Next Friday, the mighty Rooster will rise from its slumber, stretch its beak, and begin biting the heads off some of the best novels from 2007. Until then, we’re proud to whet your appetite with the list of this year’s judges.
As Kevin wrote in his opening notes last week, transparency is vital to the Tournament of Books: specifically, we require our judges to reveal any connections they have with the competitors, down to editors-in-common, panels they’ve served on, or the last time they shared a beer. We’ve read too many articles—and heard too many off-the-record stories from previous judges—about the Pulitzer and National Book Award committees, where books go unread, secret Iowa handshakes are exchanged, and everyone owes Andrew Wylie a favor. When the Tournament of Books hosts its first smoke-filled room, you’ll be invited.
So keep an eye on TMN next week when we release the brackets, and please join us next Friday for the first day of judgment. Don’t forget, all of the ToB titles are available on special 30 percent discount from our sponsor, Powells.com. Also, over at Coudal’s “Making Book” betting window, you can wager on which book you think will achieve the Rooster and get a chance to win some very cool prizes. Better than that, all the gambling money is going towards a boxcar full of new books for underprivileged kids, with some generous partners who will match your bets with donations.
So start reading and get gambling, and we’ll see you next week!
Judges for the 2008 TMN Tournament of Books
Click here to download the brackets for the 2008 Tournament of Books [PDF]
Helen DeWitt is a novelist. Op. 101, The Last Samurai, was published as a “first novel” in 2000. An excerpt from Your Name Here, a collaboration with Ilya Gridneff, appeared recently in n+1. She is now working on two books begun during a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2006-7. She lives in Berlin. Connections to this year’s competitors: “I don’t have any connections with the authors of any of the books under consideration.”
TMN Contributing Writer Anthony Doerr lives in Idaho. He’s the author of three books, The Shell Collector, About Grace, and Four Seasons in Rome. His fiction has won three O. Henry Prizes, and has been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories, The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, and The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Fiction. Connections to this year’s competitors: “I have no author conflicts this year.”
Ze Frank is an online performance artist, composer, humorist, and public speaker based in Brooklyn. Connections to this year’s competitors: “I have no connections to any of the competitors.”
Ted Genoways is the editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review and the author of Bullroarer (Northeastern, 2001). Connections to this year’s competitors: None known.
Nick Hornby is the author of the novels How to Be Good, High Fidelity, and About a Boy, as well as the memoir Fever Pitch. He is also the author of Songbook, a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award, and the editor of the short story collection Speaking with the Angel. The recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letters E. M. Forster Award for 1999 as well as the Orange Word International Writers’ London Award 2003, he lives in North London. Connections to this year’s competitors: “Vendela Vida is my boss. I read Josh Ferris’s book in manuscript, and wrote about it long before it was published. His publishers used a quote for the cover, and then bought me dinner. And Josh was there. I have met Laura Lippman's husband. I have met Ian McEwan and Jonathan Lethem (a few times). Junot Díaz and I share a publisher.”
TMN Contributing Writer Jessica Francis Kane’s first collection of stories, Bending Heaven, was published in the U.S. and the U.K. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including McSweeney’s and the Virginia Quarterly Review, and has been serialized on BBC radio. She lives in New York. Connections to this year’s competitors: “Brock Clarke and I have emailed a few times, a correspondence that began after I read a short story of his in the Virginia Quarterly Review. I met him at a reading in New York where a drink of his choice was discounted at the bar. A $5 martini in New York! If that does not make me beholden to him, I don’t know what does. Brock and I also share the conviction that to have to specify a ‘gin’ martini is a crime.”
TMN Contributing Writer Elizabeth Kiem is a freelance book critic and very discriminating reader, despite the fact that if you Google her, the first hit you’ll get is “Bookslut.” She’s a member of the National Book Critics Circle, a reputable body that still hasn’t gotten on the poultry-as-prize bandwagon. She just finished reviewing a dozen unpublished manuscripts for Amazon and likes the ToB entries mostly because they are all bound. When she’s not reading, she produces videos for UNICEF. Connections to this year’s competitors: None known.
Mark Liberman was born and raised in rural eastern Connecticut. He teaches linguistics and other subjects at the University of Pennsylvania, where he also does research on speech and language, and serves as Faculty Master of Ware College House. He blogs at Language Log. Connections to this year’s competitors: “Mark Liberman is humiliated to have to admit that he has never met or corresponded with any of this year’s authors, and in fact has never knowingly even been in the same room as anyone related to any of them.”
Elizabeth McCracken is the author of Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry (stories); The Giant’s House and Niagara Falls All Over Again (novels); and the forthcoming An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination (memoir). She lives nowhere in particular, and is teaching this spring at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Connections to this year’s competitors: “I once sat next to Junot Díaz at a dinner with a bunch of other people. I once relay taught a class with Jonathan Lethem but never actually met him. Ann Patchett and I are inextricably linked. Denis Johnson once sat on my sofa at a party before a reading. I am about to meet Brock Clarke. Joshua Ferris and I share an editor but have never met.”
Maud Newton is a writer, editor, blogger, and former attorney who has written for The American Prospect, New York Times Book Review, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post Book World, Newsday, and other publications. Connections to authors: “I’ve been email pals with Laura Lippman for years, and I met her at a wedding last fall and recently hung out in Baltimore. I’ve written admiringly about the work of Junot Diaz, Joshua Ferris, and Jonathan Lethem, and later met all three. Last fall I ran my friend Kevin Kinsella’s delightful interview with Anya Ulinich.”
Mark Sarvas’s debut novel, Harry, Revised, will be published by Bloomsbury in May 2008, and in more than a dozen countries around the world. He is best known as the host of the popular and controversial literary weblog “The Elegant Variation”, a Guardian Top 10 Literary Blog, a Forbes Magazine Best of the Web pick, and a Los Angeles Magazine Top L.A. Blog. It has been covered by The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Scotsman, Salon, the Christian Science Monitor, Slate, The Village Voice, New York Newsday, The New York Sun, NPR’s Day to Day and All Things Considered, and numerous other fine publications. His book reviews and criticism have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Threepenny Review, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Truthdig, The Modern Word, Boldtype and the Los Angeles Review, and he is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Connections to this year’s competitors: “Joshua Ferris, whose novel I have touted, has guest blogged for me and has blurbed my debut. I am friends with Junot Díaz’s editor. I have exchanged a few friendly emails with Jonathan Lethem, who I have interviewed at my blog.”
TMN Managing Editor Kate Schlegel is a native of Columbus, Ohio, and a copy editor by training, though these days she works as a news editor for the website of the Wall Street Journal. She lives in the neighborhood sometimes known as Brooklyn’s best-kept secret—if you ask nicely, maybe she’ll tell you where exactly that is. Her current favorite author is Eudora Welty, though the last book she finished was The Longest Night, about the Blitz on London in the spring of 1941. Connections to this year’s competitors: None known.
TMN Contributing Writer Tobias Seamon is the author of the novel The Magician’s Study (Turtle Point Press) and a chapbook of poetry Loosestrife Along the River Styx (Foothills Publishing). He recently wrote and directed the short film Amerikan Partizan, which premiered at the 2007 Edwood Film Festival. He lives with his wife in Albany, NY. Connections to this year’s competitors: None known.
Gary Shteyngart is the author of the novels The Russian Debutante’s Handbook and Absurdistan, the latter of which did real good in the 2007 ToB, placing second. Connections to this year’s competitors: “I had a few beers with Junot once. I had more than a few beers with Jonathan Letham, and blurbed Anya Ulinich.”
Jennifer Szalai is a Senior Editor of Harper’s Magazine. She is also a Canadian. Connections to this year’s competitors: “I reviewed Ian McEwan’s previous novel, Saturday, and found it a well written volume of self-regard. Otherwise, none.”
ToB Commissioner and TMN Contributing Writer Kevin Guilfoile is the author of the critically acclaimed thriller Cast of Shadows and the co-author (with John Warner) of the bestselling My First Presidentiary: A Scrapbook by George W. Bush. Connections to this year’s competitors: “I have met Vendela Vida and Laura Lippman each once, although only one of them likely remembers.”
ToB Commentator and TMN Contributing Writer John Warner is author most recently of Fondling Your Muse: Infallible Advice From a Published Author to the Writerly Aspirant. He is also editor of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and Chief Creative Czar of TOW (The Original Warner) Books, a specialty humor imprint from F+W Publications. He teaches at Clemson University. Connections to this year’s competitors: “I am entirely unacquainted with 14 out of 16 authors. I would not know Junot Díaz from Junior Wells, though I’m pretty sure I know who I’d want representing me in a harmonica battle with the devil for my soul. This means I have personal connections to two authors, which are as follows: Somewhere around late 1996-early 1997 Ann Patchett was a visiting writer to my MFA program at McNeese St. University. As part of her duties, she was required to read one of my stories and conduct a 1 on 1 workshop regarding my effort. I do not remember the story, though I have some memory of the gist of our discussion as she graciously and correctly confirmed a suspicion that I’d held, that the story was garbage, and not really worth a moment’s additional thought. For this, I am eternally grateful. Also, Vendela Vida is my friend and I hope she wins. She’s a lovely person and her book made me tear up at the end.”
Rosecrans Baldwin and Andrew Womack are TMN’s founding editors. Connections to this year’s competitors: Rosecrans: “Occasional emails with Jonathan Lethem, otherwise nada.” Andrew: “Nope.”