Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Been a Long Time Walking on Fortune's Cane

By Kevin Guilfoile

Here's a way you can gamble legally on something you love and not feel even a little bit guilty about it.

A few months ago I wrote about The Morning News/Powell's Tournament of Books, an event for which I humbly hold the title of Commissioner. Each spring we select 16 of the most celebrated books of the previous year and place them in a March Madness style tournament bracket and have them fight it out to see who will be crowned Champion Book of the Year. It's both a sincere book award and a tongue-in-cheek parody of a book award. Mostly it's great fun, with celebrity judges and color commentary and a lot of arguing and dissension from all corners, and by that I mean smart people talking about good books, which is pretty great. Every year we also threaten to give the winning author a live rooster, which causes panic up and down the streets of Brooklyn.

Last week we announced the shortlist, the 16 nominees who will be duking it out for this year's title. It's a terrific bunch of books with well-knowns and lesser knowns, prize-winning novelists and debut authors. And this year there's a new wrinkle to add to the fun.

Over at coudal.com, they have posted their own odds of each book winning the tourney. They are also accepting ten dollar bets on each book. One hundred percent of the money will go to First Book, "a nonprofit organization with a single mission: to give children from low-income families the opportunity to read and own their first new books." And Coudal will randomly select ten individuals who backed the winning novel and send them a fantastic prize package. The details of that haven't been finalized but Coudal prizes are always great, trust me. (And it's safe to say that the prize will be, at least in part, book-related.)

But there's more. Coudal has lined up seven eight generous matching sponsors, so every $10 you bet translates to a $80 $90 donation to First Book. To put that in concrete terms, every $10 wager on the ToB will buy 32 36 books for underprivileged kids.

It's a great way to give yourself a rooting interest in the tournament, as well as do a good deed. Readers of this blog in particular might be interested to know that one of this year's nominees is Laura Lippman's What the Dead Know and I'm especially pleased to say that, other than expressing my enthusiastic approval, I didn't even have that much to do with it making the shortlist.

If you want to bet with your head instead of your heart, here are a couple of tips, exclusive to Outfit readers, that you can use to perhaps increase your chances of winning.

1. Favorites vs. Underdogs: Coudal has created odds based on who they think will win, but they have no inside knowledge. They did a version of this two years ago and the eventual winner was Ali Smith's The Accidental which Coudal had as an 8-1 longshot. But remember that to win a prize there are two sets of odds you have to beat. You might be more likely to select the winning book by backing a favorite (maybe) but if you pick a book that lots of other people have bet on you will be less likely to be one of the ten randomly selected for the prize. The number you really want to look at is not the odds, but the amount so far bet on each book. Pick a book you think has a good shot of winning and that also has fewer people betting on it.

2. The Zombie Factor: One of the unique aspects of this tourney is the notorious Zombie Round. After the tournament narrows the contestants down to two, we play an additional round in which two previously eliminated books (determined by secret, pre-tournament reader nominations) come back from the dead for a second chance at the title. So if you can guess which books might have been the favorites of TMN readers (no easy task, granted) you stand a good chance of making it to at least the Final Four.

Even if you choose not to wager with a donation to First Book, I hope you'll follow the tourney and have fun doing it. Tournament sponsor Powell's Books is currently offering a 30% discount on books in the tourney in case you want to read up on some of the nominees.

And if you happen to be one of the nominated authors, start building that chicken coop in the yard.

20 comments:

Sara Paretsky said...

Kevin, I think this is great. I went to Coudal and bet my bucks on McEwan and Ferris. I hated Savage detectives==one more dreary boy fantasy about how prostitutes and waitresses are just pining to make love to him. Vendela Vida is a wonderful writer but Northern Lights is on the slight side for heavy contention. And Run isn't Ann Patchett's best==her best is unbeatable. I'm not a big McEwan fan but I think he's the heavy hitter these days. Now that I have money on it I'm really excited!

Kevin Guilfoile said...

Thanks Sara!

As anyone who watches the Oscars without TiVo knows, everything is more fun when you have a rooting interest. And I've been a longtime supporter of First Book.

I'm trying to catch up with the books before the tournament (I'm doing the commentary again with John Warner, although ignorance of the competing books has never been an impediment to use in past years). I have Ferris up next.

Sean Chercover said...

I placed a bet on Laura Lippman's "What The Dead Know" which is the best book I've read in a long time.

I also placed a bet on another book, just for fun.

Thanks, Kevin. A very cool contest, and a great cause.

Bhyl said...

It supports a great cause and it makes tracking the contest even more fun... I feel that I may explode.

I noticed that "Jumper" wasn't chosen as one of your contestants though, care to comment on that? Did you feel it would have an unfair advantage?

kurt said...

Do you guys have craze to Watch TV Shows Online for free?

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