Monday, March 15, 2010

Tournament of Books 2010

Week two of the Morning News' annual March madness, the Tournament of Books, began this morning. I wanted to post some quick comments before I read the results of today's match between Logicomix (a graphic "novel" about Bertrand Russell) and Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall (the thick novel about Henry VIII, which won the most recent Booker and the National Book Critics Circle awards). The battle hardly seems fair. I mean, really, when you consider how utterly incomparable these two books are, how do you pick a winner? 

This very question, though, is why I'm so fond of the ToB. The contestants are all so mismatched, but the judges decisions are often very arbitrary. Historically, some judges never finish reading their books and declare a winner nonetheless. Some judges are suspicious of books because of the hype heaped on them from established literary reviews and will, out of spite, choose the underdog. 

It's really anyone's guess who will prevail today. I started reading Logicomix yesterday, and I'm enjoying it though I'm not far enough into it to have a sense of how this book would stand up to a culty literary star such as Hilary Mantel. I've never read Mantel, but came very close in the mid- to late-90s when I worked at Holtzbrinck (now Macmillan USA). Mantel was published by Henry Holt and even then was a darling who had enjoyed countless accolades from UK reviewers and had been nominated for Whitbread and Orange prizes but was, by no means, a household name stateside. I imagine that Wolf Hall will be a formidable challenge for a graphic novel about a logician, even if the judge doesn't manage to finish the 532-page novel. I predict Wolf Hall will win today.

Anyway, I filled out the brackets before the tournament began. I want to go on the record to say that I think Margaret Atwood and Barbara Kingsolver will duke it out in the final round. Talk about a literary cat fight. And so far, for the first time in the six years I have been following this contest, I called the winners of last week's battles with 100% accuracy.