We used to drink more than we do now. There’s no reason for it really except that we’re older and we go to bed earlier. We have reduced our number of waking nighttime hours, and as a result we are drinking less these days.
We mention this because the Tournament of Books is one of those concepts that only could have been conceived and subsequently executed by people who used to drink a lot but now drink considerably less. In the absence of too much alcohol, it never would have occurred to us that we should take 16 of the most celebrated and highly touted novels of the year, seed them in a March Madness-type bracket, conscript them into a “Battle Royale of Literary Excellence,” and, in honor of David Sedaris’s brother, present the author of the winning book a live rooster. And if we hadn’t eventually reduced our pint consumption, we never would have found the energy, desire, and increased number of waking daytime hours to actually do it. This will be our fifth year at this and if you ask the previous champions—David Mitchell, Ali Smith, Cormac McCarthy, and Junot Díaz—we believe they would tell you the Rooster is a badge they wear proudly on their highly decorated chests, somewhere between the ones for orienteering and basketry.
No author asks to have his work pitted against the work of another, but that is what all awards do, in effect. The Nobel Prize is an Olympiad of words. The Man Booker is the Premier League Championship of Letters. Everyone knows that, behind the scenes, the National Book Award is both arbitrary and brutal, sort of like Keeping Up With the Kardashians meets Ultimate Fighting. The Tournament of Books is every bit as arbitrary, but we have simply lifted the curtain so the reader can actually see the caged octagon in which the books meet, barefoot and snarling.
We receive many, many comments about the Tournament each year, and because we like to tweak more than bored Wasilla teens, we’ve made some minor adjustments to the format. For example, we’ve made a modification to the Zombie Round, that late-in-the-game bracket where two books left for dead get a second chance at competing. In the past, these books were determined by reader votes prior to the tournament, but then kept secret as the tournament progressed. This year, you’ll still be voting beforehand for your favorites, but now you will be apprised of the Zombie contenders from day one of match-play, that way you can keep track of which two books may rise from the grave, angry and reanimated. Look for the Zombie voting to occur here on TMN in about a week.
Also, the most common request we hear from Rooster fans is to release the book list earlier, so that readers can “play along,” i.e., start reading some of the books ahead of time in order to be familiar with the works come battle-time. With that in mind, we are releasing the list of competitors today. Please note: Powells.com, our beloved Tournament sponsor, is once again offering a 30% discount on all ToB titles (see links below for your shopping).
Keep an eye on TMN for further announcements.
We’ll need your help picking the Zombie contenders (Zombie poll now open! please vote!), and we’ll soon announce the 2009 judges. If you’re on Facebook, become a Rooster fan and you’ll be alerted the moment we’ve got news. Also, 2009 Rooster T-Shirts coming soon!
So start reading. It could be up to you to determine the Champion Book of 2009, as well as which author we will be threatening with the presentation of a live cock.
ToB Commissioner Kevin Guilfoile
ToB Co-Chairs Rosecrans Baldwin and Andrew Womack
The Morning News 2009 Tournament of Books Contenders
The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga
2666, Roberto Bolano
A Partisan’s Daughter, Louis de Bernieres
The Northern Clemency, Philip Hensher
The Lazarus Project, Aleksandar Hemon
My Revolutions, Hari Kunzru
Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, E. Lockhart
Shadow Country, Peter Matthiessen
The Dart League King, Keith Lee Morris
A Mercy, Toni Morrison
Steer Towards Rock, Fae Myenne Ng
Netherland, Joseph O’Neill
City of Refuge, Tom Piazza
Home, Marilynne Robinson
Harry, Revised, Mark Sarvas