Fiction

2014 Tournament of Books Preview

roosterWell, the field and judges for the 2014 Tournament of Books have been announced. As is the case every year, there are both expected and surprising choices, so let’s have a look. Here are the contenders:

At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcón
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
The Tuner of Silences by Mia Couto
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid
The Dinner by Herman Koch
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
Long Division by Kiese Laymon
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
Hill William by Scott McClanahan
The Son by Philipp Meyer
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara
[Winner of the Pre-Tournament Playoff Round]

Pre-Tournament Playoff Round

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Woke Up Lonely by Fiona Maazel

I know the first thing you’ll want to know is how many I predicted correctly. The answer: 7. If you take out the unstated auto-bids for the winners of the Booker Prize and the National Book Award, it’s really just 5. Alright, let’s take a look at what was (and wasn’t) selected.

Snubs

I’m very surprised George Saunders’ Tenth of December isn’t here. Outside of The Lowland and The Goldfinch, it was the non-award winning book I would have waged serious money on making it. Not sure why it isn’t here.

Super bummed to see that neither of my favorite novels of 2013, All That Is and Americanah, made it. Of course, that they were my favorites doesn’t really constitute a “snub,” but would have been cool to see the (probably) final work of a master and (I would argue) the most interesting work yet by the most interesting young black writer.

I was also expecting at least one of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. and The Flamethrowers to make it. I was wrong.

No The Ocean at the End of the Lane. The “popular book that isn’t literary fiction” slot went YA, with Eleanor & Park.

Surprises

I kept hearing good things about The Signature of All Things, but I could never quite get myself to believe it.

I don’t get either the format of the two-book playoff round or the nature of the pairing. I still think some sort of readers’ choice vote-in for any sort of play-in is the way this should go.

The Tourney folks like to include a few under-the-radar titles, so that there are some “what is that?” books isn’t unexpected. The Tuner of Silences, Hill William, Long Division, and to a lesser extent The People in the Trees get the nod.

Three Things I Like About The List

1. I made a bit of a stink about the Tournament’s lack of diversity last year, so I’m glad to see an extraordinarily diverse group of authors here, buttressed by McBride’s NBA win and the smash of The Lowland.

2. I don’t know how far A Tale for the Time Being will get in the tournament, but I think this is one that a lot of people are going to be glad they discovered through its inclusion here.

3. The ToB isn’t afraid of a doorstop: The Goldfinch, The Luminaries, and The Son are good, long, rich novels.

Three Things I Don’t Like About the List

1. I could do without the auto-inclusion of the NBA and Booker winners. Or maybe make them be in the play-in. Yeah, actually, I like that. They get the auto-berth, but they have to earn their way into the main field.

2. The Ocean at the End of the Lane was the most beloved book of the year among book nerds. Give the people what they want.

3. The Dinner by Herman Koch was widely blurbed as the next Gone Girl, but pretty much sputtered out from there, at least from where I sit. I could do without this one.

Five Notes on the Judges

As fans of the Tournament know, the judges are as important as the books, though often in unpredictable ways.

1. The headliner here is John Green. I don’t know much about his individual literary taste, but he writes angsty teenagers well and consistently, so if he gets Eleanor & Park in his pairing, that might be a factor.

2. The slightly out-of-the-box slot this year goes to John Darnielle, the lead singer of The Mountain Goats (though he is apparently working on a novel). Wild Card.

3. Rodger Dodge is the editor of Oxford American and is writing a book about Texas, so I would move the betting line toward The Son, should that novel come his way.

4. Mat Johnson is a underrated novelist whose Twitter is wickedly funny. Glad to see him here.

5. Geraldine Brooks!

Early Favorites

There is an uncanny correlation between Tournament winners and Pulitzer Prize winners, so one way to handicap this would be to imagine which of these books could win that. The Goldfinch seems the clear choice.

If you ask me which of the lesser known books could make some noise, I’ll go with The People in the Trees. I don’t know too many people who have read it, but those who have are zealots.

Readers do get to vote for “zombie” books–books that get to come back if they are knocked out early. I would think that The Goldfinch, The Lowland, and Eleanor & Park have the most readers already, so they might be the front-runners to earn an extra chance at the plate.

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Ok, folks your turn? Who do you think is going to win this thing? What do you think of the field? Which of these are you most/least interested in checking out?

 

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