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?