Monday, March 6, 2017

The Tournament of Books

Have been super busy lawyering recently, so this is my first post in a while. What better way to break the drought by talking about the Tournament of Books!

For those who have no idea what the TOB is, yes, it is as cool as it sounds.  Started 11 years ago by The Morning News, an online cultural magazine, it was initially intended to take a swipe at the absurdity of book awards by mimicking the NCAA Basketball Tournament (see this year's bracket here), placing books in brackets and have them face off against one another until a champion eventually emerged from the competition.

Whoever judges a particular head-to-head match up (literary celebrities usually) write long, sometimes thoughtful, sometimes nasty reasons explaining their decision and then followers of the TOB go to town agreeing, disagreeing, bemoaning the decisions.

To add to the craziness, when the short-list is announced in January, readers get to vote on their favourite book, with the vote tally used to determine which defeated books return as zombies for the semifinals.

The winner of the book death-match receives a rooster (hence the TOB's logo), although no winner has actually accepted the feathered fowl prize.

In past years, some pretty big heavyweights have emerged as the winner. Last year, the TOB was rather prescient in picking the eventual Man Booker Prize Winner, The Sellout. Other winners over the years included Station Eleven, The Orphan Master's Son, Wolf Hall, and The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao.

Although I have been following the TOB for a few years now, this was the first year that I made a concerted effort at reading all 18 books up for the prize, and sadly, I failed miserably, sunken after 13 books by the way too long, speculative fiction novel about time travel, titled Version Control, which was interesting conceptually but at over 500 pages way too long and tedious to keep my attention.

Unfortunately, I am not sure I'll ever make an attempt to read all the books again, since among the very good (The Underground Railroad, Homegoing and The Vegetarian) there were some real stinkers that made the list. The committee who decides on these things tries to mix things up, going beyond literary fiction (which I am fine with) but some of their reaches were really disappointing.

Nonetheless, if you haven't followed the TOB in the past, it's well worth one's time. The discussion is always engaging, sometimes quite emotional. Once you get drawn in it's pretty easy to become obsessed (check out the Goodreads group on the matter and you'll see the level of interest). I find myself refreshing the TOB page every morning eagerly waiting for the day's decision.

Anyways, my pick is Homegoing. Although I think the Vegetarian and The Underground Railroad are technically better books, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi was a pretty wonderful first novel telling an epic tale of African diaspora. It will be a popular pick.


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