So! We’ve finally got to the end of the first round in Sunflower Bookshop’s mildly bizarrely ordered coverage of the Tournament of Books. Followed a bit later with the mildly surprising AND HUGELY DELICIOUS victory of The Sisters Brothers (The Best Brothers) over Swamplandia!. But first this round!
These books you guys! Some of the (second) best books in the Tournament, head to head with their FISTS. Book fists. I loved them both. I actually have a tattoo of Teju Cole making out with Chad Harbach. Watched serenely from on high by Patrick DeWitt (WHY HAS NO ONE BOUGHT THE LAST COPY OF THE SISTERS BROTHERS IN STORE? It’s only $19.99 for AT LEAST 100 times that value!).
Let’s start with The Art of Fielding, aka the hardest to sell book in the shop. “Why”, I hear you ask? Well let me give youa summary mon frere. The Art of Fielding follows young college baseball player… THERE. RIGHT THERE is why this book is hard to sell. I preface every recommendation with “you’re not going to like how it sounds at first but bear with me”. Australia just does not care. “BUT” I tell them, “it is about so much more! And it is! But let me continue first, you jerk. The Art of Fielding follows young college baseball player Henry Skrimshander, star of the Westish College team. Henry is preternaturally gifted, and his skill, guided and developed by fellow player and bffl Mike Schwarz, raises the team into a force to be reckoned with. Until one game, Henry makes a bad throw, his first, which goes off course and seriously injures his team/room-mate Owen. After that, Henry finds he is unable to throw, seriously jeopardising his team. This throws stoic-philosopher-loving Mike into a crisis of his own, having spent so much time on Henry to the detriment of his own life and law school ambitions. MEANWHILE! College President Guert Affenlight falls in love with Owen, and his daughter Pella comes to Westish, escaping an awful, controlling husband and trying to get her life back on track. And all of it is GREAT. Harbach made a storm when he was offered, like, a jillion dollars as an advance on this (his first!) book, and he totes deserves it! This was one of the most enjoyable books of this years tournament. It’s true that beyond its plot and excellent writing that there was nothing more to it, no deep philosophy or issues that will keep you a-thinkin’ after you’ve read the book, like there were in Open City, but you know what that’s ok when a book is this good. I was engrossed in each of the character’s arcs and kinda wanted them all to be my besties. Except Henry, really, as the judge mentioned BUT as someone wrote in the comments, this book is about MUCH more than Henry. Some have called Pella problematic. I would refer them to Madeline in The Marriage Plot. But also I don’t see that so much. Of anyone, she displays the most dramatic growth in the book, and she is the one who brings everyone together for the book’s incredible ending. Soo basically? The Art of Fielding was a super enjoyable, well written, lovely example of good ol’ fashioned literary fiction that everyone should enjoy and just BEAR WITH ME when I describe it to you OK?
And then there was Open City! Which was also really good! And here briefly to say that same thing, but better, is Vivienne, our newest comrade at the bookshop:
Vivienne: A young man wanders the streets of New york, sharing his thoughts, reflections, insights and snippets of his history. Through his beautiful, meditative prose we gradually learn that he is a psychiatrist, he is Nigerian and he is alone. His musings on art, history, music, love, politics are impressive, interesting and often challenging. It reads like a journal but is much more crafted and cohesive than that; it seems deceptively easy and fluid. He travels to Brussels, ostensibly to search for a lost grandmother but once there does not really try to find her. Instead he continues his wanderings and musings, connecting with strange and disparate characters along the way………the Moroccan phone salesman with an impressive knowledge of philosophy and politics,who is obsessed by the notion of difference, the doctor from Boston who only wants to talk about Jazz……….. I haven’t yet finished the book but I suspect the themes of racism, otherness, how we find our place will deepen as I continue to read. It’s not really like anything I have ever read before but I am intrigued and know that i will feel I want to read it again for the things I missed the first time around. There is so much to relish here.
Steven: Well, I’M going to stop talking about books. Thanks to Vivienne for enlightening us all, and for showing me up. THANKS. Open City is a beautiful, lyrical book with a fascinating protagonist, one who is an outsider everywhere he goes, who is deeply introspective yet deeply guarded about himself (see, e.g. the revelation near the end). And it’s currently out of stock! But hopefully it will show up at the shop in the next couple of weeks with the attractive price tag of $19.99. So Open City won, but I would have been happy either way.
And now we’ve finished our coverage of round one! Fay has filled you all in on the surprising results of the first two quarter finals (both of which bode well for The Marriage Plot [The Worst Plot] according to my long term/highly faulty strategisin’), so tomorrow I will revel in The Sisters Brothers. And depending on Fay’s next availability (the Venetian jerk) Eugenidestruction is coming soon.