Literary Fiction

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Disagreeing With the Tournament of Books Judges

Kit Steinkellner

Staff Writer

Kit Steinkellner is a playwright, screenwriter, and creative writing teacher. She also writes about books and reading  at Books Are My Boyfriends. Follow her onTwitter: @BooksAreMyBFs

Anyone who’s been keeping a half-open eye on Book Riot recently knows that the majority of contributors have been nerding out hard over the Tournament of Books, which is currently playing out it’s opening round.

Here’s the thing about nerds. When things don’t go their way, they feel WAY worse about it than all the chillaxed cool kids sitting at the cool kids’ table. Like how I feel WAY worse about almost all my favorite books losing in this opening round of Tournament of Books than I would if I were, wait, what was the word, oh that’s right, cool.

The first match was The Round House by Louise Erdrich vs. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, judged by Edan Lepucki. I’m rooting for Erdrich, the win goes to Green. Lepucki decrees Round House “never turned from an idea into an experience,” and often “downright boring.” Ten thousand daggers in my heart!

The next match was The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson vs. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple judged by Elliott Holt. I’m on Team Best Comic Novel I’ve Read in Years, the victory goes to Team Everyone’s Basically Acknowledging that Half the Reason This Book Won is Because it’s Set in North Korea. Ten thousand daggers in my heart and all those daggers are on fire!

I get somewhat a win with Building Stories by Chris Ware triumphing over Dear Life by Alice Munro. I say somewhat, because I love Munro like I love food with trans fats. Which is A LOT, you guys.

Then I was back to losing with May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes beating out Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain. Judge Dave Pacey really got under my skin when he said it was as if Fountain was “… not confident enough in his storytelling to just let it happen without resorting to clunky metaphors.” I just about started crying like the last kid to get picked up at the school turnaround, and then I just about picked up my clunky metaphor and smacked Dave Pacey in the face with it.

I get my first actual win with Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn beating out Ivyland by Miles Klee. Then I got my BIGGEST LOSS yet with judge Tony Horwitz declaring Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter victorious over Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.

I see so many of my favorite books of the past year lying lifeless on the battleground of the tournament: Round House, Billy Lynn, Dear Life, Bernadette, Song of Achilles, and I want tell myself that it’s just a game, but I also want to bite the noses off of half these judges.

I’m not an overly-emotional, borderline-crazy person, but you guys, this TOURNAMENT is making me overly-emotional and not-borderline-but-actually-crazy. I never go this nuts about bad reviews. That’s the thing, a tournament elevates both its judges and their opinions. Even though not a one of these judges claims to speak for all readers, just by agreeing to judge a tournament, you agree that your opinion will carry more weight than it did before. And it’s REALLY annoying when that person, whose opinion about books has been given a Mario Brothers Power Flower and Raccoon Cape, goes completely against your own opinion which, in this context, has about as much power as a Little Mario. Maybe a koopa troopa.

This kind of feels like the point of the tournament. Realizing that your most favorite book is someone else’s least favorite reminds you both that the world is filled with different opinions AND that your opinion is not the most important opinion. In this tourney, my opinions are nothing and the judges’ are everything. Their opinions have weight mine don’t, and so I am forced to give them respect I might not have to if we were peers on the same level. This to me is the true value of the tournament. Not to decide what was the best novel published last year. That’s not even a real thing you can decide. It’s to be reminded that the literary world is filled with differing opinions and your opinion is NEVER the most important.

So how are you guys feeling about the TOB decisions?