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 Echo Makerby RICHARD POWERS
The Emperor’s Childrenby CLAIRE MESSUD
WARNER: I have to admit that I have a rooting interest in this showdown. For the 2001-2002 academic year, Richard Powers and I teamed up as members of the University of Illinois English Department. At the time, between us we had a Lannan Literary Award, a notice from Esquire Magazine as one of the writers of the decade, a National Book Award finalist title, a MacArthur Genius Grant, and a Washington Post paperback number-one bestseller done primarily in colored pencil.
Powers and I were a kind of dream team that year, he with a dual appointment as Swanlund Chair of English as well as being part of the Center for Advanced Study, while I held down the fort teaching my three sections of freshman composition.
I think I saw him in the hallway once, but I’m not sure. It was from the back and he was turning the corner.
GUILFOILE: Speaking of rooting interests, Marcus Sakey is a friend of mine, and a rock-solid Chicago guy, so I’m going to take him at his word here. Marcus is a fight fan, as I once was (having come from a family of amateur boxers), but I notice that whenever Manhattan intellectuals talk about boxing on NPR they always call it the sweet science. In fact, scientists have not learned very much from their observation of black men beating each other bloody with their fists, at least not since 1908 when Marie Curie discovered Jackjohnsonium (Symbol: Jj. Atomic Weight: 185; Atomic Height: 6-1; Atomic Reach: 74 inches.).
Most scientists agree that those research dollars would be more effective if they were redirected into modelboxing research.
WARNER: Note that Judge Sakey is lukewarm about both titles (an emerging trend in this year’s tournament). Coupling Powers’ recent National Book Award victory for The Echo Maker with Sakey’s description of The Emperor’s Children as a novel about Manhattan intellectuals searching for validation and love, makes Messud’s victory even more surprising.
Kevin, you and I have often spoken both privately and publicly about coming from flyover country and holding certain East Coast provincial attitudes in disdain, so perhaps this colors my perception, but I can’t think of a book I’d rather read less than a novel about Manhattan intellectuals searching for validation and love.
In fact, here’s a list of general themes I’d rather read about more than a novel about Manhattan intellectuals searching for validation and love:
GUILFOILE: I’m so tired of books (and movies) about lonely, dissatisfied Manhattan intellectuals that when I actually meet one in person I generally taser him in the scrotum. Which is not really fair to the intellectual.