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The Morning News and Powells Present
2006 Tournament of Books
MARCH 21, 2006
I adore having conversations with the young Korean girl with orange-dyed hair who works at my deli. Just now we had a talk about our Valentine’s Days. “I have nothing, no one,” I told her, which isn’t exactly true, but at least was true for in-person interaction on the official day. “Awww,” she said. “And you? Did you have a hot date? Was it very romantical?” I asked her. But her boyfriend works at night, I gathered, and she works in the days, so, no.

We said a number of other things to each other, neither of which we understood. This is normal. The things we don’t understand from each other we allow to linger in a brief silence, quickly followed by a new topic: Do I want cigarettes, is she working this weekend and how that sucks, did she change her hair, where have I been?

Cards on the table. I don’t really know what a good book is anymore. I have serious doubts about judging right now. I mean, I watch American Idol.

Anyway, those deli conversations are sort of like Nicole Krauss’s book. She’s not overly explicative, which is good, because explication is for the sort of people who would rather be watching American Idol than reading a book. The book is all about, well, a splintered family, families, lost folks, and a splintered identity, and books, and naming and re-naming, and a man in the book has a novelist son he never really knew named Isaac, which is sorta funny, because, at least according to second-hand gossip, Ms. Krauss’s brand new son has the middle name of Isaac. That is some funny stuff! So, just as she shows in her book, apparently she’s a yiddishkeit sentimentalist as well as the many other things she is.

Apparently there was a high-literary Brooklyn bris a month or two ago.

I wouldn’t go to a bris if you paid me! I’m not one of those freaky people about this stuff, because who cares, we all end up mutilated and stuffed in a hole in the ground, but doesn’t it just all seem a little barbaric and weird? How exactly does one think, “Oh yes, I must hire a man to cut up this infant’s penis!” How exactly does that pass the time well on the way to the grave?
Apparently what should have had
the tip lopped off is her book.
David Bergen’s book has a Vietnam veteran who raises three children, who are something a bit less than real to him; later he returns to Vietnam and disappears, and two of the children, well, at the beginning of the book, are looking for him, except one of the children is too busy having gay sex apparently to really be looking, and we find out soon enough that the father is dead. Mr. Bergen is very flat and controlling, and it’s really very good.

There’s also this weird thing that happens with the action in Vietnam, with the North American mainlanders living in a far-away place and their servants and having wine and cigarettes on a balcony, where you keep expecting to see a couple of sentences like, “He said to her. Jack Lovett said to Inez Victor.”

David Bergen very sensibly lives in Winnipeg, so we don’t really hear gossip about any children he might have.

I like him. It’s a really nice book. And I guess my choice means: Ms. Krauss’s book is a better book for me, not necessarily a better book, and so on it goes. Anyone who says that choosing the better of two books isn’t entirely about what mood they were in or their current romantic state or just about what they like—the same way they like House but not Grey’s Anatomy—is a total liar.

I also think the big trim size on Ms. Krauss’s book is kind of tall and grandiose, whereas Mr. Bergen’s is a lovely, nice, compact, thoughtful size. It’s all not very fair. And all this, even though there’s a terrible awful coda to The History of Love, so apparently what should have had the tip lopped off is her book. What a shame.

The Peanut Gallery
Do you agree with the judge’s opinion?
Hell yeah! Good call.     Hell no! The ref’s blind!     Go