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

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Previous years: 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

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judged by Junot Díaz
This is one of those match-ups that make the whole battle-of-the-book thing look extra dumb. These are both superb mature works by masters, which are nearly impossible to square up against one another. A Mercy is a splinter of a book and yet like any splinter, is brutally placed, almost impossible to ignore. A slave woman offers up her daughter to repay a debt and from here it’s all madness, nightmare, family, and of course America. This has been called a prequel to Beloved but for me it’s more of a return to form. I’m one of Morrison’s greatest fans and yet I have been unable to read with any pleasure her last three novels. Sorry folks: I’m just not that into them. In fact, I’d argue they suck. This book doesn’t suck. It does justice to its author’s talent on every level; it’s a perfect example of why I got into this reading game. In its pages you are thrown into a New World, our former world, of slavery, of vicious brutality, of grasping contradictory hope.

Shadow Country is perhaps Peter Matthiessen’s magnum opus: In it he charts more or less how a single murder can echo down through the generations and how one crazy-ass man, Edgar Watson, can stand in for a place, a generation, a country. I read the earlier version of these novels before so it felt a little bit like a cheat reading them again, beautifully ordered and gussied up. I know that the National Book Award people felt that this was an entirely new project. I didn’t, not entirely. It’s superb but it didn’t read new to me and that’s what did it in, in my book. I should have better criteria but that’s the way these things are: You can pretend it’s math or science but it’s almost always gut and predilection. I give this round to Morrison. Beyond its newness, in the end it was her text that I returned to most once the reading was done.

Today’s WINNER

A Mercy by Toni Morrison

About the Judge

Junot Díaz is the author of Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, winner of the Rooster in 2008. Known connections to this year’s contenders: I share an editor with Aleksandar Hemon.

From the Booth

Further evidence, if one needed it, that I am the Sergeant Schultz of literary criticism. Kevin John I don’t think we’ll be seeing any passionate blog postings protesting the bouncing of Shadow Country.
» Read Kevin Guilfoile & John Warner’s commentary on the match and leave a comment of your own «

The Peanut Gallery

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