Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Tournament of Books

For me, the Tournament of Books has totally delivered on its promise: it's been fun to visit the Morning News for a daily round, comparing two highly-touted new books. My time is limited, my budget for hardbacks small, and I always wonder: is the new Philip Roth (on which I spent my birthday money but haven’t yet read) a disappointment or a brilliant dystopia? Would I like Jonathan Strange, having devoured the Harry Potter books, or is it too deep in the genre for a dabbler like me? Pitting books against each other helps me think these questions through in a way that a single review could not. Having the judges articulate a reason—however lame—for their preference and adding that to their photo, age, and thumbnail preferences gives the reader like me just a little more than usual. It’s fun.

Sarah Boxer at the New York Times has some suggestions for improvement:
What's the verdict on the competition itself? Not bad. Breezy. Sporty. But more sport would be better. Where is the play-by-play? Where are the slam-dunk sentences and the three-point plot twists at the buzzer?

She singles out Choire Sicha’s irreverent review for its wit. Although I’ve liked bits of his writing elsewhere, his was the only first round entry that made me really feel how horribly unfair the process is. He was so cheeky that my sympathies went to the writers. Clearly, there is a problem of tone inherent in this contest. Still, it’s a rare book award where we common readers can sit in the bleachers and watch things unfold. In general, I take Boxer’s suggestions as a friendly amendment, in the spirit of the Tournament. I'm looking forward to tomorrow & I'm already looking forward to next year.

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