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The 2015 Tournament of Books

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Every March the online magazine The Morning News hosts The Tournament of Books (ToB), a gentle spoof on both literary awards and March Madness (complete with a playoff bracket!) that nonetheless delivers nearly a month of lively analysis and discussion of sixteen of the previous years’ notable books. The short list typically includes the usual Booker / National Book Award / Pulitzer suspects as well as less hyped indie titles, a token genre novel or two, and occasionally, something completely out of left field – e.g. Anne Carson’s Nox or Chris Ware’s Building Stories.

The Tournament’s founders are the first to admit that it’s ludicrous to pretend that there could even be such a thing as “the sixteen best books” of any year, much less THE best book: their aim is to celebrate the pleasures of both reading good books and talking them. (The comment thread for each match-up is often as much fun as the judge’s decision itself, and sometimes more enlightening.)
The most succinct description of how it works comes from the Morning News’ Wikipedia page, so I’ll just quote from that:
Sixteen books published in the previous year are chosen and matched against each other, with a different judge for each match. Judges read their two assigned books and select one to advance to the next round in written decisions that are published daily on the site. Past judges include Monica Ali, Helen DeWitt, Junot Díaz, Sasha Frere-Jones, Amanda Hesser, John Hodgman, Nick Hornby, Karl Iagnemma, Sam Lipsyte, Colin Meloy, Dale Peck, David Rees, Mary Roach, and Gary Shteyngart.
The Tournament has two rounds, followed by semifinals, followed by a "Zombie Round" in which two books that were eliminated in the first round are re-matched against the two winners of the semifinals. In the final round, there is a head judge, but all the Tournament's judges vote for the winner. Throughout the Tournament, authors Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner provide commentary on each decision.
The best way to get a flavor of what goes on is to check out a previous year’s Tournament: here’s 2014’s bracket and playoff results.
The 2015 ToB shortlist was announced just a couple of days ago (the long, long list is here).
Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball
A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall by Will Chancellor
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
Wittgenstein Jr by Lars Iyer
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
Redeployment by Phil Klay
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
Adam by Ariel Schrag
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld
This year I’ve somehow managed to read six books on the shortlist—my hit rate is usually something like two—and I may even get a through a couple more before the Tournament gets underway (I’ve been eyeing Elena Ferrante’s books for a while, so now may be the time to dive in …)
What do you think—is there something obvious missing from the short list? In no particular order I’d nominate Ben Lerner’s 10:04, Howard Jacobson’s J, Marilynne Robinson’s Lila and Zia Haider Rahman’s In Light of What We Know, all of which were at least as good as what I've read on the short list. (An Untamed State, Station Eleven, The Bone Clocks, Dept. of Speculation, The Paying Guests, and Annihilation.) Is there something on the list that just doesn't belong there? I gave The Bone Clocks a big "meh"—never have the forces of light and dark seemed so dinky once the curtain was pulled back— although I understand why it's on the list.
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