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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Powell's Books


From the Booth



The Shadow Catcher


KEVIN: So after a first round of upsets, the second round goes pretty much according to form and the (first) Final Four is set with Tree of Smoke, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Then We Came to the End, and The Shadow Catcher all advancing. I say “pretty much” because there was a lot of support for Tom McCarthy’s Remainder out in the precincts and I could hear a lot of folks rooting for him in today’s match.

This is a good time to review the odds over at Coudal, where they have been taking bets on the ToB and have so far raised enough money to buy almost 5,000 books for underprivileged kids through First Book. Looking at the four remaining contenders, the most money is on The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, followed by Then We Came to the End, then Tree of Smoke, with The Shadow Catcher trailing far behind. It’s not too late to place your bet (100 percent of the money will go to First Book and, with 11 matching sponsors, every $10 you wager buys 44 books). If your novel wins, you’ll be eligible to win some terrific prizes.

If your novel has already been eliminated, you can place another bet today. And of course, no book has been knocked out of the tourney for certain. After we whittle the competitors to two, we will play the Zombie Round, where a pair of eliminated books, as selected by TMN readers in a secret ballot before the Tournament, will come back from the dead with a second chance at the title.

Will Bolaño make a comeback? Or maybe one of those lower seeded reader favorites? Between now and Thursday we’re left to wonder which two books those will be.

JOHN: In this way our Tournament mirrors that of our N.C.A.A. basketball inspiration, where early-round upsets are often erased as chalk holds in subsequent match-ups. Only rarely does a George Mason or Remainder sneak into the finals, so it’s not surprising that three of the big guns that have been competing for book awards all year wound up in the semis.

Though let me remind readers that last year Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart (who is one of our semifinals judges this year) got off the canvas from a first-round defeat to take out Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn in the Zombie Round and make it to the final match-up with The Road.

As to this pairing, there’s not much left to say about these books, thanks to Mark Liberman’s thorough take on both. Remainder is one of the competitors that I read prior to the Tournament, after seeing a series of book blogger recommendations, and I found this passage:

McCarthy succeeds in bringing the reader into something like his narrator’s frame of mind, and frankly, I noticed more than once that I had apparently read several pages in a sort of fugue state, without remembering anything.
…quite similar to my experience with the book—the big difference being that I thought the unmoored feeling Remainder generates was actually kind of cool and different, while Liberman found it, well, not so good. In the end, I wasn’t sure I exactly enjoyed the book, but I quite admired it. I didn’t rush to push the book on others because I wasn’t sure I wanted to visit that particular sensation upon them, but for those looking for something unusual, it’s a great choice.

Let me also give a cheer for the fact that if memory serves, Remainder was published in this country as a paperback original. That was probably a smart move: I was more than willing to take a flier on this book for $12. For $30, I don’t think so.

Lastly, let me abuse our platform and go off-topic to note the passing of the writer Jon Hassler, whose death came with little notice outside of his native Midwest. Mr. Hassler was the author of more than 20 books, the most well-known of which are perhaps The Green Journey and North of Hope. Hassler was sort of the Richard Russo of rural Minnesota, writing wise and often funny books about the real people who live there. He wrote the sorts of books that would have a hard time getting attention these days, since they don’t obviously fit themselves into a particular shiny marketing box, but those of us familiar with his work feel the loss.

Jon Hassler visited my fifth-grade classroom in 1980 to read from one of his young-adult novels, Four Miles to Pinecone, and talk about being a writer. I can honestly say he’s the first person in my life who made it seem like having life as a writer was possible. He spoke about having a compulsion to write and then just following that compulsion year after year. (I also note that he didn’t start writing until he was 37.) Hassler set the example of following that compulsion, even as he became debilitated by the progressive neuromuscular disease that took his life. The good news is that with the help of friends and family, he completed one final novel.

Mr. Commissioner, I’d like to suggest it as an early, sight-unseen, entry for next year’s Tournament of Books.

« 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