Well, non-sports fans, it’s that time of year again: the time when The Morning News releases the titles that will be competing in this year’s Tournament of Books. For people like me who can tell a basketball from a baseball but don’t particularly care to do so, this is the one sports adjacent piece of pop culture worth actually getting excited about.
I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the tourney ever since I discovered it back in 2008. Wanting to be able to participate in an informed way, I tried to read all of the finalists… and failed miserably. I couldn’t get my hands on a large portion of them, and what’s worse, many of the ones I did manage to read I wound up really disliking (see my review of A Partisan’s Daughter, for an example of what I’m talking about). Ever since that first experience, I’ve approached subsequent ToB throwdowns with excitement but tempered expectations and under no circumstances do I vow to read all the contestants.
One of the biggest delights about the ToB is that even for avid bibliophiles, the men behind the curtain in charge of selecting the books always manage to sneak in a few titles you’ve never heard of never mind read. Many hardcore ToB fans spend a lot of time trying to guess what books will make the cut and even try to strategically plan their reading around what they think might be deemed worthy. Given how out of touch I was with the book world last year, I didn’t have high hopes that when the list was released this year that I’d recognize many titles and I’d have to be pretty lucky to have read any of them.
Well, yesterday the list was revealed, and I have to say, I was surprised.
Finalists for the 2014 Tournament of Books
- At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcón
- The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
- The Tuner of Silences by Mia Couto
- The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
- How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid
- The Dinner by Herman Koch
- The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
- Long Division by Kiese Laymon
- The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
- Hill William by Scott McClanahan
- The Son by Philipp Meyer
- A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
- Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
- The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
- The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara
- [Winner of the Pre-Tournament Playoff Round]
Pre-Tournament Playoff Round
- Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
- Woke Up Lonely by Fiona Maazel
The first surprise was that I have actually read one of the finalists: The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara. Huzzah! Not only that, but this was one of my top 3 books I read last year, and yet I feel like it hasn’t got much buzz or love in the book world. It’s nice that the ToB will likely bring more readers its way, but I have to say, despite my respect and adoration for the book, I feel pretty confident in saying it doesn’t have chance in hell of winning. It’s an excellent book and is deceptively weighty, but I feel it will get dispatched pretty early on for not being difficult or tricky enough, even though the writing is sublime.
Despite all of the “best of” lists I’ve been poring over the past week or so in order to play catch up on all the books I missed out on last year, the second surprise for me was that there were four books on the list that I had not hear a single peep about and didn’t even know existed until I read this list. (For those who are curious, I was in the dark about the Alarcón, Couto, Laymon, McClanahan, and Maazel.) God knows this tournament loves the underdog, but I wonder how far any of those titles will make it if the rabid book blogging community didn’t throw them any love beforehand.
Because I’m stuck reading only what I can get as an epub, I’m somewhat limited in how much of this list I’ll actually be able to read, but just for funsies, I’ve divided the list into various categories about how likely I am to read the assorted titles.
Books That Made The Cut That I Will Definitely Read (Because I Was Already Planning To)
The Luminaries, The Signature of All Things, The Good Lord Bird, The Goldfinch, Life After Life, Eleanor & Park, A Tale for the Time Being
Books That I Did Not Know About Previously But Seem Worthy of Further Investigation
At Night We Walk in Circles, Long Division, Hill William
Books That I May Read (Or At Least Try) Because They Are On The List (Although I Had Little Interest In Them Before)
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, The Dinner, The Son, At Night We Walk in Circles
Books That I Probably Won’t Read Even Though They Are On The List
The Tuner of Silences, The Lowland, Woke Up Lonely
In some ways I feel the least invested in the tournament than I ever have simply because I’m unfamiliar with 93% of the titles that will be competing. That said, I am surprised that the Atkinson did not make it into a slot up front, but I am on record as being severely biased where she is concerned, even if I haven’t read the title in question. I think I am surprised that the latest Marisha Pessl book, Night Film, did not make the list as it seems like a very ToB book. And even though I haven’t read either book, I secretly feel like Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie should have made the cut rather than The Lowland. The only basis I have for that is that the last time I read a Lahiri book, it was for this tournament and I could not believe that such a repetitive and underwhelming story collection could earn so much acclaim. That really soured me on her, and I have since decided that Lahiri does not live up to the hype (hence why I will not be reading The Lowland). (OK, I’ve gone back and read that review and apparently I didn’t hate Unaccustomed Earth as much as I remember I did. I think it’s one of those things where, with time, the negatives have taken over my memories and reaction to that work and blotted out any of its merits. Lahiri might be better than I give her credit for, but I’m still not going to read The Lowland.)
Given how few of the books I’ve read, it seems futile to attempt a guess at what might win. I feel like it could come down to the Tartt versus the Catton (if they don’t go head-to-head in the first round), which could be a very interesting match-up indeed.
Either way, I’ve got a lot of reading ahead of me!
Any other ToB fans out there? What do you think of the roster this year (and what do you think might win)? In my bid to catch up with good books of 2013, what novel that isn’t listed here would you recommend I make time for?