The contenders have been announced for this year’s Tournament of Books. Longtime Condalmo readers will remember the great run Ms. Stinson and I had last year. No pool this year, but never mind that: here’s the list, with excerpts and, in keeping with tradition, some wildly-varying-in-levels-of-informedness predictions and comments. The links to the books are through the tournament host, The Morning News, who are again partnering with Powell’s to get you these books at a deep discount. Never a better time, etc.
Run by Ann Patchett (excerpt) Could go all the way in a lesser field, but this year’s got a lot of big hitters. Dark horse.
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (excerpt) Old people having sex. Or trying. Next!
Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson (excerpt) If Tobias Wolff had written this, the show would already be over. I’ve seen pretty mixed reviews from this, from genius all the way to overhyped windbagging. It’s a contender in the same way the Chicago Bears’ "Refridgerator" Perry was a contender to get the ball and run all the way for a touchdown – could happen, but that’s a lot of cellulite to carry that far.
Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris (excerpt) This was a pretty kick-ass book, and it’s overdue to win an award. Ferris might just be the one to actually accept receipt of a live rooster. Should he progress in the bracketts, I may be tempted to dig out the "lost interview" I did with him, also known as "what the fuck am I doing interviewing people, this is ridiculous and vapid" – entirely my fault, he was kind throughout, and it does feature some interesting casting of literary heavyweights in the "movie version" we discussed.
Petropolis by Anya Ulinich (excerpt) I can’t say I went past the first page of search results trying to find an excerpt, but there’s probably one out there. I am completely unwilling to make a prediction on this one.
Ovenman by Jeff Parker (excerpt) I know people like the literary/humor books to go a ways, but this doesn’t really bode well: "Skateboarder, punk rocker, kitchen slave, and general ne’er-do-well with a slightly tarnished heart of gold, When Thinfinger tries mightily to survive a seemingly endless round of troubles in small-town Florida. After getting fired from his job at the Barbie-Q, he lands a gig at the hippest pizza joint in town, where he soon becomes the leader of a disheveled crew."
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz. (excerpt) What to say, except likely to go to the final round.
You Don’t Love Me Yet by Jonathan Lethem (excerpt) And if not, this book isn’t the one to change your mind. Sorry, Jon!
New England White by Stephen L. Carter (audio excerpt) Who? What?
Remainder by Tom McCarthy (excerpt) Number one with a bullet. I’ll be watching this one closely.
The Shadow Catcher by Marianne Wiggins (excerpt) Like with the Patchett entry, this could go either way. Unrelated: I think "Shadows in the Mirror" is one of Chris Isaak’s best songs, and suggestive of some past trauma.
The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño (excerpt) If it wins, I’ll finally get around to pulling it from the shelf and reading it. A heavyweight contender.
Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida (excerpt) You know, I think this one’s got legs. The excerpt is from Five Chapters, and I liked it quite a bit.
Shining at the Bottom of the Sea by Stephen Marche (excerpt) A Cloud Atlas type contender. I’ll explain that if you ask. I know you won’t ask.
What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman (excerpt) The Uses of Enchantment without the Julavits name recognition? I haven’t read it, but I don’t think this one will fare too well, unless it gets lucky in the matchups (meaning, "what the dead know" is that reading about old people sex is no good, it spells bad news)
An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Brock Clarke (excerpt) Starts off with a fantastic title; first part of the book, good stuff – then gets weighed down with a lot of bloviating around meaning – and the end, man, the end. Like getting an ice cream cone and the sweet, delicious cream is good, maybe a little bit freezer-burned, but the cone’s a bit on the stale side, and then there’s a severed finger at the bottom, under the ice cream.
Anything the editors missed here from the books of 2007? Well, obviously, but this is me asking you. Don’t get smart with me, you young whippersnappers, I was in this coffee shop when you were crapping in your diapers.