goon Squad was my favorite read of 2010, so I’ll be cheering for Jennifer Egan. Freedom, Room and Super Sad True Love Story all made my list of top 10 reads for 2010. Obviously, I enjoyed them all, but I hope Room makes it the farthest besides Goon Squad. Room is the most original voice of the bunch. I’ve never read a book quite like it. I suspect that Shteyngart will be a favorite among the judges, but Super Sad Love Story, while excellent, left me feeling a little hollow. I suspect Freedom, with its over-hyped release and Oprahfication, is not going to find a lot of support from the panel of judges, especially Jennifer Weiner, who vocally criticized the hoopla surrounding Franzen. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake got a lot of buzz this year, and it was quirky, but I didn’t love it. Perhaps I didn’t give myself over to the sad magic of the book, which I suppose is part of its appeal. So Much for That, which I reviewed recently, is solid, but a hard slog based on its depressing subject matter.
My goal is to read at least two more books on the short list by March, so that I will have read half of the books in the tournament, and thus can better follow the competition. The trick is picking the right books to read. I probably should choose two award winners, The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson, which won the Man Booker prize, and Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon, which won the National Book Award. I would like to read these books eventually, but frankly, there are other books on the list that sound more intriguing to me. Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky sounds delicious. I love “evil” women protagonists. Bloodroot, by Amy Greene, is a novel I’d never heard of before, but the description appeals to me. I don’t suppose, with its romance angle and its foray into magic, that it will be a likely tournament winner. However, I like American regional fiction and generational sagas that make me ponder how we affect our children, and our children’s children. Lastly, I’ve heard a lot of buzz about Skippy Dies by Paul Murray, and it has been on my library reserve list for a while now. We’ll see if it comes off my reserve list by March.
I’ll be following along as the Tournament of Books proceeds, and I’ll probably comment on the competition from time to time, especially when they crown the winner. I’ll be interested to see if I can accurately predict the champion, and if the judges agree or disagree with my own assessments of the novels. At the very least, the ToB provides a nice list of reading recommendations for those looking for something decent to read or to catch up on some of the best releases of 2010.