For the fifth year, The Morning News is running one of the best book awards out there, the Tournament of Books, which takes 16 of the most acclaimed novels of the year and pits them, Gladiator- or March Madness-style, in a bracketed, judged tourney that manages to hit pretty much the right balance of seriousness and goofiness appropriate to the whole literary award phenomenon. With a pedigree of having chosen Cloud Atlas, The Accidental, The Road, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao as previous winners, and with a judging lineup at least as glamorous as the books under debate (and with the ever-popular Zombie feature, which allows reader favorites that get capriciously bounced in the early rounds to rise from the dead again), the ToB is worth paying close attention to, with the first battle commencing on March 9. (Wagering is expected to begin earlier at Coudal Partners, however.)
In fine NCAA style, there's a full PDF bracket, suitable for printing and tacking on your cubicle wall, that I won't attempt to recreate, but here's the opening round lineup:
- 2666 (1) vs.Steer Toward Rock (4), judged by Brockman (Powell's one-named blogger)
- Netherland (2) vs.A Partisan's Daughter (3), judged by Kate Schlegel
- The White Tiger (1) vs.Harry, Revised (4), judged by Jonah Lehrer
- Unaccustomed Earth (2) vs.City of Refuge (3), judged by Mary Roach
- Shadow Country (1) vs.The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (4), judged by Anthony Doerr
- The Northern Clemency (3) vs.The Lazarus Project (2), judged by Monica Ali
- A Mercy (1) vs.The Dark League King (4), judged by Jonathan Eig
- Home (2) vs.My Revolutions (3), judged by Witold Riedel
Among the later-round judges are Maud Newton, John Hodgman, and defending champ Junot Diaz.
One small detail I dig is those numbers in parentheses next to the titles: pre-tournament seedings "based on books' evaluated reputations." Pretty good calls all 'round, though I'd have given Netherland, which was the one book this year it seemed like everybody felt like they had to read based on reviews and word of mouth, a 1 seed. But that would have broken up the best second-round matchup, pitting perhaps the two most talked-about novels of the year, 2666 and Netherland, which have oh, pretty much nothing in common, against each other. Maud Newton has the enviable/unenviable task of making the call there.
The top first-round matchup has to be The Northern Clemency (our own semi-controversial pick for Best Book of 2008) and The Lazarus Project (which also made our year-end top 10), but I also like the looks of Home vs. My Revolutions--I liked both of them a lot, but I might go with Hari Kunzru's underdog, which in its quiet way (though not as aggressively quiet as Home) was one of the best books I read all year.
Also, t-shirts are available. --Tom