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.


March 12, 2007




judged by SARAH HEPOLA

Brookland is one of those elegant historical novels unembroidered by the ironic flourishes so common to today’s prose. And holy crap, it is so boring. First of all, it is 500 pages. There are books that long I’d happily read, but they don’t go by this description: An 18th-century distiller wants to build a bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Or as I like to call it: An 18th-centuryzzzzzz… What I can say about Brookland is that there are moving little moments—a slippery walk across the frozen East River one winter morning is one—but mostly, Brookland moved me to sleep. Apparently not everyone feels this way. Thomas Pynchon called novelist Emily Barton “blessedly post-ironic, engaging, and heartfelt.” That’s a stellar blurb, but then again, I haven’t been able to get into his books, either.

• •

Firmin, meanwhile, is completely embroidered by the aforementioned ironic flourishes. The first sentence is about how the narrator can’t think of a good first sentence. How annoying is that? But I soon became absorbed in the adventures of the little rat who sustains himself by consuming (literally, figuratively) the tomes in a musty Boston bookstore. Firmin isn’t about what it feels like to be vermin—cold, smelly, one assumes—but it is about the tragedy of being unable to communicate, and the way literature can comfort even the loneliest beast. It’s also quite funny, and studded with endearingly familiar writers’ insecurities (like the inability to write a first sentence, for instance. And on a related note I was charmed by Sam Savage’s author’s photo, in which this first-time novelist is a dead ringer for Father Time.) Firmin isn’t the weightiest of books—a breezy 148 pages!—but I plowed through it, and was thoroughly charmed the entire way. Really, it couldn’t be more different than Brookland—one has heft while the other brevity; one has an expansive scope while the other one is itty-bitty; one is a historic romance while the other a comic fantasy. But if we must compare them, then my choice is clear. Rats!

• Today’s WINNER •


• About the Judge •

TMN Contributing Writer Sarah Hepola is hoping to visit Italy soon. She eats a lot of sushi, and she always saves the salmon piece for last. She is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Nerve, Slate, and on NPR’s “Day to Day.” She lives in Brooklyn with a big orange cat who’s not fat, he’s just big-boned. Connections to authors: None.

• From the Booth •

The producers of Dancing With the Stars recently made it clear that it is more important that the contestants not be writers than it is for them to still have both their legs. Kevin John After one 90-second performance on American Idol, Antonella Barba had a higher Q rating than just about any living writer.

» Read Kevin Guilfoile & John Warner’s commentary on the match «

• The Peanut Gallery •

Do you agree with the outcome of this match?

absolutely   no way

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