The 2018 Tournament of Books
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The books in competition for the Rooster have been announced! How many have you read? Which book did you vote for in the Zombie Poll? Which books are you excited to see, disappointed about or downright angry about? Let's have opinions!
I've read nine of the books, which is a personal record. I'm also halfway through a tenth. My favorites on the list are The Idiot, So Much Blue, The Animators and Goodbye, Vitamin.
I didn't like Stephen Florida, but it's certainly a very Tournament of Books kind of book.
I don't think Manhattan Beach or Idaho will go far. I found both of those to be okay, but not memorable.
I made a list, too, so if you want to keep track of your Rooster reading and to judge the books you've read here's the place.
I have read none but I have several already on my "interesting" list, and I'll see how many more I can get to. Interesting to see that Percival Everett novel on there. I read Assumption by him quite by accident some years ago and thought it was a really surprising book (in a good way).
Not entirely off topic, I think you all will enjoy Roxane Gay's reading list for 2017. Her two favorite books of the year are also on the TOB short list. I love her quick summaries of the books she read. http://roxanegay.tumblr.com/post/169268545802/my-2017-reading-list
>3 RidgewayGirl: RidgewayGirl: Thanks for creating this year's list! And wow, you've already read 10 from the field. Any reason why you've held off on Saunders, the one that probably got the most attention?
>9 zhejw: I really like Saunders' short stories and when Lincoln in the Bardo was released, I was all set to read it immediately, but then people started saying the audiobook was amazing and by the time I'd decided to read the paper copy, the initial impulse had worn off and I was facing a whole new slew of titles.
I will get to it before the start of the tournament!
I listened to the audiobook while following along in the hard copy. I, too, wanted to experience the audiobook, but didn't want to miss anything either, as I occasionally do when driving or working out and listening. I recommend it!
I’ve read Lincoln in the Bardo, Exit West, and The Book of Joan, and I’m reading Idaho with Fever Dream on deck. I’m hoping to get through them all, but for whatever reason I had already read fewer books on the list this year than in the past, so we’ll see how that goes.
Anyone have books that they loved from the longlist that didn’t make the shortlist? Books that they were really disappointed to see get left off even the longlist? I always think that the choices on those levels are interesting too, especially since the longlist is basically as long as they want it to be for this one.
I voted for Lincoln in the Bardo in the zombie poll. Every year I vote for the thing that I loved that I think is most polarizing - and among my friends, that book is either *the best thing ever* or *unreadable and annoying*.
Hi, pursuitofsanity, it's good to find another ToB fanatic! We are a rare but obsessed kind of people.
What did you think of The Book of Joan? I almost gave up after the first four chapters, and would have were it not in competition. I'm halfway through, and while I don't think this is going to be a book I like, I at least don't hate it. It will be an interesting conversation when it comes up in the tournament.
I'm determined to have them all read because it's so much fun to take part in the comments.
Of course there are longlist books that I wish had made it into play! I own copies of The Lonely Hearts Hotel and All Grown Up, but didn't get to them before the shortlist was announced. O'Neill is one of my favorite authors, so I would have liked to see how others respond to her off-beat quirkiness.
I would have liked to have had Chemistry, Chasing the King of Hearts and The Dark Dark in the shortlist. What about you?
I voted for The Idiot.
I was similarly frustrated by the first couple chapters of The Book of Joan and likely also would have given up. I’m glad that I got through it, and there are some aspects of it that I really loved, but I also still vaguely feel like I missed something central.
It really got stronger as it went along.
I sometimes struggle with books like this, and I have to stop and convince myself to put it solidly in the “fantasy” over “sci-fi” category, because as a physician/neuroscientist, some of the things it suggests are simply not at all plausible in the universe that obeys the laws our universe obeys (and not just Joan’s powers, which are supposed to be exceptional and difficult to understand). So for me it doesn’t ask a question about the future of a world like the one we live in, but a question about how things might place out in a world with different rules completely. When I let myself get over that stuff, I am generally a happier person, but sometimes it is hard to quiet my inner pedantic nerd.
I would have loved to see American War and Her Body and Other Parties make the short list, because there’s so much meat there to talk about (Although also, my gut initially said, “short stories feel a little like breaking the rules” before I asked myself “what rules exactly?! That is literally the point of this.”) I read Chemistry and thought it was just OK. There’s a bunch of others on the long list that were intriguing enough that I’ll probably read them anyway, including The Dark Dark.
>12 pursuitofsanity: I would have liked to see American War on the shortlist, and though I've not read The Lonely Hearts Hotel, I loved O'Neill's earlier novels and had been hoping this one would make it.
Speaking of O'Neill, I just saw this lovely short piece on Montreal kitchens:
I'm about two-thirds of the way through Pachinko now and enjoying it very much, though I don't think I'd put it above Exit West and Lincoln in the Bardo, the only others I've read.
Next up for me is Sing Unburied Sing or Dear Cyborgs, whichever the library reservation system delivers next.
I've finished a few more now.
Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward was excellent, though more disturbing than enjoyable. It reminded me of William Faulkner and the Southern Gothic style.
Dear Cyborgs by Eugene Lim left me confused almost the whole time I was reading it, but strangely enough, that didn't bother me too much. I enjoyed the various stories even if I didn't understand (until near the end of the novel) how they fit together.
I loved White Tears by Hari Kunzru. It was atmospheric and suspenseful, with some horror/mystery elements, and the story took an interesting look at cultural appropriation.
What is it with ghosts this year? Of the six books I've read so far, three (Lincoln in the Bardo, Sing Unburied Sing and White Tears) feature ghosts. Is that it, or should I expect more hauntings to come? :)
I'll be taking a break from ToB books for a little while, as I await books on hold at the library.
I'm reading The End of Eddy and White Tears now. After that, I'll just have three to go! I'm excited to start the tournament having read all the books - usually there are a few (or several) I didn't get to.
I recently finished Savage Theories and it definitely went largely over my head. It was also really problematic, so be advised that if you can't take gang rape and the resulting viral video as a big joke, this book's humor may not be for you.
And Lucky Boy was just not very good. The themes were important and it was obviously well-researched, but the writing was merely serviceable and the novel lacked nuance. I might have liked it more had it not come with the expectation of being Rooster-worthy.
Because of library availability and my new ability to listen to audiobooks on 1.5x speed, I, too, may be able to get to all of the books this year.
Does anyone have a surprise favorite yet this year? I was not expecting to like Stephen Florida, and it's still not up there with Exit West or Lincoln in the Bardo, but it's easily my next favorite book this year. The voice is so compelling and I suppose the obsessive part of me could totally relate.
Yes, Sing, Unburied, Sing was a bit too disturbing for my taste. It's certainly among the best books of the tourney, but it was too anxiety-producing for me. Those kids confined in that car!
I would rank White Tears higher had the first 2/3 of the book appealed more to me, but man did the last third blow me away!
Hi all! Of the play-in books, if you've read all three, which do you think is likely to advance in the tournament? Partly asking to get an idea of which ones I can skip - frantically trying to read as many main competitors as possible!
>22 McDirk: I've read all three and I think it's a toss-up between The Idiot and Stephen Florida. Both are brilliant in very different ways and if you love one, chances are good you won't like the other, so which one advances depends on the judge.
Stephen Florida is shorter, though.
Savage Theories is difficult. It's really, really wordy, in a use-six-long-words-when-two-short-words-would-suffice kind of way and it assumes a lot of the reader. It also has some problematic scenes - rapes and sexual assaults that are played for laughs, for example. I don't think it will move on.
I'm so happy to have found this thread! I've been reading the ToB's since the long list came out in November. Sadly, they didn't all make the cut but I've put a nice dent in the short list too. From that list, I've read The Book of Joan, The End of Eddy, Dear Cyborgs, Lincoln in the Bardo, Exit West, Fever Dream, Goodbye, Vitamin, White Tears and Sing, Unburied, Sing. My least favorite is Dear Cyborgs. I just could not wrap my head around this entry. I'm hoping to read The Idiot this month and that will probably wrap up TOB's for me this year.
My fave, Lincoln in the Bardo
and my zombie pic is Exit West.
I'll return to catch up on all the posts.
I read White Tears and I think it's a contender. It's brilliant. Oddly, my library has put a "mystery" sticker on the spine, for reasons I can't figure out. If it has to be given a genre, maybe sort of horror? But it's not a mystery novel.
>25 RidgewayGirl: I agree with White Tears'contender status. I could see it making the final 4 easily. The only thing holding it back could be that it likely is not popular enough to earn a zombie slot if one judge turns against it.
I think it could be deemed a mystery because I, for one, had no idea where this book was going until the last third or so. What about others?
>22 McDirk: I didn't realize that Savage Theories is in the play-in, but that certainly makes sense. I haven't read that one yet, but I would agree with RidgewayGirl. I can see either The Idiot or Stephen Florida appealing strongly to one type of judge or another. Each one could easily advance.
I, for one, will be rooting for Oregsburg College!
>28 RidgewayGirl: I know! I couldn't get into the main character, her motivations, her voice, etc. The length of the book soured me on it even more. I may have ranked it a few spots higher were it half the length.
Even though I would rather spend time with that character were she a real live person than Stephen Florida, I completely fell for Stephen as a fictional character. Yet I can see how someone would have the exact opposite opinion as me. Well, I'm not sure very many people would want to spend time with Stephen in person.
>29 zhejw: I read the two books at the same time and while I think that Habash did a great job in writing this book in Stephen's voice and I was always interested to see what happened next, I was always more eager to get back to The Idiot, and her experiences.
I've got three books to go, so this will be the first year I will have managed to read the entire shortlist before the competition starts - last year I didn't get to the play-in books. I've got The End of Eddy, Lincoln in the Bardo and Dear Cyborgs left.
>30 RidgewayGirl: You've got this! Dear Cyborgs is so short and The End of Eddy is too--and is an easy read.
I listened to this past weekend's Live From Here, which was a rebroadcast of an episode from October where they read portions of Lincoln in the Bardo along with George Saunders. It was great to get back into the space of that book again. Here's a video of that portion of the show. I wish I could say which page it started on...
Although I just noticed that the play-in winner is up against White Tears, so unless it's EXTREMELY good, it may not have a chance.
Finished my 10th and final shortlisted TOB's, The Idiot. Now, I'll just sit back and see how the judges cast their votes.
I have done it. I've read all of the ToB books ahead of the competition for the first time ever (last year, I didn't read the play-in round books). Let the games begin!
The Tournament starts tomorrow! Here's a link to the brackets if you want to make predictions.
>40 RidgewayGirl: Thanks for the link.
I've finished my 8th and 9th books from the list and my library hold for The Animators just came in.
Fever Dream was very weird but utterly mesmerizing. I had a hard time putting it down, so it's a good thing that it was so short.
I found Manhattan Beach disappointing. It was enjoyable enough but seemed much too ordinary for a ToB entry.
Here's an article about the Rooster, written by color commentator John Warner.
And if you haven't yet, the tournament page is open and the play-in round is posted.
Arrrggghhhhh! Today?! Lincoln in the Bardo is the first book out after the play in round?! I’m actually not that surprised, because I knew it was polarizing, and Fever Dream was so tight and compelling, but my bracket is BUSTED.
Anyone else think that it’s very unfair that the judgement was based on a re-read of LitB and a first read of Fever Dream?! I know that it would be insanely hard to find judges for each round that hadn’t read either book yet, but I feel like a re-read, especially for something like LitB that sucks you in and puts you in a world that is real word adjacent, is a chance to notice the things that make it weak that never get seen on the first pass. I’m not sure that Fever Dream would ever win if someone judged it on a second reading, because (at least for me) it was all propulsive momentum fed by dread, and that wouldn’t be there the second time. I think this match, even with the same judge, might have gone the other way if she’d been reading LitB for the first time.
Oh well. Here’s hoping other people put their zombie votes on Lincoln, and didn’t just tell themselves it was too much of a favorite... I would sort of hate it if it was totally out.
>45 pursuitofsanity: The same thing happened in the play-in round and that judge chose the book she read twice.
The mods explained the distance required for a judge to participate and they pointed out that things like interviews, being on a panel with or sharing a publisher aren't enough to create too close a relationship. The literary book world is not huge and if you want the potential judges to have not even read any of the books ahead of time, that means picking non-readers as judges. I think I prefer to have people who love books as the judges. But how do you suggest screening judges for a gig they may not even be paid for -- judges are chosen before the shortlist, so do you suggest giving them the 70+ book longlist and eliminate anyone who has read any of those books or met any of the authors?
Oh of course not. I know it's impossible and almost silly. I'm just hurt: my bracket, my heart.
It's interesting, because I think that The Idiot might be the kind of book that is almost better on reread (although, I for one will NEVER re-read it) because there's a lot of detail and little elegance, and it's goodness is not at all dependent on narrative propulsion or surprise. I'm not at all surprised by The Idiot winning the play in, although I would have chosen Stephen Florida personally, it doesn't feel like a bad choice, just a different one.
I don't think that Lincoln in the Bardo is a perfect book, but I do think that it is an exceptional (and exceptionally human) one. I have not tired of talking about it, and I have been recommending it to people enthusiastically since I finished reading it in the small hours of the morning in the day after it's release. Given the buzz and the conversations, I would bet that 90% of the people that one could get as judges for this sort of thing would have already read it, and of course I would rather have readers of the sort who don't let an interesting book wait unread as the judges.
But I wonder... especially since she liked LitB on first reading, since her essay suggests that some of the flaws were only apparent (or at least only distracting) on her reread, if the book would have won this round if there was some magic in which she could have read it as new.
Note that despite my deep and genuine love for LitB, I expected that it would exit relatively early, because in my conversations this year, it has been extremely polarizing (hence my zombie vote). Fever Dream was good, even excellent, and there was a part of me that predicted this would happen, (I remember seeing the bracket and thinking, "that is an unfortunate first round matchup for my favorite), and I appreciate the conversation that has followed.
But I wonder...
I'd also put Lincoln in the Bardo above Fever Dream in my own ranking, but I'm not totally surprised by the verdict and I'm OK with it. There was a lot in Lincoln in the Bardo that impressed me but at the same time, it didn't grip me the same way Fever Dream did.
I am more disappointed with today's result. I loved White Tears and I'll be devastated if it doesn't come back as a Zombie. However, I can't really comment on the judgment, as I've not read The Idiot yet.
I haven’t read White Tears yet either, although I plan to, and perhaps more now because the comments today made me even more curious. I got a little side-tracked on the way to The Rooster when a couple non-shortlist books came into my hands off of library reserves, (For the record, The Power and Future Home of the Living God are both pretty excellent, and I am halfway through The Changeling and totally obsessed).
I was just meh on The Idiot. There were things that I thought were lovely and elegant, but it overall left me flat and annoyed. I hope Fever Dream takes it out in the next round, because I certainly was more impressed with that.
>52 RidgewayGirl: "The unpredictability of each match-up's outcome and how very much I find myself caring about who wins is why I love the ToB so much."
I have enjoyed reading the judges comments regarding their decisions and I find myself seeing the book through their eyes. Not always agreeing with, mind you, but it seems like an honest opinion.
>53 mathgirl40: Did you see today's results?
How have I missed this thread until now? Should have looked harder I suppose.
I just finished Manhattan Beach over the weekend and found it just okay. It started so strong and then veered into story lines that didn't make sense. Do not get me started on that diving scene. However, I enjoyed reading it more than I did Dear Cyborgs, simply because I had least knew what was going on. Never could quite figure out what what happening with DC.
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