I probably should have mentioned this sooner, but my favorite literary event is going on right now: The Morning News Tournament of Books. It’s a tournament-style “competition” where pairs of books from the previous year are stacked against each other, and a literary judge decides between them. It’s always entertaining reading, both in what the judges have to say about each of the books they review and ultimately decide between, and in the commentary at the bottom. Last year’s winner was Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, a book I read last year and highly recommend.
My favorite in this year’s competition is Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies. Alas, it met it’s match yesterday: Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad. I’m hoping Skippy shows up again in the “Zombie Round,” where losers that may have been unfairly judged get another opportunity to get back into the contest.
Reading what the judge had to say, and the comments, it’s clear that Egan’s book certainly deserved to win as much as Murray’s. Here’s one such comment from John Warner (Anthony Doerr was the judge):
Her books are just very alive down to the sentence level, inventive and surprising, even when you’re braced against them as with the PowerPoint story, which I also approach with a sneer, but was won over by, kind of like my attitude towards Katy Perry, and Jennifer Egan managed to do it without shooting fireworks out of her breasts. (As far as I know.)
But Warner has this to say about Skippy Dies:
Skippy Dies is one of those multi-character, many-threaded novels that manages to hold everything together all the way through to the end. For me, it was the best book of the year, superior to Freedom … The dialogue among the students is the funniest and sharpest I’ve read in years. My investment with the characters is deep and lasting. The title is no spoiler, since the titular character is killed off in the first paragraph. (It’s like Gallagher smashing the watermelons first.) As we go back in time and get to know Skippy and his friends, the heart breaks a little as his inevitable death approaches. Reading it, I got the feeling that Paul Murray put everything he had in the book. No withholding whatsoever.
As it turns out, my favorite book of last year, The Instructions wasn’t in the contest. So I’m still rooting for Skippy Dies.