The What I’ve Been Reading Tournament of Books

Know what I love about writing this blog? Being completely self-serving.

I’m a man who thinks of random things, who mulls over things I’ve seen and tries to put them to work in my life.

Case in point is my newest obsession: what would happen if my books battled each other in a tournament format?

The concept isn’t original by any means. The Morning News and Powell’s have been putting on a tournament of books, affectionately called the Rooster, for several years. It’s this event – and the NCAA Tournament – that has me thinking in depth about books and brackets and how they can possibly join together in holy matrimony.

Since I am in charge, and since I can write what I want, I thought to myself, “Why not? Let’s bracket this shit!”

So, in honor of the third anniversary of the What I’ve Been Reading column (can you believe it? 36 columns of what I’ve been reading?) Black Marks on Wood Pulp will be taking the 32 best books I’ve read over the past three years and throwing them into the mix together. It’ll be a grand tournament to see what really is the best of the best of what I’ve been reading.

There are some formalities. The books I select have to have been mentioned or reviewed in What I’ve Been Reading columns. Additionally, there can be no re-reads – nothing that I had read for a second or third time for whatever reason, be it the South Dakota Big Read or a book club or just because I wanted to re-read it. Actually, this helped me trim the pack. There’s no To Kill a Mockingbird. No Maus. No Slaughterhouse Five. No Fahrenheit 451.

I wanted the tournament brackets to be completely random. Boiling the list down to 32 books was hard enough – I didn’t want to mess with seedings. The books were randomized and thrown into brackets. This led to some interesting matchups. There’s a battle of two books read during the first month of What I’ve Been Reading, a vicious sparring of children’s books, and best of all – John Steinbeck against himself. Amazingly, I could think of four books that had a great chance of winning it all – The Road, Rabbit Angstrom and Gilead. All three are in the same bracket – only one will make the final four.

As of now, I have no idea what will win. I’m taking each matchup at a time. I have my hunches, but you never know what happens when books are compared to each other.

Is this dumb? Hell yes. But bear with me. Sometimes, I like to fulfill these little tangents. Thanks. So go ahead. Make your final four predictions. Amuse me, please. I’ll talk about more serious stuff soon, I promise.

(Click here for continuously updated brackets.)

The What I’ve Been Reading Tournament of Books

Bracket One:

Everything is Illuminated – Jonathan Safran Foer
Moneyball – Michael Lewis

Housekeeping – Marilynn Robinson
The Namesake – Jhumpa Lahiri

Fortress of Solitude – Jonathan Lethem
Paper Trails – Pete Dexter

White Teeth – Zadie Smith
Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth – Chris Ware

Bracket Two:

Fun Home – Alison Bechdel
The Whistling Season – Ivan Doig

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling
The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint Exupéry

East of Eden – John Steinbeck
Other Electricities – Ander Monson

Feet on the Street: Ramblings Around New Orleans – Roy Blount Jr.
The Final Solution – Michael Chabon

Bracket Three:

Travels with Charley – John Steinbeck
The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

Gilead – Marilynn Robinson
Rabbit Angstrom – John Updike

You Shall Know Our Velocity! – Dave Eggers
Beowulf – Seamus Heaney

The Road – Cormac McCarthy
Special Topics in Calamity Physics – Marisha Pessl

Bracket Four:

The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer

Then We Came to the End – Joshua Ferris
Atonement – Ian McEwan

Mirror of Ink – Jorge Luis Borge
Black Swan Green – David Mitchell

Deliver Me from Nowhere – Tennessee Jones
Like Life – Lorrie Moore

This was lovingly handwritten on April 3rd, 2008