As expected, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road took home the top prize in TMN’s Tournament of Books. Oprah stole some of the award’s thunder with her surprise announcement, but the excellent finale, with commentary from 17 judges, is a great read. In fact, I had a great time following the Tournament this year (for me it rivaled the NCAA’s in terms of holding my interest). It was a treat to read reactions to books like The Road and One Good Turn day after day from a big group of people. I’m already looking forward to next year.And incidentally, after reading all these reactions to The Road in the Tournament, along with all the Oprah-fueled media coverage, it’s starting to sound like The Road is one of those important books that comes along from time to time. One that has real staying power.
All sorts of madness is coming in March. Of course, there is the basketball sort, of which it appears my long beleaguered alma mater may finally be taking part (go Wahoos!)But more cogent to this blog and its readers, the literary world’s more refined yet no less raucous brand of madness is on its way, The Morning News 2007 Tournament of Books. If you aren’t familiar, here’s how it works: the TMN editors pick a bunch of books from the past year or so and align them in a bracket, tournament style. However, instead of having these books hash it out on a basketball court, which wouldn’t make much sense, TMN assigns each pair of books to a prominent blogger or reviewer or literary type, who then picks which one goes through to the next round.Why does TMN do this? Well, tournament commissioner Kevin Guilfoile explains it thusly in this year’s introductory essay:Exchanging emails with the TMN editors after a few glasses of Argentinean Malbec, we each confessed that we’re attracted to the sexiness of book awards despite the fact that book awards are also arbitrary and stupid.And so the Tourney was born. Just like with that other tournament, the brackets aren’t out yet, but several candidates have been named, among them a few books that have been reviewed here at The Millions, including Against the Day, which was reviewed by Garth, The Lay of the Land, which was reviewed by Noah, and Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn, which I wrote about a few months back.Also, at the bottom of that introductory essay, readers can vote to pick which books should be included in the “Readers’ Favorites round.”
With One Good Turn, Kate Atkinson returns to Jackson Brodie, the hero of her last novel, Case Histories. However, where Case Histories was dark and brooding, dwelling on and in the troubled pasts of many of the book’s characters, One Good Turn is antic and madcap.It should come as no surprise then that the book’s original title was A Jolly Murder Mystery, as Atkinson drops us into the middle of the famously whimsical Edinburgh Fringe Festival, “the world’s largest arts festival.” The festival, however, is not integral to the murder mystery that unfolds, instead the crowds, actors (Brodie’s girlfriend among them), and air of frivolity all serve as a foil to the dour Brodie, who, having inherited a large sum of money, has since the last book moved to France where he seems to do little more than sit around in his pool and wish that he were still a cop.One Good Turn, of course, gives him a chance to do just that when he first witnesses a road rage incident in the crowded streets of Edinburgh and then later sees (or thinks he sees) the floating body of a girl off nearby Cramond Island. These two incidents thrust us into the book’s cast of characters, among them Gloria, the wife of the crooked real estate developer Graham Hatter; Louise, a single mother and hardworking Edinburgh cop; and most memorably Martin Canning (aka Alex Blake), who pseudonymously writes flighty, but popular, novels about a squeaky clean girl detective. Odd Martin steals the show in this novel with his quirky fastidiousness, self-loathing, and dreams of a soft-focus sexless marriage.Thrown into this mix is a mysterious man with a gun and a house cleaning service named Favors whose pink-clad maids maybe don’t just clean houses. Much of this book’s mystery is devoted to untangling the story’s threads, though what we learn at the end cleverly turns the whole book on its head.One Good Turn doesn’t carry the weight of its predecessor, and seems almost unabashedly a confection, but in this respect it doesn’t disappoint. The book is a breeze, and indeed a “jolly good” time.
Back in January, I took a look at some of the “most anticipated” books of the year. Well, those books are old news now, but there are some great-looking books on the way. September and October in particular are looking pretty stacked. Please share any relevant links or books I may have missed.July:Gallatin Canyon by Thomas McGuane (New Yorker interview)Talk Talk by T.C. Boyle (Boyle’s blog)The Driftless Area by Tom Drury (Drury’s story “Path Lights“)The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk (a new translation, thanks Bud)America’s Report Card by John McNally (Thanks Dan)The Judas Field by Howard Bahr (Thanks J.D.)August:Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami (list of stories)Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell (Thanks Dan)Brief Encounters with Che Guevara by Ben Fountain (thanks Stephan)September:Moral Disorder by Margaret AtwoodThe Dissident by Nell Freudenberger (Her first novel; following up her collection, Lucky Girls)All Aunt Hagar’s Children by Edward P. Jones (very excited about this one – the title story appeared in the New Yorker.)A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon (a first look at the book)The Road by Cormac Mccarthy (a first look)After This by Alice McDermott (PW Review [scroll down])Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (thanks Dan)Smonk by Tom Franklin (thanks Dan)Dead in Desemboque by Eddy Arellano (Thanks Laurie)October:One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson (sequel to Case Histories)What is the What by Dave Eggers (based on a true story, excerpted in The Believer – Part 1, 2, 3)Lay of the Land by Richard Ford (The third Frank Bascombe novel – I wrote about it last year.)Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier (A big enough deal that the announcement of a publication date came as an Entertainment Weekly exclusive.)Restless by William Boyd (A World War II novel)The Uses of Enchantment by Heidi JulavitsGolem Song by Marc Estrin (thanks Dan)The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke (Thanks Laurie)November:The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro (The title story was in the New Yorker)Soon the Rest Will Fall by Peter Plate (Thanks Laurie)The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross (Thanks Laurie)December:Untitled Thomas Pynchon novel (as confirmed by Ed.)January 2007:Zoli by Colum McCannFlora Segunda by Ysabeau Wilce (Thanks Laurie)February 2007:Knots by Nuruddin Farah (based on “Farah’s own recent efforts to reclaim his family’s property in Mogadishu, and his experiences trying to negotiate peace among the city’s warlords.”)May 2007:The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon (Posts about the book: 1, 2, 3, 4)Addenda: Books suggested in the comments are being added above.