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 »
Half of a Yellow Sunby CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE
The Emperor’s Childrenby CLAIRE MESSUD
GUILFOILE: The first-round upset of The Echo Maker continues to take bloody victims in the Book Blogger Office Pool, paving the way for Condalmo, who shoots into the lead with eight points. Jessa’s dislike of The Emperor’s Children has been apparent on her blog, so this one wasn’t too hard to predict in the end, but only Matthew Tiffany saw that Half of a Yellow Sun would still be in the picture. And he has that book going all the way, so it’s a good day for him.
One thing I’ve always liked about Jessa is that when it comes to reading she takes her likes and dislikes so personally. She’s like a mom to the world’s books and the ones she enjoys are all married surgeons who’ve spawned beautiful and bright, sandy-haired grandchildren, and the ones she doesn’t enjoy are crushing disappointments who eat her out of cereal and spend all day in her basement playing Gears of War instead of looking for a job. At first Jessa has so many kind things to say about Claire Messud’s writing that you actually feel her pain when the book doesn’t pan out the way she hoped it would and Messud, as Jessa says, starts to rely on stereotypes.
Of course, stereotypes are insidious not because they are never true but because they rob us all of our individuality. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t enjoy a delicious watermelon on a hot day, but if I ever wrote a scene with a black character doing that without irony I’d be vilified for it. Years ago I had a friend who would ask me to buy him a watermelon whenever I went to the store because, since he was a black man living in a mostly white neighborhood, the stereotype had stripped away the simple dignity of walking through Dominick’s with a fat, green melon cradled in his arms.
Stereotypes force fictional characters into boxes just as small (and frequently less interesting) than their real-life counterparts. Jessa asserts that Messud’s gay character Julian is about as believable a character as Jack from Will & Grace. And yet Jessa lives on Chicago’s north side and surely knows plenty of flamboyant gay men. I remember the night in college when my neighbor Bob, having loitered for hours behind a theater following a revival of Pippin, burst into my room about 3 a.m., jostled me awake and made me smell his hand where Ben Vereen had shaken it. That dude made Jack from Will & Grace look like a bounty hunter.
Alas, I’ll never be able to base a character in a novel on him.
WARNER: The Echo Maker going out in the first round is the equivalent of Duke losing to VCU. Couldn’t happen. Won’t happen. Oops, did happen. It makes the tournament feel a bit empty, but perhaps more fun. Fortunately, I sold my stock in blue face paint manufacturers short.
I find Ms. Crispin’s passion for books fascinating even if a little foreign. Don’t get me wrong, I like books, but I can’t remember being actively pissed off by a bad one, well, maybe other than my hard-drive full of failed novels, but that’s between me and my liquor cabinet.
The only thing I’ve ever been really passionate about is that the McRib shouldn’t be only a limited time sandwich. Ditto for the shamrock shake.
At times, it seems as though blogs have kind of taken over the function of the good old-fashioned letter to the editor, a spot where we can blow off a little steam be it about books, sports, politics, or rare collectables. Sometimes I wonder what the effect of all this free-floating steam might be, but my hunch is it’s better than when it was all bottled up.
Be looking for my shamrockshakeallyear.blogspot.com site to take wing very soon.