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 »
One Good Turnby KATE ATKINSON
Against the Dayby THOMAS PYNCHON
WARNER: Against the Day claims its second adjudicatory victim, defeating judge Sasha Frere-Jones (at page 300) in the semifinals after giving the beat-down to Sam Lipsyte previously in Round Two. Only this time, Frere-Jones doesn’t give Pynchon a pass into the next round, and a heavyweight in every sense of the word goes down. (Though perhaps to be resurrected by the Chums of Chance fan club in the Zombie Round?)
In the spirit of Sasha Frere-Jones’s honesty, I’d like to cop to the really long books that I’ve started, but didn’t or couldn’t finish, either.
GUILFOILE: I would add to that The Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker.
I much admire Sasha’s music criticism, but if this were a Tournament of Tunes and he were the commentator and I were a judge and I said something like, Nas’s I Gave You Power is satisfying in the manner of a decent rap song: The words rhyme, people are shot, and the listener is rewarded for accepting a degree of rhythmic repetition with the tacit promise that you can krump to it, he would properly take me to task for having to go back more than a decade to find a rap song I could identify and then he would berate me for my condescension, and then finally mock me for not knowing exactly what krumping is.
The perception that genre fiction is never more than a guilty pleasure is common enough in stuffy lit-crit circles, but I’m surprised to hear it coming from Sasha. American popular music, after all, pushed a stake through the undying lie that genre can never rise to art. What exactly are the (presumably lower) baseline quality requirements of a mystery novel? And do we necessarily want to read all crime novels in one sitting? I remember well the afternoon I digested The Brothers Karamazov.
Genre is not the short bus that untalented writers take to publishing school. Every book in this competition belongs to a genre with its own set of clichés (although I’ll concede that Against the Day’s genre is probably Pynchon novel). A mystery and an apocalypse novel and (to reference a favorite of ours) a novel of manners set among the Manhattan intelligentsia each either succeeds or it doesn’t on its own terms. The best books, whatever their subjects, are the ones that transcend and confound the expectations of their genres, not the ones that conform most faithfully to the standard like a cup-winning Yorkie at Westminster.
Of course, it’s more than half-stupid that I’m complaining about Sasha’s treatment of One Good Turn when he’s just advanced it over a book by one of the towering literary giants of our time. My point isn’t that everyone needs to start liking books about detectives. When they do, however, I wish they wouldn’t act like they’re slumming.
WARNER: Guilty pleasures, right? I’m not sure why something that’s pleasurable without causing harm to others should make us feel guilty. In the spirit of your response, let me confess to enjoying the Tommy Shaw (of Styx and Damn Yankees) and Jack Blades (of Night Ranger and Damn Yankees) album Influences, on which they cover classic songs like I am a Rock and Summer Breeze completely and totally un-ironically.
If the New Yorker would like me to write a review, my email address is somewhere on this page.
GUILFOILE: But now it’s time for the big announcement. Under a full voodoo moon, two books will rise from the dead overnight to do battle against The Road and One Good Turn. Both were high seeds at the start of the tourney. One took an early exit and the other has only been dead for about half a minute.
Tomorrow’s Zombie Round contest will be a battle of titans. Probably the one match-up every tourney watcher was hoping to see, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road versus Thomas Pynchon’s brain-eating Against the Day. And then on Thursday we will hold our breath as Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn takes on the resurrected Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart.
What does all this mean for the Book Blogger Office Pool? It means Kate Sutherland (who picked Absurdistan to win it all), you’re back in it.