Thursday, March 21, 2019

UPDATE: Tournament of Books

It's March Madness again! In my house, that actually means basketball starting today for probably 12 hours straight. But, it also means The Tournament of Books is happening again. I found the list of eligible books early in the year and so many of them were easily available to me, especially on audiobook. The list of books gives me a vetted list of recently released books that I can hope will be readable and interesting. I managed to find and read 8, and I have 2 more that are in the queue for soon. The more books that get read, the more interesting it is to follow along with the decisions at The Rooster.

Day 1: Warlight vs Call Me Zebra

I listened to Warlight by Michael Ondaatje but it was the kind of book where my listening skills do me no favours. It was just a little too quiet for me, and yet, I did like it, and I think it is one of the few books I'd like to go back and read the paper version. A young boy and his sister are left with some unknown men in London as their parents head to the far east after the war. The boy is narrating, and as he grows up, he looks into the disappearance of his mother. Ondaatje is a wonderful writer and I did not give this book the right format so it did not surprise nor disappoint me to see it move on. 
winner: Warlight

Day 2: Milkman v The Italian Teacher
The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman had a great story and I was totally into it. Artist Bear Bavinsky rolls from one relationship and family to another, and everyone placates him because he is an artistic genius. Blah, he was terrible, but because his art and painting were so wonderful, everyone forgave everything. The book follows one of his children, Pinch, as he grows and deals with the legacy of his father. He manages to stay close with his dad, but is taken advantage of /ignored continually. This was written as an epic novel, following Pinch through out his life. It felt like a better story than The Goldfinch (which annoyed me a lot) in that the same characters keep coming back in year after year, there is some statement about art that is above my head, and characters that are almost good, but never get quite redeemed.

I wasn't going to read Milkman, but then it was on the Women's Prize for Fiction longlist and I am now reading Milkman. While it is slow going on my e-reader, I like it. It does not surprise me the outcome of this day, but The Italian Teacher was still a good listen.

winner: Milkman

Day 3: Washington Black v The Dictionary of Animal Languages
I have not read either of these books, and nothing in the analysis is making me want to read them.
winner: The Dictionary of Animal Languages

Day 4: Census v The Golden State
Sometimes you read a short story collection and while the stories are good, they don't stick with you, and they are not connected in any way. That's how I felt at times in Census, paragraph to paragraph. After a terminal diagnosis, a surgeon and his grown son take a road trip with the dad taking a job as a census taker. But, it is some future time and some unrecognizable place, and the census involves stopping at houses, talking to people and tattooing the participants. The son has Down's syndrome. The unnamed father is narrating and reflecting on his life with his wife and their son. Jesse Ball wrote this book as a tribute to his own brother who had Down's. There was an easy to read quality to the book even though I felt confused at all times. The overall feeling of the family and their experience with the son came though, but I like a little more to hold on to in my books.
I was not disappointed that Census did not move on.

winner: The Golden State

Day 5: The Overstory v My Sister, the Serial Killer
How awesome is that cover for My Sister the Serial Killer? This was a disturbing story but I did like it. Lots of good moral dilemmas to think about. There was a bit of black humour, or the Coen's could make the movie.

winner: The Overstory

Day 6: The House of Broken Angels v So Lucky

In So Lucky, the main character breaks up with with her wife, and gets diagnosed with MS. I liked the anger that came through as she dealt with her new reality. Stuff happened quickly, and she handles her symptoms. There was a bit unreal part as online acquaintances deal with seemingly random attacks but maybe they aren't. Might represent the out of control feeling of life changes, and then as she starts to deal with her illness and her love life and her job better, that plot line resolves itself a bit.

I read Urrea's nonfiction book, The Devil's Highway, last year, about immigrants trying to illegally enter the US. It was a Pulitzer winning book from 2005. The House of Broken Angels follows a family of Mexican immigrants, some legal, some not so much. The patriarch is dying, and plans a big birthday party. In many ways, not much happens plot wise - this was more character studies. I enjoyed it overall, but some parts were a bit difficult to follow, as the names of the characters and their nicknames had me someone confused, and there was a lot of Spanish, which I don't understand. You wouldn't read this one for a linear, explicit story, but if you enjoy reading about families and all their warts, this one would work. 

I wasn't surprised to see the result of this one.
winner: The House of Broken Angels

Day 7: The Mars Room v The Parking Lot Attendant
The audiobook of The Mars Room really grabbed me in, and once I realized there were several main characters besides Romy Hall, I was interested in how they would all connect up together. Romy is in women's prison with no chance for parole, two life sentences. Poor people and minorities get no breaks in the justice system. The poor women in the max security jail have such sad stories. Romy, especially once she starts remembering her childhood, is tragic. 

The Parking Lot Attendant kept information from the reader, right from the start. The daughter and her father, are on B___. Maybe an island? I'm not sure. The Ethiopian community of immigrants in Boston are well connected. The daughter begins hanging out at a parking lot, with an older gentleman who runs the lot. There is something weird going on, as she begins to deliver packages for him. Her father isn't happy that she is hanging out there. The relationship between the father and daughter was my favourite part of the book. Because I spent much of the book not completely sure what was going on, it was not my favourite.

winner: The Mars Room

Day 8: There There v America is Not the Heart
I haven't read either of these yet, but I have There There downloaded on Overdrive to listen to. America is Not the Heart won in the Play-In Round over Speak No Evil,  which is the book on the list I actually liked the most of all the books. Go figure.

Speak No Evil has a Washington DC setting for two privileged teens, one white daughter of political players, one African son of rich Nigerian immigrants. But privilege only take you so far. Meredith and Niru attend a posh private school, running track together and best friends. The first 2/3 is told from Niru's point of view; then we abruptly switch to Meredith's. I found this very effective, and while I liked the first part, the second part was when the depth of the characterizations and story played out. The perspective change also changed how the parents of each appeared. Really well done sad story.

winner: There There

Now the second round has begun. However, there is a zombie round, where 2 eliminated books will come back in the semi-finals. The zombie books are voted on long before the competition starts, probably closer to when the books were initially announced. As of today, My Sister, the Serial Killer and Washington Black could still come back.