Tournament of Books 2020

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Tournament of Books 2020

It's back!

I can't believe it's already March and the Tournament of Books is back! I like to read as many books in the tournament every year as I can, so that I've read at least some well-regarded adult fiction. You can find my picks from last year's tournament here. I was a little disappointed by the list last year, but I've really enjoyed a lot of this year's selections, although I still haven't finished two of them. Regardless, here are my five favorite (so far) books in the tournament:

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
The 2019 winner of the Booker, one of the highest profile literary awards in the world, contains the interconnected stories of twelve people, mostly Black, British, women. They all have different lives and values and desires, but as the story progresses commonalities become clear - and the differences become more interesting. There's a bit of unconventionality to the style, but it serves to grant immediacy to the stories within. It took a narrator or two for me to get into the story, but by the end I was fully hooked.

Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Toby Fleishman is a newly separated doctor, surrounded by sexually open and available women for the first time after thirteen years of marriage wherein he and his wife seemed increasingly unable to communicate or even understand each other. But when his wife disappears and Toby has to juggle his job and children, he begins to realize that his conception of his life may not have been the most accurate. Most of this book is told through the perspective of Toby's childhood friend Libby, and the asides about Libby herself and their other mutual friend Seth add contrast to what would be a funny and also interestingly contemplative portrait of modern divorce on its own. I'm making this book sound dry, but it is truly funny. Brodesser-Akner is one of our greatest living magazine long-form writers and her novel length debut is full of the sharp wit and clear insight of her profiles.

Normal People by Sally Rooney
Connell and Marianne go to school together, but that’s it. Yes, Connell’s mother cleans Marianne’s house, but he’s handsome and well-liked and good at soccer (football in this Irish book), and she’s the school’s untouchable loser outcast. But when they start hanging out at her house little by little they eventually develop a sexual relationship that turns into a deep intimate friendship when they go off to the same college. As they go through life, they grow and change and stay the same and have difficulty expressing how they feel and connecting. I loved it. I didn't expect to - I read a bunch of articles calling Rooney THE MILLENNIAL NOVELIST and it mainly made me want to roll my eyes. But I was into it. Connell and Marianne felt like real people. I cared about them and I understood them. Of course it's infuriating when people can't just say what they feel - but I can't say how I feel. Most of my life I've barely known what I felt, except for too much! This book was compelling and honest and real without being exhausting or a depressing mirror.

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
Lillian and Madison were roommates and best friends at board school, where Lillian was the townie just lucky to be there on scholarship and Madison was the beautiful scion of wealth. Since Lillian had to leave school, they haven't been in close contact, but suddenly Madison approaches Lillian with a proposition: she needs a caretaker for her twin stepchildren, whose mother just died. The catch is that the twins, when agitated, spontaneously combust. With nothing to lose, Lillian journeys to stay with the kids for the summer, and begins to live her own life. This book takes an oddball premise seriously but with humor and is filled with memorable characters.

Oval by Elvia Wilk
Anja and Louis just moved into an experimental ecofriendly house on a hill in a near-future Berlin, which seemed like another normal project pumped out by the corporate consultants who seem to be everywhere, but the house is slowly falling apart. Falling apart, just like their relationship seems to be following the death of Louis’ mother. Louis seems unaffected but Anja knows something is different; Louis seems to be pouring his emotions into his work, becoming more and more engrossed in a secret project. Once Anja discovers Louis’ project – a pill designed to activate the brain’s pleasure centers when the user is generous – their different attitudes parallel their disparate feelings about artificiality of work, art, and society.