Update: Check out all of my slightly obsessive coverage from the 2011 Tournament of Books here.
5 Things I Like About the Shortlist
1. The Rooster Brings the Funny
Though my rules for handicapping the event suggest that a comic novel won’t win, it’s good to see them well-represented: Skippy Dies, Super Sad True Love Story, and The Finkler Question lead the pack here.
2. No Beatrice and Virgil.
I was sure this wasn’t even a possibility, but still. So bad. So, so bad.
I’ve seen Anne Carson’s NOX in the bookstore, and it’s a truly beautiful book. I have no idea if the poetry itself is good, but as physical object, this is a stunner. I’ll be picking this up soon, especially if I can find the hardback/looseleaf edition somewhere for a reasonable price.
4. Room, not The Passage
My sense was that only one of these two buzz books would make the shortlist, and I am glad it’s Room. I have not read either it or The Passage, but I didn’t want to read 700 pages about a girl-child savior of a zombie world. I’m not particularly looking forward to 500 pages about a kid stuck in a small room, but 200 pages is 200 pages.
5. Gender Balance.
Eight dudes. Eight ladies. That there’s a fair fight.
5 Things I Don’t Like About the Shortlist
1. It’s Pretty White
Not bone, nor even ecru: this list is whiter than a lacrosse team. There were several strong Asian-American writers on the longlist, and I thought Mingestu’s How to Read the Air could have been a finalist. Now, I haven’t read the books by Puchner, Winslow, or Hynes, but that’s three white guys writing about white dude things. Nothing wrong with that of course; I am myself a white dude who enjoys reading about white dude things. But didn’t Murray and Franzen have that particular segment of the literary universe covered pretty well?
2. Whither Matterhorn?
This is head and shoulders above both Bloodroot and The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. And Lord of Misrule. And Super Sad True Love Story. Also, how about a book set sometime before 1999? Gravitas is in relatively short supply as it is. This is a real shame.
3. Other Snubs
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Orringer’s The Invisible Bridge and Lipsyte’s The Ask, but I can understand leaving them off. I am shocked though, that The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and C didn’t make the list. Not in a bad way—just regular, neutral shock.
4. Are The Finkler Question and Lord of Misrule here just because they won big awards?
I’ve not read the former, but the latter seems to me to be riding the NBA win. Or maybe I am just still pissed about Matterhorn.
5. The Special Disappointment of an Overrated Book
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a fine book with an interesting idea and some beautiful writing, but there’s just not much to it. Child protagonist with a gimmick just leaves me unimpressed these days. At least there’s not another book with a child protagonist and a gimmick. Oh wait.
5 Things I Like About the Judges
1. The Ideal Reader
The at-large selection of Catherine George is a compelling one. Who else is the ideal reader for an internet contemporary lit competition than a MFA turned lawyer with a novel in the drawer?
2. In Case You’re Wondering Whom I’ll Agree With
I’ll be paying special attention to John Williams’ judging here: I’m a fan of The Second Pass and tend to agree with his assessments.
3. Oh, yea, Publishing is a Business
Michele Filgate’s inclusion seems particularly smart: she has several fingers in the publishing pie. I’ll be interested to see which hat she wears when it comes score-card time.
4. Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone
No, that’s not what I wrote in my high school yearbook: it’s the title of a great album by The Walkmen. Hamilton Leithauser, the band’s lead singer, is a judge this year and, well, I’m just a fan.
5. I Think We Have a Weiner
Juicy, juicy coup to get Jennifer Weiner in the mix here. First, her books would never, ever make the shortlist, though she outsells all these folks. Second, she had some choice things to say about the Freedom hoopla. From an objectivity standpoint, I’m not sure this works: from a blood on the carpet angle, though, this is good internet.
5 Things I Don’t Like about the Judges
1. Time to Have a Blogger
And no, not a blogger who would rather be writing novels or working for their online site. I mean a passionate, knowledgeable book blogger with their fingers on the pulse of the blogosphere. Ron Hogan, Rebecca Schinsky, whoever. The time has come.
2. Literary-Industrial Complex
No editor, publisher, or agent? I don’t know much about the biz, but from what I hear these people do things.
3. Tickle the Ivory
While we’re at it, how about someone who studies literature for a living? It would be frickin’ great to have Andrew Delbanco deciding between Room and Super Sad True Love Story. He would either explode or eviscerate. I would hope for both.
4. So, so young.
Old people read books too. In fact, most books are read by old people. So what if they still dial-up through AOL?
5. When’s He’s Not Writing, He’s Tweaking his Twitter bio.
The cute, random last line of your bio is now cliché. We just assume you made it up now.
5 Things I Think I Think
1. Egan and Franzen Still in Front
Hard for me to see who is going to beat these two here, based on what I’ve read and seen. I still have half the list to read, but it seems to me that the next tier of contenders, Skippy Dies and Room, are a good two furlongs back from the leaders.
2. The Refs are Part of the Game
In case you are wondering what judge(s) might knock off Freedom, surely the number one overall seed, look to Weiner of course, but also watch John Williams. He was largely unimpressed by it and could easily find something else more worthy.
3. Favorites and Cinderellas
The one seeds (four favorites): Franzen, Egan, Murray, Jacobsen. The four four seeds (longshots): Bender, Greene, Winslow, Puchner.
4. Upset Alert #1
Super Sad True Love Story will make it farther than Lord of Misrule.
5. Upset Alert #2
Freedom wants no part of So Much for That.
Alright, I think that’s it for now. I’ll be catching up with these books over the next month and then presenting a full breakdown before the judging gets underway on March 27th.
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