It’s late February, so if you are at all like me, your mind may be on the Tournament of Books, which begins on March 9th. What is it about the Tournament that is so much fun? Why do people get so obsessed with it, including me and all the people in the Tournament discussion group on Goodreads? It’s such a silly enterprise, but everyone who runs it knows it’s silly, which makes the silliness just fine. Maybe it’s that there are so many things to think about — which books will get chosen to participate? Which ones will get paired to compete against each other? How will they be seeded? (Seeded!? It really IS silly.) Who are the judges and is it possible to guess how they will decide? What type of book will make it to the end?
These last few years I’ve taken the opportunity to read as many books from the tournament as I can that I find interesting. I can’t and won’t read them all because they don’t all appeal, but many of them have already caught my eye, and others I may not have known about before but now I realize I might like them. This year I’m doing very well in my tournament reading: out of 16 books total, I’ve read seven and am listening to another. I may even add one or two more in the next couple weeks. For me, that’s not a bad record.
Here are this year’s books, in alphabetical order, along with my very personal, very biased commentary:
- Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball. I haven’t read this, but I have it checked out of the library and it looks super-interesting. It seems to be at least somewhat experimental, and a good story too. That right there is pretty much my thing.
- A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall by Will Chancellor. I hadn’t heard of this one before the tournament. The organizers always include one or two small press books that haven’t gotten much attention, and I’ve learned about great authors such as Kate Zambreno this way.
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I read this one and admired it. I didn’t fall in love as many other people have, but it’s a very good story, and beautifully written. This one has a chance to win.
- Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante. I want to read this eventually, but it’s the third book in a trilogy, which makes it an odd choice for the tournament. I plan on reading the trilogy in order, but that will take me a while.
- An Untamed State by Roxane Gay. I read this last summer and had mixed feelings, but many readers have unequivocally loved it. This one might have a chance to win.
- Wittgenstein Jr by Lars Iyer. I haven’t read this, but I thought his earlier novel Spurious was very good.
- A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. Not read yet, but it’s on my list to check out eventually. I’ve heard it’s an important, powerful book.
- Redeployment by Phil Klay. Not read yet, and I’m not sure it’s my thing. But again, I’ve heard very good things.
- Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Not read yet, but my husband read and liked it, so we’ll see. Maybe. I can see our copy on the bookcase across the room from me, so maybe it will call out one day and demand to be read.
- The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. Nope. At least not any time soon. I like Mitchell a whole lot, but this one is long and complicated with fantasy elements, and it’s just not my thing right now. I think I prefer the realist version of Mitchell (Black Swan Green for example).
- Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. I listened to this on audio, and I enjoyed it. It’s a great story, an absorbing family drama. I’m not sure it has what it takes to win the tournament, though.
- Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill. I want this one to win. It was my favorite book of last year and I think it’s just amazing. I’ve read it twice and plan to read it again.
- Adam by Ariel Schrag. This one was a good read, an interesting story. It’s a coming-of-age novel focusing on LGBTQ young people, and Schrag does a good job with her characters. I read it happily. I’m pretty sure it won’t win, though.
- The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. This one was another fun read, very absorbing, but I didn’t fall in love with it. Not one of Waters best, I think (for that, turn to Fingersmith).
- Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. I listened to this on audio, and I plan to get to the two other books in the trilogy on audio eventually. I liked it; it was an unusual venture into science fiction for me, and I’m glad I tried it out.
- All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld. I’m listening to this one on audio right now, and so far I’m very impressed. I may even want to read it on paper at some point.
So, go Dept. of Speculation! I’m hoping the tournament is fun and the discussion is lively. Have you read any of these? Which ones are you rooting for?
13 responses to “The Tournament of Books 2015”
I think what I love most about the TOB is getting to see inside the judges’ minds and talk back to them. So many other awards have this whole illusion of objectivity, and I love that the TOB owns the fact that it is a matter of personal taste and preferences.
I’ve only managed to read four of this year’s books and decided to return the others to the library unread. I wish I’d gotten around to Silence Once Begun, but it has holds. Out of the ones I haven’t read, it sounds the most appealing.
That’s exactly it, Teresa. We get to see the process instead of just getting a judgment handed down from on high. If only all contests and awards required the judges to write essays justifying their choices. Wouldn’t that be amazing?
Dept. of Speculation is the only book on the list I’ve read so I can go along with cheering for it 🙂
Excellent! And judging from the reception the book got generally, there will be a lot of people joining us!
I’ve usually read more of the list than is the case this year when I’ve only downed three of them, ‘Station Eleven’, ‘The Bone Clocks’ and ‘The Paying Guests’. I loved the first two but was disappointed by the third. Most of the others I’m afraid I haven’t even heard of but with two such recommendations I’m off now to investigate ‘The Dept. of Speculation.’
Oh, do read Dept. of Speculation, Alex! I’d love to know what you think. And if you follow the tournament when it starts, you will learn a lot about those books you haven’t heard of 🙂
The TOB is so fun! I’m rooting for Station Eleven all the way (it was by far my favorite book of 2014), but would be almost as happy if A Brief History of Seven Killings won. Those are the only two on the list I’ve read so far. I’m on hold for Dept Of Speculation at the library, and am excited to read it.
I’ve been contemplating reading Station Eleven, and we’ll see. If I do, that will put me up to 10 total (right now I’m at 8.5). That would be pretty amazing! I am curious what you will think of Dept. of Speculation. It has a pretty fabulous description of what it’s like to have a newborn 🙂
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I never even heard of the Tournament of Books, since I don’t do much with Goodreads anymore these days except occasionally check reviews of some book I hear about. Good thing, really, because I don’t need to be reading more books, especially this time of year when I knee-deep in choices for our One Book, One Community committee (whose list overlaps this one a bit, but it’s top secret, so I can’t say which titles do). Hope you enjoy it and that your choice wins, though.
How fun to be reading books for a One Book event! It will be fun to see what you all choose. The Tournament isn’t run through Goodreads — a site called The Morning News runs it — but there is a lot of spirited discussion of what happens in the Tournament on Goodreads. I love Goodreads, but it definitely increases the TBR pile!
Loved, loved, loved Station Eleven. Didn’t get what made the Ng so special, though. The 70’s references seemed too carefully placed and I disliked almost everyone in the book.
I kind of agree about the Ng book — I enjoyed it but it didn’t seem to be doing much that was new. I’ll have to get to Station Eleven — but there are SO MANY BOOKS! 🙂
Forget to mention – I’ll give Debt of Speculation a go if you recommend it. I’m hoping I will read something as good as Station Eleven this year!