THE TOURNAMENT IS NOW LIVE! CLICK HERE TO SEE THE ACTION!
Months ago, a number of the writers and editors were sitting around (not together, but around their computers) discussing the past year’s various dust-ups over book awards. The awards were only meaningful, someone suggested, to the winners, and the marketing departments who pushed them. Too bad, said another, that the readers got nothing out of it. Someone suggested what publishing needed was an event like the Oscars or the Emmys in style, a lavish awards program judged by hundreds, celebrating brilliance in the wide variety of books published by the big New York houses and tiny independents. Yes! we said. Such a thing could invigorate book publishing, inspire millions to read more! Might it be possible, we wondered, that a spunky little web magazine could sponsor such an event and in doing so, lend an excitement to book awards that hasn’t been seen before in America?
No, we agreed. It was not possible.
But wouldn’t it be possible, exciting, and also fun to take 16 of the most celebrated books of the year and pit them against one another in an N.C.A.A.-style Battle Royale of literary excellence to see which novel became The First Annual TMN Tournament of Books Champion? One that could be awarded some badge of high esteem, perhaps called “The Rooster” in honor of David Sedaris’s brother (surely the liveliest character in contemporary literature)?
Yes. This was something we could do.
So we invited a bunch of our staff and a number of the best literary bloggers—Jessa Crispin, Maud Newton, and Mark Sarvas—to hop into the ring and keep their punches fair (if occasionally below the belt). We talked to Powell’s Books, and they generously agreed that it was too strange of a tournament not to sponsor. We talked to Coudal Partners and they offered to design us a website (soon to be unveiled) and all supporting materials. And so we bring it to you, sweet reader, to witness.
Before we unveil the bracket, however, a few notes on the selections. We do not claim these are the 16 best books published in the U.S. in 2004 (or, in the case of Ben Jones’s The Rope Eater, in the last week of 2003, long after that year’s awards had been handed out). We limited the selections to novels, and also to the “you-know-it-when-you-see-it” genre known as literary fiction. The top seeds went to books that were much hyped before or after publication. Second and third seeds were given mainly to books that were common to many of the end-of-the-year best lists we surveyed—ones we had also enjoyed, or been told we’d enjoy. The remaining selections (nearly half) were awarded to novels that our writers and editors were passionate about. Obviously more than 16 books met these criteria, so we rather arbitrarily selected books that we thought would most appeal to TMN readers.
Which brings us to our next point: Arbitrariness is inherent in book awards. The way books are nominated, the judges who consider them, the division of labor as the books are assessed—arbitrary, arbitrary, arbitrary, bordering on meaningless. Our plan for the tournament is to make the proceedings no less arbitrary but far more transparent. We’ve already explained how the books were nominated, and as the tournament proceeds you will know which of our judges selected which books to advance and why. You’ll also know something about each of these judges’ preferences and biases and so forth, so when your favorite novel is eliminated by a work you judge to be lighter than chick lit, you’ll know why. Results from each bracket will be released sequentially on weekdays from February 7th to February 28th, when we will award The Rooster to the winner.
We have looked into shipping a live rooster to the winner. We are still looking.
So arm your office pools and fire up your browsers! Prepare for the triumph of gladiators, and tales of dashed hopes! See Davids beat Goliaths! See bright young things crushed! Literature may not be a horse race, but it certainly can be a battle! See you on February 7th.
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