The Morning News

The Morning News Tournament of Books

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.

The 2009 ToB Contenders List

The 2009 Judges & Brackets

All titles 30% off at

ToB T-Shirts

The Rooster on Facebook, and on Twitter

#ToB Tweets

Previous years: 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

Contact the Tournament staff:

Kevin: Here we have a couple of books I quite liked. Home is beautifully written and the characters, especially the narrator, are achingly drawn. Marilynne Robinson has serious chops. Nothing really happens here, though. Days pass and people do all the things they need to do to survive, like eating. They get in and out of bed a lot. I would challenge you to name another book where the characters get in and out of bed more than the characters do in Home. I think someone either goes to bed, gets out of bed, or helps someone get in or out of bed on almost every page. As Witold points out the conversations are almost Beckettian (Beckettesque?) in that they frequently go nowhere and then repeat themselves. That’s not always bad. Glory and Jack are adult siblings who hardly know each other and their overly-formal, futile conversations are heartbreaking. The family discussions about religion are especially provoking.

As I was reading I told you I was puzzled that the jacket copy described Jack Boughton as “one of the greatest characters in recent literature” when all he really does in this book is get in and out of bed and go out to the porch for a smoke. He plays a little checkers. You reminded me (as Judge Riedel does again) that Home is a companion book to Gilead, which I haven’t read but where Boughton apparently earned that title. In this novel I think he’s kind of coasting on his reputation. I guess in Gilead Jack Boughton must have been like Mickey Mantle as Hall of Fame center fielder, and in Home he’s more like Mickey Mantle as casino greeter.

Lots happens in My Revolutions. The stuff in flashback is really terrific, even if you always feel sort of once-removed from it. The stuff in the present feels like it should have more tension than it does, given that it’s wrapped up in secrets and blackmail. It’s an interesting contrast with A Northern Clemency, which covers roughly the same span of time and touches on many of the same events and themes. A Northern Clemency received some criticism for being old-fashioned, and you can’t say that about My Revolutions. I sort of wish it had been a little more old-fashioned, though. I’d have liked to have been immersed in the old bomb-throwing days instead of held at arm’s length from them.

Still I think Judge Riedel gets this one right. I like what he said here: “My Revolutions may seem to have a certain lightness and inexactness compared to Home, but in many ways it is a book that treats faith as a much more living, breathing, uncomfortably smelly thing, yet at times the only thing left to hold on to.”

My Revolutions it is.

John: I can’t really add much to what you and Witold Riedel have to say about this matchup other than, I agree. Two strong books, both with some shortcomings that I think you nail. After the first 60 pages of My Revolutions I was thinking it might become my favorite of the tourney, the secret past, the sudden appearance of an old “friend” put Michael/Chris in sudden jeopardy and I was reading with anticipation to see how that jeopardy would unfold as we were filled in on those past events. But, as you note, the present lacks tension and drive, mostly functioning as transitions to the next flashback. A more than credible effort, but it barely snuck into the top half of my personal list.

Those of us who are fans of Marilynne Robinson are grateful that the gap between Gilead and Home was much shorter than the one between Housekeeping and Gilead, but reading Home reminded me of the “additional angles” feature you get on some DVD’s. Without having read the “original” (Gilead), I’m not sure I would have enjoyed Home as much as I did. I’m glad for the time I spent with it, but I can’t put it on the same shelf as Ms. Robinson’s other books.

Both Home and The Dart League King went down, which is sort of sad because in the ToB’s initial seeding, modeled after the NCAA tournament committee where they do something like put a Rick Pitino-coached Louisville team and his former employer, Kentucky, in the same half of the bracket, we were hoping for a hypothetical matchup between Robinson and Keith Morris, the two most well-known writers from Sandpoint, Idaho. (Both of them have a ways to go to catch the most famous native of Sandpoint.)

With the first round in the books (get it?) we have three #1’s making it through, but overall, the lower seeded books took half the contests. (The ToB #2 seed is like the NCAA tourney #5 seed, apparently.) To be honest, I’m half-regretting that we did all this reading this year because, for the first time, I have rooting interests for my favorite books and my personal top 3 (Unaccustomed Earth, Frankie Banks, and The Dart League King) have all been sent packing. It really is like the end of that first weekend of the basketball tourney where your favorite team lost on a buzzer beater and your office-pool bracket is in tatters and you’re wondering what’s left to watch for.

Thank goodness for the Zombie Round.

Kevin: My favorite six novels in this tourney were The Dart League King, City of Refuge, Unaccustomed Earth, The Northern Clemency, The White Tiger, and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. Five of the six (five of six!) have been knocked out in the first round.

I haven’t read Netherland and I’m still not finished with Shadow Country, which is right on the bubble of that list. Still, my only consolation is that you and I are in the same pool.

Maybe this will make you feel better (or maybe not), but like American Idol we’re making a surprise, mid-season change to the way we present the tourney. I happen to be one of the few people (outside of a few trusted accountants) who know the results of the Zombie voting, and we’d like to tease those results a little bit. (For those of you who are not familiar with the Zombie Round, here is how it works: before the Tournament started, we asked readers to vote for their favorite contenders; the top two books that have been booted from the Tournament prior to the semi-finals [the Zombie Round] are re-entered, getting a second chance at life.)

Going forward, after every match I will update a list of the four eliminated books that received the most Zombie votes from readers, but I won’t reveal in what order they rank or how many votes each title received. As more books are eliminated, some of them might bump titles out of the top four, but the bottom line is this: If your favorite book has been eliminated and it’s not on this list, it’s not coming back, my friend.

So, through today’s match, the Zombie leaders among the eight books so far eliminated from the competition are (in alphabetical order):
  • The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
  • Netherland
  • Steer Toward Rock
  • Unaccustomed Earth
Like I said, maybe it makes you feel better. Maybe not. I’m going outside now to cry for The Dart League King.


Reader Comments

On March 18, 2009 at 8:32 PM Johnny John John said…

No response from Marilynne Robinson's fans for now. They're going to take about 10 years to meticulously craft it.