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Archive for March, 2009

Onward to the Zombie Round!

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The semifinals for the Tournament of Books ended today, with City of Refuge beating out 2666 (judged by Liz Entman) and A Mercywinning over Shadow Country (judged by Junot Diaz, last year’s winner). The Zombie Round will pit the two winners against previously critic-killed, but reader-endorsed titles among the contenders.

illustration: Wikipedia

End of Round Two – ToB

The Morning News has announced the end of Round Two in the Tournament of Books:

2666, by Robert Bolano vs. The Partisan’s Daughter, by Louiis de Bernieres
Harry, Revised, by Mark Sarvas vs. City of Refuge, by Tom Piazza
Shadow Country, by Peter Matthiessen vs. The Lazarus Project, by Aleksandar Hemon
A Mercy, by Toni Morrison vs. My Revolutions, by Hari Kunzru

the-hodg-man.jpgThe last face-off in this round was judged by smart aleck/writer/occasional Daily Show guest/PC personifier John Hodgman, who was a literary agent in a previous life. You can read his decision on the Morrison vs. Kunzru contest here. One of the bouts in the Semifinal Round will be judged by Pulitzer winner (for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) Junot Diaz.

Orange Prize for Fiction Longlist

The longlist for the Orange Prize for Fiction was announced yesterday. From the prize’s website:

The Orange Prize for Fiction is awarded to the woman who, in the opinion of the judges, has written the best, eligible full-length novel in English. The prize is open to any full length novel, written in English by a woman of any nationality, provided that the novel is published for the first time in the United Kingdom between 1 April of the year before the prize is awarded and 31 March of the year in which the prize is awarded.

Here are the 20 titles in the longlist; titles with cover art shown are owned by Kennedy Library.

Debra Adelaide, The Household Guid to Dying
Garynor Arnold, Girl in a Blue Dress
Lissa Evans, Their Finest Hour and a Half
Bernardine Evaristo, Blonde Roots

25028436.JPGEllen Feldman, Scottsboro

Laura Fish, Strange Music
V. V. Ganeshananthan, Love Marriage

13793356.JPGAllegra Goodman, Intuition

Samantha Harvey, The Wilderness

19099135.JPGSamantha Hunt, The Invention of Everything Else

Michelle de Kretser, The Lost Dog
Deirdre Madden, Molly Fox’s Birthday

33634598.JPGToni Morrison, A Mercy

Gina Ochsner, The Russian Dreambook of Colour and Flight

26778228.JPGMarilynne Robinson, Home

Preeta Samarasan, Evening is the Whole Day
Kamila Shamsie, Burnt Shadows

27065418.JPGCurtis Sittenfeld, American Wife

Miriam Toews, The Flying Troutmans
Ann Weisgarber, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree

The group also grants an Award for New Writers; the shortlist for this award will be announced on April 7.

Tournament of Books: the Rooster Update

tob07-rooster.jpgRound One of the fifth annual Tournament of books has ended. This competition, sponsored by The Morning News and Powell’s Books, pits sixteen acclaimed novels of the year into a patently unfair apples vs. oranges competition. If nothing else, it could serve as a reading list for months. The judges are variously fair, respectful, and  snarky, but all are interesting to read. Here are the results so far:

2666 by Robert Bolano vs. Steer toward Rock by Fae Myenne Ng
Netherland by Joseph O’Neill vs. A Partisan’s Daughter by Louis de Bernieres
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga vs. Harry, Revised by Mark Sarvas
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri vs. City of Refuge by Tom Piazza
Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen vs. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher vs. The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon
A Mercy by Toni Morrison vs. The Dart League King by Keith Lee Morris
Home by Marilynne Robinson vs. My Revolutions by Hari Kunzru

TOB logo by Coudal Partners / Susan Everett

2008 National Book Critics Circle Awards

The 2008 National Book Critics Circle Awards were presented Thursday night in a New York Ceremony. Here are the winners:

34347664.JPGFiction: Roberto Bolaño, “2666″

28762479.JPGBiography: Patrick French, “The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul”

28243790.JPGAutobiography: Ariel Sabar, “My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq”

27676840.JPGNonfiction: Dexter Filkins, “The Forever War”

27404196.JPG30018369.JPGPoetry: August Kleinzahler, “Sleeping It Off in Rapid City” and Juan Felipe Herrera, “Half the World in Light”.
For the first time, the Poetry award was shared by two titles.

27676740.JPGCriticism: Seth Lerer, “Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter”

Sixteen books enter, but only one can win the Rooster!

rooster-version-2-blue-jpeg.jpgI read about this contest in Jacket Copy, the LA Times book blog. Sponsored by the Morning News and Powell’s Books, it pits sixteen of the most acclaimed novels of the year against each other, in a bracketed competition. Each pair of books is read by a single critic, who names the winner. Where a book is seeded is determined by literary acclaim; word has it that Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland was seeded lower than it might have been because the PEN/Faulkner Award was announced so late. Adding to the mix of factors that determine the winner are “zombie votes,” anonymous votes for books which can bring them back into competition after they’ve lost in the pair competition. For an entertaining article from the Morning News on how the whole thing got started, click here.

Like any tournament, it’s open to betting, with a twist: proceeds benefit First Book, “a nonprofit organization with a single mission: to give children from low-income families the opportunity to read and own their first new books.” Here’s a site that gives odds on the various titles, and links allowing you to bet. Sadly, the Zombie Poll is closed, so it’s too late to express yourself there.

rooster illustration: Dianne Paine

Wrack and Ruin

warcover3001.jpgWrack and Ruin by Don Lee is a departure from his recent books. Lee won an American Book Award for Country of Origin, as well as the 2005 Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author. Country of Origin is described as a dark thriller. Wrack and Ruin is falls more into the romp category. Set in a fictionalized version of Half Moon Bay, its main character is Lyndon Song, a formerly successful sculptor who has become disenchanted with the New York art scene. He has moved out to the sticks to farm, of all things, organic Brussels sprouts. The rest of the cast includes a vengeful ex-girlfriend who drives nails into his tires, a shark-chomped surfer, Juju, with a prosthetic foot, Lyndon’s brother Woody, who’s attempting to produce a martial arts movie, Yi Ling Ling, a fading martial arts movie star hoping to make her comeback in Woody’s movie, and assorted golf course developers, dope dealers, and teenage misfits. The plot is entertaining, and the main characters have enough depth to take them beyond two dimensions, though some of the plot twists (a rampaging elephant, a paint ball war between Lyndon and a USC-fanatic golf course developer) border on cartoon, or at least Tom Robbins or Christopher Moore.

Lee’s characters are Asian American, but this novel isn’t “about” ethnicity. Click here to read an interview in Asian Week, in which he admits to being tired of writing about race. In the book, some of Lyndon’s reasons for abandoning the art world are similar.

The parts of the book I enjoyed were not the prankish ones, but moments where Lyndon awakes from his non-introspective way of life to a flash of insight about himself, his life, or the workings of someone else’s mind. Here, he’s out on a date with a massage therapist who’s unkinked his neck, scrabbling to keep the conversation going:

The waitress took their drink orders — hot sake for her, a bottle of Sapporo for him — and then they deliberated over the dishes again, Laura unable to decide, and Lyndon realized that she was as flustered as he was, stalling, for after exhausting all the happy rituals and distractions of the pre-meal, picking out what they wanted to eat and getting their drinks and relating their order to the waitress and toasting and drinking, they stared at each other with sudden vacuous panic, neither having anything to say whatsoever… Lyndon asked if she’d heard about the humpback whale that had washed ashore and the ensuing fiasco, and of course she had, who hadn’t, which gave Lyndon and Laura, despite their guilt over laughing about the death and undignified disposition of an endangered species, a good, hearty chortle, except then, as their laughter faded, they realized, just as they had been lulled into thinking that things were going well, just as they were beginning to relax, that they had run out of things to say, the balls dropping, the roof deflating, the tanks wheezing into the most dreaded of all moments during a first date, dead air — good God, why did people go on dates? why would anyone willingly subject themselves to this type of torture? — when, in desperation, people were liable to resort to anything — where was their food, goddammit? — uttering something they didn’t intend to, something ill-advised, the last thing they planned to say, simply to keep the conversation going, keep the evening alive — he was overboard, sharks afoot — which was what Lyndon did, blurting out to Laura, “I have something I need to confess to you.”

20080421_lee_3.jpg“What?” she asked.

And now, even though he knew it was a mistake, he couldn’t retreat, he couldn’t think of anything else to confess. “I told you I”m divorced. The truth is, I’ve never been married.”

Wrack and Ruin was a quick, entertaining read, and the writing was engaging enough to make me want to check out Lee’s other titles, Country of Origin, and Yellow: stories, which is set in the same fictional town as Wrack and Ruin.

MPR photo/Euan Kerr