Monday, March 19, 2012

The Tournament of Books: Recapping the First Round & Predicting the Rest

The first and second rounds of the NCAA Division I Basketball Tournament (or the “second” and third rounds if you call the dumb play-in games a “round”) are now complete. More importantly, as far as this blog goes, the first round of the Tournament of Books (TOB) is also complete. Sixteen novels have been narrowed to eight. (If you don’t know about the TOB see my preview post from January and my short prediction post from last week, before the first round.)

If you have ever followed the basketball tournament, even a little bit, you probably know that the first round always includes some upsets. (This year there were two *major* upsets, but I’ll let you track those down in the sports news. Although, the news is now moot.) The first round of the TOB was no different. There was one “big” upset, as well as two smaller ones, during the eight opening round matches.

The “odds on” favorite, as predicted by Jeff O’Neal on BookRiot.com, State of Wonder by Ann Pachett, lost to The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt. The National Book Award winner for fiction, Salvage the Bones, lost to the little-known, Lightning Rods  by Helen De Witt. (No relation to Patrick, as far as I know.)  And the much-publicized The Art of Fielding lost to the NBCC-finalist and PEN/Hemingway Award-winning Open City. 

Still, each of these eliminated favorites will have another chance. The TOB includes a twist in which the two most popular (eventually eliminated) books, as voted by readers before the tournament, are reinstated as “zombie picks.” As of right now, State of Wonder and The Art of Fielding would both be “zombie picks,” but because the zombie picks do not reenter the competition until only two books remain, this could still change. For instance, I would bet if Open City upsets The Marriage Plot in the next round, The Marriage Plot would have enough votes to replace State of Wonder or The Art of Fielding. That remains to be seen. 

Quarterfinals 

The four matches of the quarterfinals are as follows, with my predicted winners in bold:

The Sense of an Ending v. Lightning Rods

1Q84 v. The Tiger’s Wife

The Sisters Brothers v. Swamplandia!    

The Marriage Plot v. Open City 

Note: I have not read Lightning Rods, but I think that The Sense of an Ending is too strong to lose. I also have not read The Sisters Brothers but I think that Swamplandia! is vulnerable. 

Semifinals 

If my predictions hold, the semifinals would look like this, with my predictions in bold again:

The Sense of an Ending v. The Tiger’s Wife

The Sisters Brothers v. Open City 

Zombie Round 

If these predictions hold, I predict the zombie picks will be The Art of Fielding and The Marriage Plot.

At this point, I am not sure which zombie pick would be paired with which remaining finalist, but I see the final match shaping up one of two ways:

1) The Art of Fielding v. Open City

2) The Tiger’s Wife v. Open City

In 1) I think The Open City wins it all. In 2) I think The Tiger’s Wife wins it all.

Still, the whole “zombie pick” concept really makes this incredibly hard to predict. I will certainly make another prediction once the “zombie round” is determined. 

I encourage you to take some time to read the judging and commentary on some of the first round matches. Some very interesting issues were raised, including ambitious efforts which, although they might not exactly work, should be respected for their ambition. (This came up both in the 1Q84 match and The Tiger’s Wife match, and to a lesser extent the Swamplandia! match.)

Also, although in almost all cases online reader comments are worth skipping, here the reader comments are shockingly astute and enlightening. Other readers/commenters have definitely helped me see some things which I missed. This is especially true in the final opening round match from today, which was arguably the most tightly fought match of the first round.

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