Someone, possibly me, once said that all decent ideas are born from too much wine, and so it was with the Tournament of Books. Exchanging emails with the TMN editors after a few glasses of Argentinean Malbec, we each confessed that we’re attracted to the sexiness of book awards despite the fact that book awards are also arbitrary and stupid. In this way the National Book Award is (in a joke that was neither as tasteless nor on the nose as it was when I wrote it two weeks ago) much more like Anna Nicole Smith than it is like Anna Deavere Smith.
The idea that any small group of people, no matter how intelligent, could emerge from a locked room to declare one book as the year’s finest is absurd. People like to say that awards foster discussion about contemporary literature, and that’s true. But if that is the real purpose, than let’s have a real discussion. Let’s make the judging entirely transparent. Let’s admit that the nominees were selected arbitrarily (one was originally published in 1988, though rereleased in 2006) and that we chose a number of books as finalists before any of us had even read them. Let’s lay bare any biases the judges might have. Let’s hear specifically why this judge preferred this book over that one. Let’s seed all 16 finalists in an N.C.A.A.-basketball type bracket and pit them against one another in a Battle Royale of Literary Excellence!
As last year's winner, Ali Smith put it, “I am cock-a-hoop! I have NEVER won a prize of which I've been more delighted and proud. Thank you, TMN for this great, great honour.” Three years after that Malbec was consumed, the ToB has been featured in some of the world’s most respected news publications and the reading public anticipates the release of the tournament brackets with roughly the same breathless anticipation as it does women’s collegiate hockey. So starting today, let’s encourage gambling and gaming. Feuds and fisticuffs. Hooliganism and horseplay. Let’s hear from readers and bloggers whose prejudices and ignorance make them every bit as qualified as the judges themselves. Let’s have non-expert color commentary. Let’s have amateur analysis of the non-expert color commentary. In the great tradition of American letters, let’s get ready to talk about books somebody else has been reading!
In that spirit, though the actual tournament is still weeks from now, we need some reader participation right away. Please read over this year’s list of contenders, then vote below (only once, and before Sunday the 25th) for your favorite book, or, if not your favorite, the one you think ought to win, or, if not the one you think ought to win, the one you would read first if you had time to read anymore. Like last year, the top two vote-getters will gain new life in this year’s Zombie Round.
Also, keep your eyes on this space for more announcements soon to come: the brackets themselves, the list of judges, plus a contest in which you’ll get a chance to win all the books in this year’s tournament from our sponsor, Powells.com. In the meantime, Powells is generously marking down all contenders by 30 percent, so click on the titles’ links below and read along as the tournament spills blood!
Welcome to the 2007 Tournament of Books.
Kevin Guilfoile, ToB Chairman
Rosecrans Baldwin & Andrew Womack, ToB Co-Chairs
Candidates for TMN's 2007 Tournament of Books
Click on titles for 30 percent discounts on all candidates
Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
One Good Turn, Kate Atkinson
Arthur and George, Julian Barnes
Brookland, Emily Barton
English, August, Upamanyu Chatterjee
The Lay of the Land, Richard Ford
Pride of Baghdad, Niko Henrichon, Brian K. Vaughan
The Road, Cormac McCarthy
The Emperor’s Children, Claire Messud
The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo, Peter Orner
The Echo Maker, Richard Powers
Against the Day, Thomas Pynchon
Firmin, Sam Savage
Absurdistan, Gary Shteyngart
Alentejo Blue, Monica Ali
Apex Hides the Hurt, Colson Whitehead
Zombie Round Poll
This poll is now closed