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 Savage Detectivesby ROBERTO BOLAÑO
Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Nameby VENDELA VIDA
JOHN: My bias in favor of Vendela Vida has been previously revealed, so let me just say, Yay!
One of my favorite aspects of the Tournament of Books is this sort of pairing, where a big, complicated, dare I say difficult, book gets matched up against something lean and quick-moving. I haven’t read The Savage Detectives, but I polished off Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name in a day. The story is literally linear, following the narrator’s (Clarissa) journey as she explores the central mystery of her life. Her story is experienced by the reader as we follow in her shoes. The emotions accrue, until the climax and conclusion, which hits (or hit me anyway) with a wallop. It does what good books should do.
Or, maybe good books should challenge us, push us to the limits of our abilities as readers and thinking creatures as fans of The Savage Detectives say it does.
Or, maybe books should focus on publishing pictures of people with their guns.
All of this is to say: Thank God there’s enough books around out there for everyone.
KEVIN: I know a lot of people who really love The Savage Detectives and I know even more people who absolutely despise it. In thinking about this match-up, I realized that most of the people I know who love it are men, and most of the people who hate it are women. In fact the most shocking thing about this minor upset (as of this writing there is actually more money for charity bet on Vida than Bolaño) is Elizabeth Kiem’s relative indifference to it.
The gender gap could be a problem for Bolaño in this market because recent surveys by the major publishers have shown that the only adult American men who read fiction for pleasure anymore are you, me, and the nine male judges in this tourney. The only categories of books men reliably read anymore are memoirs by disgraced CEOs and compilations of video game cheat codes. Which is why I am proud to be writing the introduction to the upcoming book, Jeffrey Skilling’s Sick Gears of War Hacks: 115 Shortcuts to Helping Your Company Take Down Your Company.
On the other hand, if you look at the Amazon blog for the photographer of Armed America, you will see that he recently attracted a German publisher for that book. I have no idea what it means that there is demand among Germans for looking at pictures of Americans sitting at home in their Sunday-going-to-meeting clothes holding their sniper rifles. I think I actually take a little comfort in that.