The Tournament of Books

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The Tournament of Books

Not all books win awards, but lots of books are great!

In March, other people get excited about college basketball. Not me (although I did win my work pool last time, woo-hoo)! What I get excited about every March is The Morning News' Tournament of Books. Designed to highlight how silly and arbitrary book awards can be, the winner of the annual bracket wins a Rooster. I agree that awards - while fun - often ignore some really great books, so here's a list of some of my favorite Tournament of Books candidates that didn't even win the Rooster.

The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara

Yanagihara's second novel, A Little Life, was nominated for seemingly every literary award out there, but I thought her debut was even better. Inspired by the life of Nobel prize winner Daniel Carleton Gajdusek, this novel purports to be the memoir of a fictional scientist named Norton Perina, who discovers what seems to be the secret to extending the human lifespan. The writing in this book is glorious, and the plot is captivating and fascinating and horrifying.

I particularly want to note that I think this book makes a great pairing with Lily King's Euphoria, which is about anthropologists in Papua New Guinea (including a character based on Margaret Mead). While Euphoria is not a tournament of books book, this is still a perfect literary pairing!

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

Set in the near-future, this book contains dueling narratives of a romantic affair amid the collapse of America. Lenny, the son of Russian immigrants and perhaps the last reader left writes diary entries about his life working for a company that's attempting to sell longevity, while his love interest Eunice's narrative consists of texts and emails. Shteyngart's vision of the future is horrifying and hilarious and super sad.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

This book looks like a business self-help book, but looks are deceiving. The story of a third born child in an unnamed South Asian country who journeys from DVD seller to bottled water entrepreneur to sad, empty old man, this novel mixes plot and faux advice. It shows how the personal journey can lead to universal truths about to how to live and succeed. All it takes moving to the city, getting an education, and following ten more steps - while managing not to die along the way.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

This book, a novelization of the friendship between Achilles and Patroclus in the Iliad, tells the story through the eyes of Patroclus. Miller's writing is lyrical, and the tale of their love and Achilles' pride is tragic and beautiful.

Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt

I'm a little nervous to recommend this one because this is a work blog and this book is arguably not safe for work, but it is so funny and so underrated that I will anyway. Lightning Rods, Inc., is a company with a theoretical solution to office sexual harassment. DeWitt's writing is sharp and clever, and the plot gets weirder and weirder.