Tournament of Books 2018

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Tournament of Books 2018

March is here - fill out your brackets!

March is here, and that means it's time for brackets. Every year, I spot brackets of best sandwiches, villains and more on the Internet to accompany NCAA brackets, but my favorite brackets are always the book ones. I've written about some of my favorite books from last year's The Morning News' Tournament of Books and other past tournaments, but here are some of the books I loved best from the 2018 Tournament of Books.

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker
Sharon and Mel meet in college and become animation partners. Together, they make an acclaimed film based on Mel’s early life with her prostitute mother before her mother is imprisoned. While looking for inspiration for their next big project, Sharon has a stroke and the aftermath and recovery sends them looking through Sharon’s history instead of Mel’s. This is a bold and captivating novel about the complexity and competition that can be an integral part of friendship, and about deeply imperfect people trying to make sense of their lives through art.
 
So Much Blue by Percival Everett
Kevin is a painter. In his barn, he has a secret painting that he won’t allow anyone to seenot his wife, not his children, not his best friend Richard. He often thinks about a past affair he had in Paris, and about a trip he took in 1979 to El Salvador with Richard to find Richard’s brother. These past experiences inform his art, but keep him emotionally separate him from his family. What I particularly enjoyed about this book was the language. Everett’s word choices are careful and deliberate and every sentence is simple but feels right.
 
Goodbye Vitamin by Rachel Khong
Told through one year of diary entries, this is the story of a 30-year-old woman at a crossroads. Left by her long-term boyfriend, Ruth comes home for Christmas for the first time in years and ends up staying to help take care of her father, newly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Ruth spends the year figuring out her future, and learning about her parents' relationship and her father’s memories of her. This description doesn’t sound particularly funny, but this novel is humorous, real and moving.
 
The Idiot by Elif Batuman
Selin is a freshman at Harvard in 1995, taking a fairly random assortment of classes, mostly about language and literature. She makes friends and begins email correspondence with Ivan, a Hungarian math student on whom she develops a crush. The book is a collection of short pieces about Selina page about her Russian class, then a few pages about a lunch with a classmate in the cafeteria, then a page about her nonfiction film classbut they add up to a window into her brain and life. Selin is thoughtful and interesting, but also young and trying to find her way in life. I deeply enjoyed getting to know her.
 
Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran
Soli is a young woman, trying to make it to the U.S. Kavya and Rishi are a happily married Bay Area couple trying to have a baby. Their stories intertwine with Ignacio's, Soli’s son whom Kavya and Rishi foster. This book started slowly, but it grew into a moving story about the difficulty but meaningfulness of parenting and of the horror and byzantine paths of our immigration process. Life is messy and this book features warm and believable characters who want mutually incompatible things, without villainizing any of the main characters. This is an interesting book to read in combination with Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, another well-reviewed novel from 2017 with a plot about a transracial adoption.
 
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Saeed and Nadia are young adults living in an unnamed Muslim country. They begin a romance, but when militants take over their city, they need to leave. This book is Hamid’s first with a magical element; there exist doors which can transport people across space. Eventually, Saeed and Nadia find one which takes them first to the island of Mykonos, then London and eventually California. The experience of exile from their native land and language affects serious Saeed and independent Nadia differently and begins to take a toll on their relationship. The parallels to war and refugee crises in the world today are obvious, but this book is also a story that could take place within the context of most past and future waves of migration.