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13th January
written by Steph
Yesterday I read over at the Girl Detective's blog that The Morning News has released the shortlist of this year's combatants in the 2010 Tournament of Books.  For those not in the know, as the title suggests, the ToB is a March Madness style competition where books go head-to-head rather than college basketball teams, and is therefore way more interesting (in my opinion!).  The books are seeded and a tournament bracket will go up so that starting in March, two books will go head to head in a daily competition (M-F), until eventually we get down to two books, one of which will be declared the champion.  Cue the Queen tracks. Each round will have a new judge, though of course the outcome of each match is completely arbitrary, up to the judge's whims.  Even when I don't agree with the outcome of a given bout, it's always amusing to read the judge's line of reasoning, as well as the commentary on how the match went, provided last year by Kevin Guilfoile & John Warner.  It's silly, yes, and true it does emulate a sporting event, but it's essentially a wonderful celebration of books, and that's something I can always get behind. Last year I had read a dismal ZERO books of the 16 shortlisted (though I made my way through about 8 of them by the end, I think), but this year I'm already off to a better start having read two of the contenders last year!  This year the books up for the title are:
  • The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood (read it!  For my thoughts, see here.)
  • The Anthologist, by Nicholson Baker
  • Fever Chart, by Bill Cotter
  • Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth, by Apostolos Doxiadis
  • The Book of Night Women, by Marlon James
  • The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Big Machine, by Victor Lavalle (read it!  For my thoughts, see here.)
  • Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann
  • Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
  • A Gate at the Stairs, by Lorrie Moore
  • Miles from Nowhere, by Nami Mun
  • That Old Cape Magic, by Richard Russo
  • Burnt Shadows, by Kamila Shamsie
  • The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
  • Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, by Wells Tower
  • Lowboy, by John Wray
Despite having already read 12.5% of the shortlist, and recognizing a handful of titles that popped up, quite a few of these books I've heard absolutely nothing about.  I was quite surprised that there were so many unknown books on the list, because I thought I did a pretty good job of at least keep tabs on books published in 2009 (though of course no one can keep track of everything!).  Have any of you read: Fever Chart; Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth; The Book of Night Women; Miles from Nowhere; Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned; or Lowboy?  The remaining titles I've at least heard of, though I have to say I'm not chomping at the bit to read any of them (the possible exceptions being The Help and Let The Great World Spin, both of which I've heard only great things about).  That said, I am trying to keep an open mind since I probably wouldn't have picked up Big Machine if I hadn't been reviewing it for BookPage, and it wound up being awesome and one of the better books I read last year, so just because an author or a title is unfamiliar doesn't necessarily mean that is a reflection of its quality. The upside is that all of these books except for one (Fever Chart) can be borrowed through a combination of my school and public libraries, meaning I won't need to purchase any books should I choose to read my way through the short-list (sorry, Fever Chart!  Maybe I'll read you some day, but chances are I won't be reading you by March!).  While I did enjoy some of the books I read for last year's ToB, I also read some books that I really didn't like, or which I simply thought were mediocre.  This year, I am going to give every book that I can get access to a fair shake, but if something is not working for me, I am not going to feel obligated to continue.  Although the year is young, I have been pretty happy with the books I've been picking up and am optimistic about the few that I have lined up once I finish with my current read.  I'm also not going to pressure myself to read all of these before the tournament kicks off, as I don't want to feel rushed in my reading. I think I'll start by getting copies of The Help and Let The Great World Spin as those are the ones I'm most interested reading, and then we'll see where we go from there. Anyone else thinking of joining up?


  1. Eva

    I’ve read The Book of Night Women: it is SOOOO good! It’s set in historical Jamaica and centers around a group of slave women who plan a revolt.

    That’s the only one I’ve read, and several of the others that I’ve heard of I have no interest in reading, so I won’t be joining in. But it is fun to watch! 🙂

    We should do a blogger style March Madness thing. Like that YA one last year, only not YA! Wouldn’t that be fun? hehe

  2. 01/13/2010

    @ Eva: I love the idea of doing a blogger style March Madness (but of the non-YA variety)… perhaps with classics? Or we could do contemporary literature as well… I’m just not sure how we’d go about picking the books!

  3. 01/13/2010

    I just came across the short list all of ten minutes ago and I’m so excited! I love the Tournament of Books. I’ve heard of most of the books on the list and I even currently have a copy of EVERYTHING RAVAGED, EVERYTHING BURNED, LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN, and WOLF HALL which are all being bumped my to-read list. I’ve heard great things about THE BOOK OF NIGHT WOMEN, which has been on my TBR list for ages and LOWBOY got some pretty rave reviews, though I’ve been kind of ambivalent about it. I’d like to read the three I have by March. If I manage to do that, then I’d be happy. Especially since as of right now I’ve read nothing on the list! *sad face*

    P.S. That blogger style March Madness of classics sounds like a wonderful idea.

  4. hmm, i guess i don’t measure up as i’ve only read ‘the help’ (but loved it!). i haven’t yet joined any challenges (been book blogging since march ’09) and maybe that will be my hook: the girl who just refuses to join any challenges. i’m contrary like that. lol. no, there are a bunch of good ones out there but i have a fear of commitment.

  5. 01/13/2010

    I’ve only read The Help and The Lacuna, although I’ve started Wolf Hall and Year of the Flood is on the shelf. Of the rest I’ve only even heard of a few…and I think my current books would stage an uprising if I decided to read my way through this list!

  6. 01/13/2010

    @ J.S.: I was delighted to find I had read two of the contenders, and I think I may use this as an excuse to check out the two titles I mentioned in my post, and will then peruse the list in a more in-depth fashion to inform the rest of my choices. I was never all that interested in Wolf Hall, truth be told, but then it went and won the Booker… since I can try it for free, I suppose I might as well!
    And yes, I think a Classics March Madness may need to be devised!
    @nat: I think some of these books may have been purposefully obscure, and really, better to have only read one book from the list but to have really enjoyed it than to have read a bunch and found them bland!
    @softdrink: I’ve never read any Kingsolver so part of me wonders if The Lacuna is really the place to start with her… I think it may turn out that way regardless!

  7. 01/14/2010

    This is a bit of fun, although I was disappointed to see Ransom by David Malouf bumped from the shortlist. I really enjoyed Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned and Lowboy, and have been meaning to read a few of the rest.

  8. I haven’t heard of Fever Chart; Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth; The Book of Night Women; Miles from Nowhere; Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned; A Gate at the Stairs or Lowboy. I enjoyed watching the progress of this last year though, so will keep an eye on the winning books.

  9. 01/14/2010

    @ Sarah: There are definitely some 2009 titles that I would have liked to have seen on the list (Generation A, anybody?), but so long as we remember it’s just meant to be fun there’s no point getting too upset about anything. It’s nice to hear that Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned is so good… short stories are not usually my thing, but now I’m intrigued!
    @ Jackie: I think you’re generally more up to date with current books than I am, so I feel less bad not knowing so many of the titles! 😉 Even if I don’t get around to reading most of them, it is still fun seeing how the tournament progresses! Last year I was really happy to see A Mercy win, because it was definitely my favourite book of the bunch (and one of the better books I read last year!).

  10. 01/14/2010

    I’ve read only one of these books, The Anthologist, but I loved it so much, I hope it does well. I doubt I’ll read many more of the books, mostly because I don’t read a lot of contemporary fiction, but I am curious about the Lorrie Moore and also the Mantel. It will be fun to watch how it plays out! I’ve enjoyed following this competition in the past.

  11. 01/15/2010

    @ Dorothy: I think I remember reading about The Anthologist over at your site (otherwise it might have gone on the list of books I’d heard nothing about!), and remember you loving it. I think this is the kind of competition where it’s nice but not necessary to be familiar with all of the contenders… in the end, it’s just a fun book love fest!

  12. 01/18/2010

    Not sure if I will be joining this year or not, but I will be keeping up with your posts covering the events. This is the first year I can say that some of the books on the list are on my wish list, and a few have even made it into the TBR pile by my bedside. A few of the ones that are new to me sound interesting to me as well. I checked out The Book of Night Women and realized that although I probably would have never come across it on my own, it looks like a great read. I will also be interested in hearing what you think about The Help. I have that one sitting nearby and will probably get to it soon.

  13. Eva

    Hmmm…classics would be fun! And then we wouldn’t have to worry about hurting authors’ feelings, lol. Now we just need to find enough people willing to read two classics in a some-what limited time frame. 🙂

  14. 01/19/2010

    @ zibilee: I wish my reading habits were more like yours – this year there were only 2 titles I can honestly say I would likely have read of my own volition, but that doesn’t take into account that so many were unknown to me (and having since looked at some of them, they do look fun and worth trying)!
    @ Eva: I think we could do it! We don’t have to have the tournament scheduled for March, and we can start whenever we want. I’d certainly love to organize/be a judge… We’d just need to find another 12 people or so who’d also like to do it! 😉

  15. Eva

    Ok! Let’s start thinking about it for sure. 😀 It seems like a lot of people want to read more classics as a resolution, so if we get them early, we can probably round up quite a few!

  16. 01/21/2010

    @ Eva: Sounds good! I’m really excited about this! We just need to come up with 16 classics, then create the bracket and then find people to read them… oh this is going to be so much fun!

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