The Morning News

The Morning News Tournament of Books
  • This is Round 1, Match 1 of the GEORGE PLIMPTON REGIONAL
  • March 9, 2009

The Tournament of Books is an annual battle royale between 16 of the best novels published in the previous year.

A new match is played here each weekday in March.

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The 2009 Judges & Brackets

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Previous years: 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

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judged by Brockman
Wobbling onto the court on thin, shaky legs, Steer Toward Rock feels the crowd watching her and wilts beneath its scrutiny. It’s never easy for a small, quiet book—one that the crowd had never even heard of before now—to compete in so ferocious a contest as the Tournament of Books.

It doesn’t help that her opponent, 2666, is a 10-foot-tall, 900-pound giant that explodes onto the court with a bold, unwavering stride and buries her completely in his shadow as he basks in the raucous applause. The odds-on critical favorite, he’s confident he had this thing sewn up the instant he laced his shoes. The crowd knows it, too. Even poor little Rock knows it.

As the combatants meet on the floor, a hush descends over the stadium. The crowd leans forward in unison, holding its collective breath, dying to see if this tremulous David can possibly kick Goliath’s towering, five-book-thick ass.

The whistle blows. The ball launches into the air. 2666 shouldn’t have any trouble snatching it right off, but Rock opens strong: “The woman I loved wasn’t in love with me; the woman I married wasn’t a wife to me.”

She grabs the ball, darts around 2666, and charges down the court! Big, lumbering 2666 is still turning, still trying to regain his footing by the time she’s halfway to the hoop.

Rock is telling a story the crowd hasn’t heard before! The Chinese immigrant experience in turn-of-the-century San Francisco is fascinating and… um, hang on, we’re hearing the time period isn’t the turn of the century. It isn’t until p. 63 that the date is made clear. Well, that’s confusing!

She lays it up—but the huge hand of 2666 drops down from nowhere and snatches the ball in mid-air!

He drives back up the court, the crashing of his mallet-like feet almost buried beneath the thunder of the crowd. The first book of 2666 involves obscure literary critics devoted to a mysterious, obscure German writer. He’s playing right to his crowd—all the obscure literary critics and wannabe obscure writers in the stands lunge to their feet—they’re eating it up! His victory seems absolutely assured!!

Wait a second… he tries a single sentence that runs for six pages uninterrupted! But there’s no reason for it except to showcase his virility and bravado. Some of the crowd bellows ecstatically, but there are scattered groans and boos. 2666 is so distracted showing off that he drops the ball. He had it and he threw it away! Why, 2666, why??

Rock retrieves the ball, swift and nimble, unencumbered by 2666’s massive pretensions. She drives down the court, looks like she’s going to get there, and—wait, what’s this? No quotation marks for dialogue? That’s the literary equivalent of wearing an ascot to a cocktail party! Not even so much as a James Joycean dash, either? The crowd hisses with agitation—there’s nothing worse than pointless literary tricks that detract from the reading experience. Rock gets tangled up in her smaller, yet no less cumbersome pretensions, and fumbles the ball.

SMACK! 2666 snatches it up and soars back up the court. The pages whip by faster than his pulsating legs! Then, his footing sure, he slows down, takes his time, shifts his setting to the Mexican town of Santa Teresa, where countless young girls have disappeared over the last decade—it’s gruesome but mesmerizing, and suddenly the crowd can’t take their eyes off him! He tosses the ball around his back, shifting from the literary critics to the professor and his daughter, and now to the American journalist who comes to Santa Teresa to write about a boxing match, then to the gruesome murders of Santa Teresa, and now he’s coming back around to the mysterious, elusive German author. It’s all so dizzying, yet it holds together, and the spellbound stadium can’t turn away no matter how horrified—and he slams the ball through the net! SWISH!

The ball back in her hands, Steer Toward Rock takes another run at the hoop. She has a poet’s economy with language, although it seems to keep her characters at a distance. Is that her intention? The crowd grows restless, intrigued but not dying to know what happens next…

When 2666 plows right into her—BAM!!

She bounces farther than the ball, and—as the inexorable tidal wave that is 2666 sweeps the ball toward the net with unparalleled skill, managing to weave so many disparate threads into a single, overwhelming narrative, a story that, in spanning the entire globe and the spectrum of its people, very nearly encompasses the whole of the modern world—the roar of the frenzied crowd drowns out the tiny shriek of a whistle. The ref throws a red flag for too much ambition, but there’s no stopping 2666 as the ball swishes effortlessly through the net! WHOOMP, there it is!

Steer Toward Rock doesn’t even reach for the ball this time. She’s got an interesting story to tell, but she can’t be heard above the din of this five-book extravaganza. With a sigh, she ambles back to the locker room—toward a smaller, safer tournament—confident in her ball-handling, but wondering if her moves are fast enough to carry her to the pros.

At her back, a volcanic eruption as 2666 sinks another ball. And another. And the unstoppable Behemoth marches on.

Today’s WINNER

2666 by Roberto Bolaño

About the Judge

Brockman is the head writer for the daily Book News blog on In his free time he’s hard at work on his fictional memoir. He denies that David Denby wrote Snark just for him, although it seems entirely likely. Known connections to this year’s contenders: None.

From the Booth

Man, there was a lot of basketball stuff going on in Brockman’s judgment there. Kevin John Steer Toward Rock glanced off me entirely. This is no fault of the author’s. I’m confident that it’s not the book, it’s me.
» Read Kevin Guilfoile & John Warner’s commentary on the match and leave a comment of your own «

The Peanut Gallery

Do you agree with the outcome of this match?

absolutely   no way