2018 Tournament of Books: The Longlist

The last few days have . . . not been my favorite news cycle of all time. The Al Franken news has put me in mind of an old Henry Kissinger quote: “Politicians are like dogs. Their life expectancy is too short for a commitment to be bearable.” Dammit! I got attached again!

But luckily it’s that most wonderful time of the year and even the most depressing political stories can’t keep me down in this most joyous of seasons. No, I don’t mean the annual Thanksgiving/Chanukah/Christmas circus; that just stresses me out. I mean that the Tournament of Books just announced its 2018 longlist, a reminder to us all that blue skies and good book conversations await us once we make it past the winter.

I am not going to link to all 72 books (which is actually about fifty books fewer than last year’s). It’s a happily diverse list: nearly evenly split between male and female writers, and my impression based on names and subject matter is that there is a lot of ethnic diversity as well. Also of note: three short story collections made the cut, and I am crossing my fingers that at least one of them ends up in the tournament. I’ve read sixteen of these novels already, and although there are some I’m not absolutely dying to revisit I think all of them will give us a lot to talk about. The other 56 all look interesting and I didn’t see anything (with the possible exception of the Laurent Binet novel billed as a “madcap secret history of the French intelligentsia”) that I absolutely did not want to read.

This year’s notable omissions are Paul Auster’s 4 3 2 1, Daniel Alarcón’s The King Is Always Above the People, and most shockingly of all, Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling. The Tallent novel strikes me as a real loss to the tournament; I am reading it now and I was already imagining the, ah, animated discussions it was going to provoke. Joyce Carol Oates’s A Book of American Martyrs isn’t here either, and although that doesn’t surprise me (Oates isn’t a very ToB-y writer, somehow, and it’s quite a long novel) I do think it would have a great book to discuss.

The themes this year appear to be apocalyptic political fiction (I can’t help but wonder if all of these writers got inspired and wrote a novel the week after the 2016 election results, or if they just saw the political winds blowing ahead of time?) and suspense. So many of these books, based on their descriptions, seem to feature dark, nervous forebodings and the sense that there is more going on than appears on the surface. Which, of course, is very much what it feels like to live in the United States in 2017. I blame Trump for this national feeling of unease, but then I also blame Trump for the leak in my dishwasher.

Now to the fun part: predictions! Let me preface this with the disclaimer that I am terrible at predictions and always get them wrong. Primarily because I choose with my heart rather than with my head. But here we go, unseeded and in no particular order:

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  1. Fever Dream, Samanta Schweblin. (This won the summer series so it is definitely in.)
  2. White Tears, Hari Kunzru.
  3. Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders. (This won the Booker this year.)
  4. Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward. (And this won the National Book Award.)
  5. Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan. (I am reading this now, and I am in love.)
  6. The Leavers, Lisa Ko. (One of the best books I’ve read this year.)
  7. Idaho, Emily Ruskovich.
  8. The Dark Dark, Samantha Hunt.
  9. Exit West, Mohsin Hamid.
  10. Dear Cyborgs, Eugene Lim.
  11. Autumn, Ali Smith. (Because I am counting on the Tournament of Books judges to right the wrong done by the Booker committee. No, I still haven’t read Lincoln in the Bardo, why do you ask?)
  12. All Our Wrong Todays, Elan Mastai.
  13. Universal Harvester, John Darnielle.
  14. So Much Blue, Percival Everett.
  15. Smile, Roddy Doyle.

Play-in round (Mysterious Disappearances):

The actual tournament entries will be revealed on January 3, and then the real fun begins in March. I can’t wait. Dear Tournament of Books, please promise me you will live forever. I am more attached to you than I was to Al Franken.

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