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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  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.

2017 National Book Awards Longlist: Fiction

So my reaction to this morning’s fiction longlist was basically, “Huh.” Because I haven’t read a single book on this list and I’ve only heard of about half of them. I like to think I keep up with these things, but apparently not! Anyway, that is not a complaint. I’m interested to see how I feel once I’ve read them.

Without further ado, here’s the longlist:

I think this is a really intriguing list. Before this morning, only Manhattan Beach, The Leavers, and Sing, Unburied, Sing had been on my radar–I’d heard of a couple of the others but I wasn’t actively planning to read them.

I’m always excited to see short stories on lists like this, because I think they’re so often under appreciated. The list is geographically and culturally diverse, which is exciting to me. And 80% women! Overall, I’m looking forward to digging into this bunch of books.

2017 National Book Awards Longlist: Non-Fiction

Oh, how I love longlists. Seriously, I am geeky enough to admit that I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of the non-fiction and fiction NBA longlists for at least a week, despite the fact that my TBR list is already a mile long and I already despair of ever finishing it.

So here’s the list:

My reaction:

Geez Louise, publishers need to dial back on the length of subtitles. Half of these titles are practically novels in and of themselves.

Race and politics are very strong themes this year, which is not remotely surprising.

I’ve read two of the books so far: Never Caught and Killers of the Flower Moon. Killers of the Flower Moon is the superior book, but I wasn’t blown away by either of them. They struck me as pretty straight-forward histories, and although they told interesting stories I didn’t feel like they left me with a lot to ponder.

Very excited to get my hands on The Evangelicals, The Future Is History, and The Color of Law. Much less excited about Democracy in Chains–I have read that there are some historiographical issues with some of MacLean’s interpretations, which I’m going to have to dig into more. And as the mother of two teenage boys I am really dreading The Blood of Emmett Till.

Happy reading! And onto the fiction longlist tomorrow.