Suspend Your Disbelief

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March Madness for Books


So it’s March, which means that if you work in an office, all you probably hear are things like “Northern Iowa upset KU?!” and “Can you believe Cornell is still in this thing?” and “OMG all this is really f*ing up my bracket.” If, like me, you could not care less about college basketball but secretly wish that you, too, could have the thrill of completing a tidy little chart and enjoying some head-to-head competition, The Morning News has a solution: the Tournament of Books.

Yes, the very concept of a matchup between books is a little silly—especially when the books are as different as, say, Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize–winner Wolf Hall and the graphic novel Logicomix. But The Morning News smartens things up: “winners” are decided by a panel of judges, including Alexander Chee, C. Max Magee of The Millions, and memoirist Julie Powell, and in each round, the judges provide thoughtful commentary and criticism about each book’s strengths and why they chose the winner.

And, as points out, the contest serves another, more hidden purpose:

Because the competition itself is essentially meaningless, ToB is a Trojan horse. Under the guise of a sports conceit, it encourages people to read outside their comfort zones and reflect on the often knee-jerk judgments they make about books they’ve never even cracked open. In what other circumstances (besides having a job as a book reviewer) might someone wind up reading both John Wray’s “Lowboy,” a novel about a schizophrenic 16-year-old, aptly likened by judge Andrew Womack to a “cool indie flick,” and Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling book club favorite, “The Help”?

Visit the tournament’s site to see the bracket so far, browse this year’s books, and watch who’ll be crowned champion: Let the Great World Spin? The Lacuna? Wolf Hall? Or a surprise upset? We here at FWR don’t take bets, but you can make your predictions in the comments section for bragging rights later on.

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