The Morning News Tournament of Books, sponsored by Powell’s Books, is an annual battle royale amongst the top novels in “literary fiction” published throughout the year. Read more about this year’s tournament »
The Roadby CORMAC McCARTHY
Absurdistanby GARY SHTEYNGART
GUILFOILE: Whoa! An unprecedented lopsider in the three-year history of the event, although there was certainly much praise given to Absurdistan. It’s funny to think, given our discussions the past couple weeks, that the man who, at this moment, is America’s premier literary star, the man who is about to be buried under awards far more prestigious than this one, the man who will make his moving pictures debut on Oprah next month, is an unabashed genre writer. Much more so even than Kate Atkinson, who received all the genre attention from the judges and from us.
WARNER: Awards more prestigious than this one, the hell you say! What could be more prestigious than winning a weeks-long battle to the death against 15 other books? Just about every other award I suppose, but only our Tournament of Books and the Orange Prize (where cases of citrus fruit are donated to high school marching bands to be sold door-to-door in the name of the winner) has foodstuffs involved. (Though I’ve heard a rumor that the Swedes are going to substitute chocolate wrapped in gold foil for krona for the next Nobel winner.)
GUILFOILE: I received a lot of mail after our commentary on the Sasha Frere-Jones judgment (and read Sasha’s response to it, as well). One of those was from a writer who commented that once a genre writer reaches a certain level of success and sales and some critical mass of critical praise, the establishment no longer considers him genre. In addition to McCarthy he cited Dennis Lehane and Pete Dexter and others. I’d add Larry McMurtry. I think that’s right, but I also think that only happens to a writer who’s paid his duesI think a genre writer who achieves huge financial success right out of the box will always fight for respect.
And boy has McCarthy paid dues. Has anyone built a career the way McCarthy has built his? That respect is earned, man. Bleak and violent novel after novel after novel.
Good for him.
WARNER: As someone predicted (OK, it was me), this was indeed a runaway rout, but I’d be hard-pressed to find a book that could’ve taken more than five of our judges off The Road. Half of a Yellow Sun had its admirers, and One Good Turn won its share of bouts (though often by default), but neither of them would’ve given The Road much of a tussle. This was Mike Tyson in his prime taking on a troop of Girl Scouts, and not even all of the Girl Scouts at the same time, but instead stepping forward one at a time for their beating. (No offense to Gary Shteyngart or the Girl Scouts; I’m just sayin )
Thanks to the Rooster and the Oprah, McCarthy has gone from big to massive. He’s blowing up, as the kids say, which seems appropriate given his milieu. It seems like only a matter of time until we see a Saturday Night Live skit with a baby being roasted over a fire.
GUILFOILE: I suspect McCarthy may be the first winner of the Tournament of Books who might actually know what to do with a live rooster if we sent him one. I’m pretty sure he could break its neck and roast him on a spit if nothing else. Nevertheless, we will be making a donation in his name to Heifer International, which will use the money to buy flocks of chicks for indigent farmers in Africa.
(I’m pretty sure they mean baby chickens. I think Amnesty International would have sent me a mailer about that if they didn’t.)
Well done, Mr. McCarthy. With fingers crossed, your invitation to the annual Tourney after-party is in the mail.
WARNER: Thanks once again for inviting me into the commentary booth. It keeps me from being homeless for at least one month out of the year. Maybe next year a guy could get a space heater.
GUILFOILE: Thank you, John. And the final word of congratulations goes to the Book Bloggers’ Office Pool winner, Powell’s own Brockman, and the reader he was playing for, Michelle Dreher of San Francisco. Michelle wins a copy of every book in this year’s competition courtesy, appropriately enough, of Powell’s.
Hey, this just occurred to me, but did Brockman know what books were being shipped to the judges before he made his picks?
Just trying to stir up a little scandal to keep the Hot Stove fires burning until next year. Cock-a-doodle-do, everybody.