Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Tournament of Books and the National Book Critics Circle Awards

Today is a big day for books.

The Tournament of Books officially begins this morning – there was a “Pre-Game Primer” yesterday  – and the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) Awards will be announced this evening.

If you don’t know about the Tournament of Books, see my post from January here. It’s basically March Madness for literary fiction. Sixteen novels. 5 rounds. 1 prize – the Golden Rooster.

If you don’t know about the National Book Critic Circle Awards, see my posts here and here. It’s one of the four “major” literary awards given in the U.S. every year, along with the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

NBCC Prediction 

Unfortunately, I have only read two of the five finalists for the NBCC in fiction, so I cannot give a fully informed opinion. Still, I think Open City by Teju Cole wins. Cole’s novel about a Nigerian doctor living in New York City does something remarkable: it makes present-day Manhattan seem quiet and slow. Still, the novel is not at all boring. It is cerebral without being inaccessible, and it’s beautifully written.

Although I have not read it, I think the other major contender is Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman. Not only was the short story collection a National Book Award Finalist, last week it was named a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Although the prize is not as prestigious as other literary awards, it still highlights excellent books every year.

The popular choice – the finalist that was no doubt most widely read – The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides is the only other finalist that I’ve read. I don’t think it’s as nearly as strong as Open City.

Tournament of Books Predictions 

I have read 10 of the 16 books in the Tournament of Books field. Of the first round match-ups – which will run weekdays from today through March 19 – I have only read both books in two of the match-ups. (The good part is that I have read one book in all of the match-ups.) Thus, I cannot give many fully informed predictions. Depending on which novels advance, I may be able to do more in the second round. Still, some the novels which I think may go the furthest are Open City, The Marriage Plot, The Art of Fielding, The Tiger’s Wife, and The Cat’s Table. 

Today’s match-up features the Booker Award-winning The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (which I’ve read) versus The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock (which I haven’t). Because I truly enjoyed Barnes’ short novel, and because I think it may appeal more to the judge of the day, it is my choice to advance to to round two.

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