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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» Relive the Action: ’07, ’06, ’05 «
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Powell's Books


From the Booth

The Shadow Catcher


An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England


JOHN: Here’s one thing I learned reading today’s verdict: Helen DeWitt is one smart cookie, smarter than me, which makes me hesitant to admit that I quite enjoyed An Arsonist’s Guide, but since one of our recurring themes over the course of the first round is the subjectivity of taste and expectations when it comes to reading books, I’m just going to come out and say it: I liked An Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes in New England.

Also, I TiVo My Super Sweet 16.

And, I enjoy the smell of my dog’s paws.

KEVIN: Helen DeWitt is really, really smart. Having admitted that, I need to send B.R. Myers a letter of apology because most of what she said went over my head. Frederic Jameson who? Adorno what? Is he one of those American Gladiators you’ve been going on about? Sigmund Freud I know, but the thing about what Jameson said about what Adorno said about Freud, I’m not sure what that means. Anne Tyler meets Chuck Palahniuk? Phew, now we’re back in my comfort zone. For instance, I can imagine that if Chuck Palahniuk ever read parts of The Accidental Tourist aloud, or conversely if Anne Tyler ever read parts of Rant, people in the audience really would throw up and pass out.

Helen is the author of a novel called The Last Samurai (not the basis for the Tom Cruise film) that more than one person whose opinion I greatly respect counts among their favorite books of all time. It’s been perched sincerely on my to-be-read pile for about three years. Now I’m terrified it will be filled with references to Marxists I haven’t heard of referencing other Marxists I haven’t heard of. I’m over my head here, commentator-wise.

When this happens my mind usually just goes into total stroke-like retreat. Like right now I’d like to say something smart about one of these books but I’m actually thinking how curious it is that Lionel Richie, the composer of “Brick House,” raised a child built like Nicole: “Twanty-two, twanty-two, twanty-two, what a winning haaaaa-aannd…”

Forgive me, Helen. Blaaaargh.

JOHN: The only Jameson I’m aware of is the Irish whiskey, with which I used to be intimate until an incident circa 1994 when I was out with friends at the Rainbo Club in Chicago’s Wicker Park community (I know you know the place) and I got hammered on the stuff trying to work up the courage to talk to Liz Phair, who was drinking at the bar, and who I thought was “the poo,” as the kids might say. Let’s just say that leading with your stomach contents on to her shoes is not the way to pick up the indie-rock girl of the decade.

One of the things the Tournament of Books reveals each year is that you and I are a couple of mouth-breathing idiots without the intellect or education to really grapple with serious issues of book criticism.

This feeling of inadequacy is not a new phenomenon for me, considering I teach at an accredited university (their background check was lax) and Adorno, Freud, and Jameson are to my colleagues as Page, Plant, Bonham, and Jones are to me. In fact, just the other day, I overheard a joke about Horkheimer, Marcuse, Habermas, and the farmer’s daughter. I couldn’t really follow all of it, but the punchline was, “Frankfurt? I thought you said cock!”


Thanks folks, tip your servers, and we’ll be back tomorrow.

KEVIN: There are three experiences shared by all Chicago men who were 20-something and single in the first half of the ‘90s:

  1. Getting high-fived by Ronnie Woo Woo in the Wrigley Field bleachers
  2. Getting towed from a legal parking space and subsequently shaken down by Lincoln Towing
  3. Going to the Rainbo Club and unsuccessfully hitting on Liz Phair

« Return to the judge’s decision for this match.

The Standings


• Round One •

Tree of Smoke v. Ovenman
judged by Tobias Seamon

The Savage Detectives v. Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name
judged by Elizabeth Kiem

Then We Came to the End v. Petropolis
judged by Anthony Doerr

You Don’t Love Me Yet v. New England White
judged by Jessica Francis Kane

Run v. Shining at the Bottom of the Sea
judged by Kate Schlegel

What the Dead Know v. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
judged by Elizabeth McCracken

On Chesil Beach v. Remainder
judged by Ze Frank

The Shadow Catcher v. An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England
judged by Helen DeWitt

• Round Two •

Tree of Smoke v. Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name
judged by Mark Sarvas

Then We Came to the End v. You Don’t Love Me Yet
judged by Maud Newton

Shining at the Bottom of the Sea v. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
judged by Ted Genoways

Remainder v. The Shadow Catcher
judged by Mark Liberman


Tree of Smoke v. Then We Came to the End
judged by Gary Shteyngart

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao v. The Shadow Catcher
judged by Nick Hornby


Then We Came to the End v. Remainder
judged by Rosecrans Baldwin

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao v. The Savage Detectives
judged by Andrew Womack


Remainder v. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
All Judges + Jennifer Szalai