I really enjoy the Morning News' annual Tournament of Books, which pits novels from the past year against one another in a college football-style bracket.
The first round's contenders were Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending and Donald Ray Pollock's The Devil All the Time. I don't know how you choose between such different books—The Sense of an Ending is an incredibly precise and ever-so-British little book about a man trying to make sense of two formative college relationships, in the wake of a friend's suicide. It reminded me a bit of Dan DeWeese's You Don't Love This Man, another book in which the protagonist feels like a secondary character—the important things in life are happening to other people, and he doesn't quite understand how or why. Pollack's novel, on the other hand, is pure Southern gothic, an expansive, relentless takedown of Real America and the Good Old Days—here, the heartland of America is full of corrupt cops, religious freaks, and serial killers who pick up hitchhikers and take pornographic pictures of their victims.
Emma Straub judged this round (she came down in favor of Barnes), so I'm gonna take this opportunty plug her collection of short stories, Other People We Married—it's a great collection, the type you read a bit wistfully because the characters are so complicated and so realized that you wish they were living in a full-length novel instead of only 30 or so pages. Highly recommended.
The Tournament continues through March 30—there are a few big titles on the list that I haven't read, including The Art of Fielding, The Tiger's Wife, and the new Murakami, so I'm loathe to venture a guess, but uh... my favorite book in the contest, and this will be an unpopular opinion, was probably The Marriage Plot, so I guess I'm rooting for that.
And hey, look, nerds, Will Wheaton is judging this year. You like him. Hopefully HE will like The Sisters Brothers, an excellent novel by Portlander Patrick DeWitt. Oh and! Powell's has all the contenders on sale for 30% off.
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