Friday, March 12, 2010

Look Out Strange Cat People

By Kevin Guilfoile

It's that time of year when I point the readers of this site to one of my other Internet side projects. The Sixth Annual Powell's/Field Notes Tournament of Books has started over at The Morning News, where I am a contributing writer. If you're unfamiliar, this is the annual event in which 16 of the most-hyped, best-reviewed books of the past year are seeded into an NCAA basketball-type bracket and pitted against one another in a "Battle Royale of Literary Excellence." The idea occurred many years ago after I and several of my TMN cohorts had consumed way too much wine and it is now an corporate sponsored event and the only Book Award I'm aware of in which the winning author is threatened with the presentation of a live rooster.

Every day, a celebrity judge (usually an author, blogger, or entertainer) will advance one of two books he or he has been assigned to read. He will also explain his reasons for the decision. After the competition is whittled down to two, a pair of eliminated books will come back from the dead, boosted by the votes of readers and fans, to reenter the competition in the Zombie Round. Then all of the judges tackle the final two books and render their judgment, with the winning author threatened with the presentation of a live rooster. Past year's champions have included David Mitchell, Ali Smith, Cormac McCarthy, Junot Diaz, and Toni Morrison.

John Warner and I add commentary following each judgment. This year John read almost all the books on the Kindle. I read more than half of them, all the old-fashioned way, and our discussion so far has frequently been about the contrast between those experiences. The other day I mentioned that McSweeney's had put such care into the design of Bill Cotter's Fever Chart that I couldn't imagine absorbing it on an e-reader and coming away with the same experience.

I have only a very little to do with the mysterious and arbitrary process in which the final 16 books are chosen, and nobody makes the claim that these were the "16 best books of 2009." But now that everybody's had a few more months to catch up on last year's releases, what were your favorite books of last year?

19 comments:

Sara Paretsky said...

aAs always, I hadn't heard of many of the titles in the tournament--but I did just read Wolf Hall and thought it was the most brilliant compelling novel I'd read in ages. Everything I've been reading since has been a letdown.

Sara Paretsky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kevin Guilfoile said...

Sara, I'm going to be commenting on the Wolf Hall judgment next week. I also thought it was brilliant but had a difficult time enjoying it. I eventually decided it was just me, that maybe I knew just enough about English history to know where the story was generally going and not enough about it to understand the nuanced way in which she had reinvented these real people as fictional characters. She is clearly a skillful and ambitious writer. I've put it on the shelf and will attack it again later.

Lori said...

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters and Dark Places by Gillian Flynn.

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