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 Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Waoby JUNOT DÍAZ
The Savage Detectivesby ROBERTO BOLAÑO
Last fall we asked TMN readers to submit their favorite books of 2007. That list was one of the factors we used to choose the 16 books that ultimately made the Tournament. And now we’re going back to our readers’ favorites one more time.
Fourteen novels have been eliminated from the Tournament so far. From those books we’ve rescued the two that were best loved by TMN readers last yearRemainder and The Savage Detectivesand brought them back in a pair of resurrection duels we call the Zombie Round. In order to get to the finals, Ferris and Diaz will each have to get past a book left for dead: a book that’s hungry for brains.
Prior to this year’s ToB, I was unfamiliar with either Bolaño or Díaz. Halfway through The Savage Detectives, I placed an order for Nazi Literature in the Americas and 2666. (UPDATE: It arrived! In Spanish. Oops. The translation will be out in November.) Once the Tournament is safely over and I’ve got some reading time to spare, I’ll happily be diving into more of both authors’ work. Because as much as I enjoyed The Savage Detectives, it never took hold of me like The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Though I’m a nascent Bolaño fan, I’m a full-on groupie for Oscar Wao.
You know that part at the end of Revenge of the Nerds, where Betty says, I’m in love with a nerd? And then all the alumni reveal their inner dorks? In Oscar, Junot Díaz has tapped into that archetypal nerd, though not simply painting him as suchunder-developed conversation skills, prolonged virginity, Dr. Who scarves no matter what, etc. Instead, he hits up the defining nerdish element, the essence of the opposite of cool: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is about letting emotion reign over caution.
As Louis and Gilbert demonstrated, inside each of us beats a tender, geek heart. Even Oscar’s narrator, Yunior, struggles against his inner dork, nerding out only to usnever to his acquaintances. If we are all nerds, then The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is about all of us. Likewise, the strange, fascinating Savage Detectives is about other peopleother, cooler people (poets! Visceral Realist poets!) leading more interesting, cooler lives. And yet for Oscar, as life becomes more interesting (and actually, really, almost even edges on cooler), it signals his demise. And with the death of the nerd arrives the death of Oscar Wao.
And so, because his novel was, ironically enough, the more visceral of the pair, Díaz goes to the finals.
|I suspect that anyone following a competition called the Tournament of Books pretty much knows every frame of Revenge of the Nerds.||Kevin||John||One of the troubles with the book industry, or any industry for that matter, is consistently looking backwards for what’s going to work in the future.|