The Morning News

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 »

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Powell's Books

The 2007 Tournament of Books is over. To view this year's Tournament, go here.


From the Booth

The Echo Maker


The Emperor’s Children


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:

  • A novel about foot fungus finding purchase underneath toenails
  • A novel about librarians talking about the intricacies of the Dewey Decimal System
  • A novel about that squeaking noise chalk makes against a blackboard
  • A novel about Manhattan intellectuals realizing there’s nothing less interesting to most people than Manhattan intellectuals and poking their eyes out with fondue skewers

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.

« Return to the judge’s decision for this match.

The Standings


• Round One •

Half of a Yellow Sun v. Absurdistan
judged by Brady Udall

The Echo Maker v. The Emperor’s Children
judged by Marcus Sakey

Firmin v. Brookland
judged by Sarah Hepola

The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo v. The Road
judged by Maria Schneider

Arthur and George v. One Good Turn
judged by Kate Schlegel

The Lay of the Land v. English, August
judged by Colin Meloy

Alentejo Blue v. Apex Hides the Hurt
judged by Dan Chaon

Against the Day v. Pride of Baghdad
judged by Anthony Doerr

• Round Two •

Half of a Yellow Sun v. The Emperor’s Children
judged by Jessa Crispin

Firmin v. The Road
judged by Mark Sarvas

One Good Turn v. The Lay of the Land
judged by Maud Newton

Alentejo Blue v. Against the Day
judged by Sam Lipsyte


Half of a Yellow Sun v. The Road
judged by Elizabeth Gaffney

One Good Turn v. Against the Day
judged by Sasha Frere-Jones


The Road v. Against the Day
judged by Andrew Womack

One Good Turn v. Absurdistan
judged by Rosecrans Baldwin


The Road v. Absurdistan
All Judges + Jessica Francis Kane