Saturday, February 19, 2005

2005 Tournament of Books

Forget March Madness, The Morning News and Powell's brings us the Tournament of Books. Touted in Thursday's NYTimes as "literary sport", 16 books have been seeded and laddered into an NCAA-like bracket to be paired head-to-head until only one is left standing. Literary sport is a brilliant concept. In the spirit of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next novels, I think we can all agree that we need more soccer stadiums full of Shakespeare fans (or, hey, that we just need "a" soccer stadium full of Shakespeare fans.)

Here's how it works: The judge for each individual pairing reads both works and chooses. It is a somewhat transparent and arbitrary process reflecting how randomly many book awards are chosen, reviews written and bestseller lists compiled. Judges include TMN editors and writers as well as literary bloggers Maud Newton (maudnewton.com), Jessica Crispin (bookslut) and MarkSarvas (Elegant Variation).

In each grouping, the seedings were determined by how much pre or post-publication hype a novel received. First seeds in each of the four divisions include The Plot Against America by Philip Roth, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, and I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe. Other novels include those generally recognized on many end of year "best-of" lists and chosen by TMN editors and writers.

But on to what you've been waiting for! Who's been knocked out so far and who's still alive in the tournament? (You can download a bracket so you can play along at home.)

In the 2nd round, number one seeded The Plot Against America by Philip Roth has beaten the number three seed Inner Circle by TC Boyle. Plot advances to the semi-finals and will face Heir to the Glimmering World by Cynthia Ozick which beat Human Capital by Stephone Amidon in the first round and overcame a tough 2nd round challenge by the number one seed Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark. Strange has been a strong competitor but the judge noted its confection just didn't stand up to the solid performance of Heir.

In divisions 3 and 4, second round play continues today with matches between David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas (1) and Ward Just's Unfinished Season (2) and big number one seed I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe and number two seed Birds Without Wings by Louis De Bernieres. Winners of these two will face either other in the semi-finals next week. Winner will move on to the finals to face the winner of the Plot/Heir match.

It's a brilliant concept -- now... how to get it into a stadium full of screaming fans.

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