by Dan Moore, Colorado Review Editorial Assistant
The Tournament of Books reached the end of its first round this weekend. That means it’s too late to get your bracket into the money at your office pool, but there’s still time to follow along with literature’s premier (mostly) single-elimination tournament of champions.
If you haven’t been following along on your own bracket, you’ve already missed some major upsets. One-seeded Super Sad True Love Story fell to Eric Puchner’s Model Home when it ran into a judge who’d had his share of “UnitedContinentalDelamerican…wacky five-minutes-into-the-future dystopias.” Skippy Dies, drawing a tough third-seed matchup with A Visit from the Goon Squad, also left in the first round. But 800-page gorilla Freedom has moved on, and remains the betting man of letters’ odds-on favorite.
As a huge fan of tournaments and lists and a March Madness agnostic, the TOB has become a yearly ritual for me by now—it began in 2005—but I can still understand the strange looks I get from literary-minded friends when I talk about it. A tournament that tried unselfconsciously to crown the year’s greatest novel would only be unintentionally funny, and a leering satire of March Madness would be just as unpleasant. But follow the TOB for more than a week and you’ll see that the people at The Morning News just happen to love literature and brackets; it’s an excuse to talk in an elevated way about some novels you might not otherwise consider, but it’s also clear that longtime postgame commentators Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner earnestly enjoy the format they’ve worked up.
As literary fiction recedes from the public consciousness, it’s become increasingly difficult to have a public conversation about books without feeling like a wine-tasting parody of oneself. The Tournament’s goofy, celebratory atmosphere and collegially adversarial set-up make it a perfectly unstuffy excuse to talk about literature, fill out brackets, and, if you share my particular tastes, consume large quantities of NCAA-branded chips and salsa.