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 »
Runby ANN PATCHETT
Shining at the Bottom of the Seaby STEPHEN MARCHE
JOHN: Following on my little rant about the lack of imagination and innovation when it comes to the book industry finding creative ways of introducing readers to more books, let me pat the Tournament of Books on our own collective back for maybe doing a small bit to help.
Stephen Marche’s book was released last August and currently has zero Amazon reviews. By contrast, Run, released over a month later, has 161. Prior to it showing up in the ToB brackets, I’d never heard of Shining at the Bottom of the Sea, but thanks to Kate’s wonderful commentary, in combination with me reading Marche’s thoughtful and persuasive take on the death of Alain Robbe-Grillet, I now have it heading my way thanks to ToB sponsor Powell’s.
I also have my favorite bracket-buster of the Tournament. We’ll see if he can Marche to the title.
KEVIN: I confess that, upon hearing of Alain Robbe-Grillet’s death (just now) my first reaction was, The other original cast members of In Living Color must be so sad. Marche’s essay about Grillet is terrific, though, even as it confirms my contention that there’s no good reason I should have heard of him. Now that’s good criticism.
All critics are like dog-show judges: The first thing a critic must do is define the thing he’s criticizing. He needs to create a standard for what a perfect novel is and then rate every book he reads by its deviation from the standard. Which is all just an exercise in bullshit. But a good critic, in going through that exercise, tells you something about the way he looks at the world, how the world is perceived through the prisms of the books he reads, and when that’s done well that’s fascinating. I actually enjoy reading James Wood because he’s a terrific writer and an interesting thinker, but it almost never occurs to me that I want to read a book because he or any other critic likes it. Good criticism is interesting and illuminating, but unless you know a critic as well as, for example, I know you, it’s rarely helpful. (Second confession: Until a few months ago when he went to The New Yorker, I thought James Wood was like 85 years old.)
JOHN: Wait, Wood isn’t 85 years old? I thought he was in his 80s, B.R. Myers is 102 and Dale Peck is 12.