WIBR Tournament – Round 1, Bracket 2

Upsets abound in the first round!

Oh, did you see what I did there? Rhyming abound as well!

Click here for the entire bracket.

The What I’ve Been Reading Tournament of Books
Bracket Two:

Fun Home – Alison Bechdel
The Whistling Season – Ivan Doig

Typically, I don’t find much to like in dusty prairie novels. For example, I was under-whelmed with My Antonia, reading it only because I was supposed to as part of the 2007 Sioux Falls Big Read. I’ll admit, it wasn’t horrible. But it certainly wasn’t something I’d read again – nothing I’d rush out to purchase and hand out to my friends with an insistence to read.

So you’d think Bechdel’s Fun Home – a graphic novel about a young girl and her father (both are gay, though one outing would lead to another) – would win out. It’s got big city aspirations. It’s all alternative lifestyle and literary references and life journeys and etc. Surely, The Whistling Season doesn’t stand a chance!

If this tournament had taken place the month after I had read Fun Home, you’d be right. I’d have brazenly chosen the book as one of the greatest and moved it along through the rounds, probably until it came to a close loss against Steinbeck or Lethem or the Rabbit chronicles.

But the tournament didn’t. And Fun Home won’t. Because, you see, The Whistling Season isn’t just any dusty prairie novel. It’s a great novel with great characters and some great twists. There’s a little coming of age, and there’s a little hidden identity brought to light, but most of all there’s a huge amount of folksy wordplay that could be at home anywhere – not just in a one-room schoolhouse, and definitely not just in some amber waves of grain.

More than anything, this match-up shows the importance of a memorable book. It shows how fly-by-night, clever pieces of literature might take my breath away for a short amount of time, but how the books that leave a mark long after the fact are the ones I’ll hold more dear.

I liked Fun Home. But I can’t remember it. It was good, but not memorable. The Whistling Season? Now that’s a book I can remember.

The Whistling Season

The Winner: The Whistling Season – Ivan Doig

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

When I devised the WIBR tournament, Kerrie asked me specifically about this matchup – an ill-fated pairing of the only two children’s books on my list. Which was I going to pick, she wanted to know. How would I make my decision?

It was easy to find things to like in both books’ favor. The Little Prince touches upon a strong set of values – acceptance, patience, treating people as if you wish to be treated. Most of all, it’s about friendship, and how friends can manifest themselves where you least expect it.

The illustrations represent the scratchings of youthful wonder, even though they were constructed by a World War II French pilot. The story is simple, yet strong and complex in its lessons. The Little Prince himself becomes an indelible figure in your mind – a real hero, someone that even a jaded late-20s reader can look up to. It’s a very solid little book.

Now I’ve made no secret in calling J.K. Rowling the most important author of our generation. So The Little Prince has a lot to beat. But Kerrie helped me through this matchup with a great point: I’m judging Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I’m not judging the entire Harry Potter series; just the final novel in that series – probably the most important, but certainly not the best.

So while I loved reading through the entire series, I struggle with admitting that the seventh and final book alone is strong enough to battle another classic.

Then, one last thing hit me.

When Kerrie was pregnant, I read one book – and one book only – to Sierra in the womb. The Little Prince.

And when things are put in that perspective, the choice is pretty easy.

The Little Prince

The Winner: The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint Exupéry

East of Eden – John Steinbeck
Other Electricities – Ander Monson

Let’s be honest – and brief. Ander Monson’s Other Electricities was a fun book – a look at Twin Peaks if Twin Peaks had been written by a guy obsessed with frozen lakes and distant, tundra-laden high school life. I really enjoyed it.

But come on. East of Eden is, well, East of Eden.

East of Eden

The Winner: East of Eden – John Steinbeck

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

Oh. Good. The battle of “books that get to lose to East of Eden in the next round.”

Wait. That’s not fair. I’m sorry, Roy Blount and Michael Chabon. I owe you both more than that.

I mean, look at you, Roy. You’re sitting there writing about New Orleans – the very city where Kerrie and I enjoyed our honeymoon – and you’re one of my favorites on Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me. You’ve got a brilliant sense of humor. You introduced the word “lagniappe” into my daily lexicon. (Though, after writing that sentence, I can’t help but wonder who introduced the word “lexicon” into my lexicon.)

On the other hand, Michael, you gave me a fun little Sherlock Holmes-like mystery with a pretty cool little ending.

Is that all I can say?

I guess the hard thing about this match-up is knowing both that the winner is probably going along to be slaughtered by my favorite book from one of my favorite authors and that both books were short, easy reads near the beginning of the What I’ve Been Reading columns. In fact, I believe both were reviewed during my first month. (After a quick fact check, the answer is “Yes!”)

So all I can do is offer one up for the slaughter. Ladies and gentlemen, your first sacrificial lamb.

Feet on the Street

The Winner: Feet on the Street: Ramblings around New Orleans – Roy Blount Jr.

This was lovingly handwritten on April 18th, 2008