In the semi-final round where City of Refuge
got past 2666
, one of our commenters was not pleased
, taking a shot at City of Refuge
and hitting The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
with some shrapnel in the process:
For all those who were so struck by CofR’s subject matter, man oh man you people need to, if not get out more, READ more. With so much incredible writing out there about sides of the human condition undreamt of in works such as The Disreputable History of Frankie Whosie-Whatsits (gah!), there is NO excuse for falling for a mediocre piece of not-even-journalism because it’s focuses on an under-served population of tragedy victims.
Bah, I say, BAH.
As a guy who has offered up praise for both the books mentioned, I gotta say, that stings a little. We’re not looking at a different strokes for different folks type of argument here. This is cutting right to the core, an accusation of, if not stupidity, then at the least ignorance (willful or otherwise).
What most interests me is this part, With so much incredible writing out there about sides of the human condition undreamt of in works such as
This settled in my craw near Anthony Doerr’s first-round comment
on Disreputable History
where he said, Nothing truly fundamental gets shaken up here, and is now joined by Rosecrans Baldwin’s take on the book, Nothing seemed to matter very much to the characters
As I hope my first-round comment
made clear I thought that Disreputable History
was great, and over time, my esteem for the book has only grown. Contra Doerr, in my mind, the novel is concerned with the most fundamental of all elements, love. E. Lockhart makes Frankie’s foundational dilemma clear very early on in the book, on page seven no less, She had never been in love.
I think it’s easy with our adult perspective to dismiss or discount this kind of thing. After all, how meaningful is it really to read the story of a 15-year-old girl’s first attempts at love? As Doerr notes in a world of global violence and child slavery, the romantic tribulations of a intelligent, financially secure, recently-blossomed teenage girl seem truly trivial.
We’re beyond this now. When I became a man, I put away childish things, and all that, right?
But honestly, what’s been more meaningful in your life, in anyone’s life, than the first time they loved? And what could be more powerful that wondering if you’ll ever be loved the way you love another? As adults, after many of us having negotiated several, if not many loves, I think we tend to forget the truly life-changing aspect of that first love and its effect on our identity, our selves.
My feelings for my first love, Cindy Crawford, were unquenchable, at least until the cease-and-desist order.
takes this issue seriously, while also being a hugely entertaining story. I actually think the entertainment level masks that there is something genuine and meaningful at stake in the book. As much as we might like our 15-year-olds to be concerned with something beyond their own immediate sphere, how true would a book like that be to what’s going on in a 15-year-old’s world?
We’ve discussed the divide Piazza is trying to straddle between fiction and non with City of Refuge
, which makes it a bit of an odd duck to evaluate, but each time I go back to reflect on the book, it’s the nonfiction that pulled me through. As a novel, I think it’s just so-so. If I was using the Monica Ali standard of judging
which book comes closest to hitting its target, a standard that actually makes a lot of sense given our 777’s to tangerines comparisons we force on our judges, I think Disreputable History
comes out on top easily.
So I’m sad to see Frankie go down once again. It’s not a particularly fair fight we set her up for, and she did her best.
Each year it seems like our final is a match-up between a relative unknown and a widely known. Last year’s unknown slot went to Remainder
. Two years ago Absurdistan
had to battle it out against The Road. City of Refuge
is this year’s wildcard. No matter who wins the other Zombie round, it’ll be trying to slay a giant, possibly 2666
for the second time.
John, I liked Disreputable History
almost as much as you, and I think I liked City of Refuge
just barely more than you did. We’re talking about the slightest degrees here, amounts that would be completely negligible if not for the ridiculous tournament conditions that we ourselves have created. But now that they have been pitted against one another, you and I are bitter foes! Your alliance with the Disreputables is unconscionable! I demand you submit and pledge allegiance to the Refugees!
I have noticed some City of Refuge
backlash in the comments lately, which is funny because in the early rounds it seemed like not many people were even familiar with it. You documented the difficulty you had even obtaining a copy. But I think it’s attributable to the fact that City of Refuge
is the only book that has defeated both 2666
and Disreputable History
, novels in which, as you have pointed out, a significant number of people seem to be personally invested.
In the reader comments to yesterday’s match
there was an excellent discussion of what I’ll call the existential issues surrounding the Tournament of Books. Why is the ToB here? What is the point? Is it serious? Is it fun? How should it adapt? How could it be made more fair?
From the beginning the thing that always appealed to us is that the ToB simultaneously pursues two contradictory missions: To promote the serious discussion of books by giving one book from the preceding year a prize, and to point out the absurdity of singling out one book among thousands in order to give it a prize.
So it’s supposed to be serious and
fun. And I think it usually is. This year much of the fun came in the form of Roberto Bolaño fans declaring that you and I have brains the size of walnuts, but that’s cool. We had a serious discussion about a book, which is all too rare in the public sphere, and we had some conflict and disagreement which creates drama, and that’s entertaining. As celebrities, most novelists fall somewhere between district court judges and the people who’ve paid $35 to have a star named after them. But as you have pointed out, Bolaño and E. Lockhart have real fans
, who are as eager to rush to their favorite writer’s defense as Springsteen fans are or Steelers fans, and how cool is that?
This led to some discussion, I think started by folks who were a little melancholy over Disreputable History’s
quick exits, who wanted to know how the match-ups could be made more fair. And to be honest, fairness has never really been a priority at the ToB. If anything, we’re trying to point out that the awards process is inherently unfair
. We just don’t think that lack of fairness means book awards don’t have any value.
We’ve tried to provide some balance with the booth commentary and this year we added reader comments. I think the passionate defenders of certain novels, even if those books don’t ultimately win, have represented the authors well. I guarantee you that Lockhart and Bolaño and Piazza and Sarvas and Morris and even Toni Morrison have found new readers in this year’s ToB, and any novelist will tell you that new and passionate readers are more valuable than a live rooster. Except for Carolyn Chute who would rather have the rooster.
But passionate readers having fun, that
is the point, I think. That’s why the Tournament of Books is here.
And Carolyn Chute jokes.
And to point out that you and I are pinheads.