It’s that time of year again – the time of year when various orginizations and institutions take the cue from the NCAA basketball tournament to create their own contest in which various products are placed into brackets so that, via head to head competition, the best of the best can be determined. Usually this sort of thing is reserved for beer commercials, and it’s hard for anyone to pay that much attention to it, but, as they proved last year, The Morning News has taken the March Madness ripoff to a new level with its Tournament of Books. It was good fun for basketball fans and book fans alike last year and it promises to be good fun this time around to. To play along, meet the judges and download your bracket (pdf). Anyone want to start a pool?
Last year, the Man Booker International Prize evolved from its previous iteration and joined forces with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize to award £50,000 to a single work of fiction in translation, split between the author and translator (Han Kang and translator Deborah Smith took home the 2016 honors for The Vegetarian). This year's shortlist is below -- find more details about the titles here. Mathias Énard (France), Compass, translated by Charlotte Mandell (Fitzcarraldo Editions) David Grossman (Israel), A Horse Walks Into a Bar, translated by Jessica Cohen (Jonathan Cape) Roy Jacobsen (Norway), The Unseen, translated by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw (Maclehose) Dorthe Nors (Denmark), Mirror Shoulder Signal, translated by Misha Hoekstra (Pushkin Press) Amos Oz (Israel), Judas, translated by Nicholas de Lange (Chatto & Windus) Samanta Schweblin (Argentina), Fever Dream, translated by Megan McDowell (Oneworld)
This year's Costa (renamed from the Whitbread thanks to a change in sponsorship) Award winners have been named in several categories. The prize typically plays second fiddle to the heavyweight Booker, but some might appreciate its refreshing lack of fanfare, drama, and controversy (which seem to accompany the Booker and which some consider part of its charm). Still, the Costa consistently comes up with solid winners, and its "first novel" category is good at "discovering" new writers. This year's winners across five categories are:Novel: Restless by William BoydFirst Novel: The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef PenneyChildren's Book: Set in Stone by Linda NewberyPoetry: Letter to Patience by John HaynesBiography: Keeping Mum: A Wartime Childhood by Brian Thompson
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Julian Barnes, a four-time shortlister, has finally won the Booker Prize for The Sense of an Ending. It was only the second time in eight years that the favorite with the bettors has won (Wolf Hall was the other). We called Barnes's book one of our Most Anticipated for the second half of 2011: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes: Three-time Man Booker shortlister Julian Barnes has written a new novel, the first since Arthur & George was published in 2005. According to Barnes’ website, The Sense of an Ending is a middle-aged man’s retroactive search for truth about his time as a member of “sex-hungry and book-hungry” adolescent crew, one of whose members meets an untimely end. The title–certainly a nod to Frank Kermode’s classic work of literary theory–suggests that Barnes, true to fashion, will apply the theories of literature to private life, hopefully with the same panache of his earlier novels. U.S. publisher Knopf was smart to move the publication date up to October 5th. The book was originally slated to come out in the U.S. in January 2012.
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Mark Sarvas is the next to weigh in on this year's Tournament of Books, deciding between Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke and Vendela Vida's Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name. He spends much of the review lamenting the early loss of Robert Bolano's The Savage Detectives (as Garth did here), but he's able to momentarily put his chagrin aside to judge the two novels at hand. Since I haven't read any of these three books, I can't agree or disagree with Sarvas' assessment. I was most interested, though, in the commentary by Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner. Guilfole wonders if Sarvas' description of Vida's novel as "effective if slight" is really praise at all. He goes on to say:To be fair to Mark, I'm now going well beyond what I think is either his conscious or even subconscious intention, but the "slight" business in this case strikes me as vaguely sexist as well, as though a book about a young woman literally searching for her identity, no matter how skillfully it is rendered, could live up to the grand (at least judging by physical size) ambitions of either Bolano's or Johnson's opuses.Guilfoile admits he might be reading too much into Sarvas' commentary because he loved Vida's novel so much, bit it did get me wondering: Was Sarvas correct in advancing Denis Johnson's novel because it is, in his words, the "Big Literary Book"?There's also some interesting commentary, mainly by John Warner, about how Sarvas, with the publication of his debut book, Harry, Revised, is "about to make the complicated transition from critic to novelist." A sticky (and exhilarating) situation to be in, for sure.