Like reviews, book awards are always more about the institutions that give them than the books that win. In many ways, of course, that makes them more interesting. When the New York Times
Book Review announces the Best Ten Books of the 2005, the editors don’t actually think they’re establishing that year’s canon for all timetheir staff is just trying to tell you a little something about themselves. It’s as though the New York Times
is leaving a mix tape in your locker with the hope you’ll ask it to the prom.
We started The Rooster because it turns out we have bit of a crush on you, too.
As we kick off the Second Annual Tournament of Books, sponsored by Powells.com
, we present 16 acclaimed novels for competition. Are these the best 16 books of 2005? Almost certainly not. In fact, if we had even an elementary understanding of probability we could prove mathematically that no individual would have chosen exactly these books as their favorites. Fourteen were chosen by a compromise reached among a small group of TMN editors and contributors. Two moreIan McEwan’s Saturday
and Jonathan Safron Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
were added because they rated very highly in a TMN reader’s poll, though that’s not to say they were our readers’ two favorite books, only that they were the highest-rated novels in the poll that we hadn’t already selected for the tournament. With their addition, however, our readers’ top seven picks are all entered in this year’s competition.
We wanted to have more reader participation in this year’s tourney and the selection process was a small nod in that direction. But the Rooster is not a popularity contest. It’s much more like the secret calculus Charlie Sheen uses to select Friday night hookers (hmm, that would make a pretty great reality show).
Speaking of which, did we mention the addition this year of a fun reality show twist? No? Well, at some point there’s going to be a fun reality show twist. More on that later.
We reached far outside our own offices to select our judging panel this year. The esteemed group includes critics and novelists, a bookseller, a librarian, editors, bloggers, TMN staffers, and a high school prog-rock musician. And not to ensure their impartialityan impossible task no matter what the other awards tell youbut to make transparent their biases, you’ll find disclosed in their bios (when the official ToB site launches) any relationships they may have with this year’s competitors. In fact, as Rooster commissioner I’ll start things out. Five years ago I briefly met Zadie Smith backstage at a McSweeney’s
event in Philadelphia and found her charming. Also I share an agent with Stephanie Doyon, although I did not nominate her book, nor did I even know of that connection until after the field had been set.
See how honesty and transparency can so easily defuse potential scandal and embarrassment?
The brackets have been set with the best known and most hyped books receiving the highest seeds, in some cases perhaps unfairly. The assignment of books to this bracket or that one was mostly random except when it wasn’t. Each pairing of books will be assessed by a single judge with winning books advancing to the next round. After 14 books have been knocked down and dragged out and the competition has been winnowed to a final two, the champion will be crowned by a vote of all judges, plus a tie-breaking judge. We still hope to present the winner with a live rooster. More on that later, as well.
But for now, fill out your brackets (see below for PDF), enter your office pools, purchase the books (with a 30% discount from our title sponsor, Powells.com)
or even a special Rooster T-Shirt
, and follow along with the excitement and pageantry that is The Morning News 2006 Tournament of Books. On March 20th, two weeks from today, the madness begins.
ToB Commissioner Kevin Guilfoile
This Year’s Judges
in no particular order
TMN Contributing Writer, New York Observer
Adult Services Librarian, Brooklyn Public Library
TMN Associate Editor, Wall Street JournalOnline Edition
assistant news editor
Author, robotics researcher
Georgie LewisPowells.com reviewer
Mark SarvasThe Elegant Variation
Brigid HughesA Public Space
founding editor, former Paris Review
Jessica Francis Kane
TMN Contributing Writer, Author
Author, former New Republic
Maud NewtonMaud Newton
Author, Zoetrope: All-Story
TMN Contributing Writer, Author
17-year-old prog-rock musician
executive editor, Entertainment Weekly
This Year’s Brackets
Click Here to Download the Brackets PDF
Though The Morning News Tournament of Books 2006 (sponsored by Powells.com
) is about a month away, we decided to release the 16 book selections this morning because many readers have written in, saying they want to play along (and have a head start on reading). That, and we wanted to make sure there weren't any similar awards nominations being announced that might steal our thunder.
Last year’s tournament was a rousing success and we’ll have much more to say about the fascinating logistics of this year’s contest in a few weeks, but for those who might be unfamiliar with our nominating process, we have just a few words.
About a billion novels were published in the United States this year. Actually the number was a lot smaller, but if we told you that there are 800 quintilllion gallons of water in the Pacific Ocean and then, after a six week investigation, The Smoking Gun told you the correct answer was something closer to 200 quintillion gallons, would you really say, Wow, the Pacific Ocean is a lot smaller than I thought! The point is there were a lot of novels published this year and thousands of them were in fact pretty good. Anytime a bunch of wonks from some prestigious awards committee tells you which books were the year’s five best, it’s sort of like holding up five gallons of water taken from the Pacific and asserting those gallons are the wettest.
But that doesn’t stop us from trying. Because awards are fun.
The following 16 books were selected by the most arbitrary process we could devise. A few of us (a very few) got together and tried to compile a list of the best books we read this year. Then we asked a couple other people, some of whom don’t even read that much. Then we included a few books that received a ton of hype even though none of us had actually read them. And then we asked TMN readersperhaps the wisest advisors of allfor their picks. This list then is imperfectfatally flawed evenbut we needed 16 books and these are the ones we stand by.
We aren’t even sticklers about our own rules, frankly. For instance, the TMN/Powells.com ToB constitution explicitly states only books published in the U.S. between January 1 and December 1, 2005 will be eligible. The Accidental
wasn’t published until January 2006, but hell, the Brits have been talking about it for so long it feels like it was published in 1987. We included it just because we wanted to, constitution be damned. Welcome to the post-Bush/Cheney world, bitches.
Please buy all the books below (thanks to Powells.com, they are all 30% off) and begin reading furiously so you can follow along with the tournament when it begins in March. And keep an eye on TMNwe’ll announce the brackets and judges in mid-February.
ToB Commissioner Kevin Guilfoile,
ToB Co-Chairs Rosecrans Baldwin & Andrew Womack
All books 30% off, courtesy Official ToB Sponsor Powells.com. Starred books are TMN reader nominations. Books listed in no particular order.
The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss
The Time in Between, by David Bergen
Veronica, by Mary Gaitskill
Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Greatest Man in Cedar Hole, by Stephanie Doyon
Home Land, by Sam Lipsyte
The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova
No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy
The King of Kings County, by Whitney Terrell
Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman
The Accidental, by Ali Smith
On Beauty, by Zadie Smith
Beasts of No Nation, by Uzodinma Iweala
Garner, by Kristin Allio
Saturday*, by Ian McEwan
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close*, by Jonathan Safran Foer