Wednesday, March 19, 2008

March Madness . . .for Books?

THE NCAA COLLEGE BASKETBALL tournament is my favorite sporting event of the year, and to me, the most democratic, the most American of the high-profile sports pageants. Imagine my joy when I discovered two of my great loves now love each other!

That's right; the good folks at The Morning News have finally brought brackets to books:

It's a great idea, and I'm very sad The Weekly Rader didn't think of it first, though we may launch something similar in the near future.

The brackets get everything right from the drama of head-to-head competition to the seedings. Just as in the actual tournament, there is potential controversy surrounding this year's seedings, but of the books that qualified for tournament play, there is no doubt that Dennis Johnson's Tree of Smoke is the book to beat. However, fans will be pulling hard for Junot Diaz's widely reviewed and soundly loved first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

This year, the actual NCAA selection process came under fire when a few teams (Arizona State, Ohio State and others) with solid records and good wins were not invited to the Big Dance. Well, the Tournament of Books (which we may dub "The Big Read," but we're not sold on that moniker) has that feature in spades. For instance, where is The Post-Birthday World? A Thousand Splendid Suns? Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union?

For me, the biggest omission was Richard Russo's Bridge of Sighs, which may have been the best novel of 2007; so I was looking forward to pulling for it against weaker rivals and overblown blockbusters. We wonder about the Tournament of Books' selection committee, but we praise the committee for giving us even more to second-guess. It's what keeps us and Dick Vitale in business.

The first round is barely over, and already there is a big upset. The Savage Detectives (which was seeded too low) lost to the underdog Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, in what appears to have been a hard-fought scrap of a contest. However, the most shocking upset came when the upstart, Remainder, that even the most loyal fans had written off as a flash-in-the pan, toppled the UCLA of the book world, Ian McEwan and his foamy On Chesil Beach. The reverberations are still being felt throughout the book world. When asked for a comment outside a Border's, the sweaty, jubilant Remainder quipped, "We fought hard. We stuck to our plan. We just wanted to come out here and be a good read. All the credit in the world goes to Chesil. It's a great book. But, this is the best feeling in the world. I'm so glad Jesus loves us more."

The best part of any bracket discussion is the predictions. Enough said.

The Weekly Rader will go out on a limb and pick its Final Four:

Tree of Smoke vs. You Don't Love Me Yet (winner, Tree of Smoke)
Oscar Wao vs. The Shadow Catcher (winner, Oscar Wao)

Though Wao brings the wow factor, in the end, I think Tree of Smoke's 2,500 pages edges out Wao in the stamina and girth departments. In the final, look for Tree of Smoke to emerge as the victor in the 2008 Tournament of Books, an accolade that should get it one of those special gold stickers for the book cover. I'll talk to the folks at TMN to see if that's in the works.

If your office pool has a special category for dark horse candidates, put your money on either Remainder or Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, both of which could make a push for the Final Four.

Until then, a special thanks to TMN and to Chris Haven at Grand Valley State University for the tip-off (that's a little basketball humor).


  1. Totally cute concept—your blog comparing the TOB to the NCAA, I mean. I followed the TOB last year, as well. Love your bracketology. Good picks. We should start a pool next year, get some money flying.

    BTW: as a UNC grad, my sympathies in the NCAA are obvious. And this year, my head can vote with my heart. As for the TOB, Remainder is my George Mason—a mid-major making a serious run at the whole shooting match. My heart is with it, but my head (i.e., my money) is riding on Tree of Smoke to oust Oscar Wao in the finals.

    I'm glad to have discovered your blog; as a blogspot neighbor, feel free to drop by Wisdom of the West for some iced tea and cookies anytime.

    Jim H.

  2. I like to talk about stool.

  3. Given that McFecal likes to talk about Stool, he clearly found the right site . . .

    I have UCLA cutting down the nets this year, but I expect Pitt to make a big run.

  4. Jim H.,
    Thanks for your note. I, too, think Remainder could make a run. Will check out your site pronto!

  5. Congratulations!!! You have been nominated for a 2007 Best Of Blog Award!! Especially designed to bring attention to lower profile bloggers, The BoB’s as we like to call them are currently taking nominations in over 20 different categories. To find out more about how your site has a chance to become one of this year’s Best Of’s and how to nominate other bloggers, visit us at Remember voting begins April 14th so make sure you pass the word to your friends, family, and faithful followers.

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    The Best Of Blog Awards

  6. Several folks have emailed me with . . . reservations about the Tournament of Books, most of whom don't really cotton to the whole book competition thing.

    Becky at A Book A Week (
    offers a dissenting opinion on the ToB. She and I have been chatting about the tournament, and in fact, we engage in a sort of blog-a-change on her site.