WIBR Tournament – Round 1, Bracket 4

Just one more sectional!

Click here for the entire bracket.

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

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

I took Umberto on as my first WIBR challenge. And a challenge it was – the Italian Stallion of Complicated Imagery nearly knocked me on my ass, what with his long, drawn out descriptions of mundane monastery life and theological discussions that sailed blissfully over my head. I wouldn’t say the book was difficult, but it was one of the harder books I’ve read in my 29 years.

Which I suppose means it was difficult.

Still, it was a gripping mystery, fueled by a monastery’s desire to protect one of the most precious collections of classic texts ever assembled. So it played to my literary side while still swashbuckling its way through my bookshelf.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close had a little bit of mystery itself, though it was served in much easier to digest tidbits. It has some precious moments, and it’s known more for being a post-9/11 book on post-9/11, but it’s still pretty clever and, for the most part, very very good.

Most of all, it wasn’t difficult. I didn’t feel a need to finish it because I had already started it. I just WANTED to finish it.

So, there you go. Winner, winner, chicken dinner.


The Winner:
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer

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

Never before has a book made me more green-eyed and red-faced jealous than Ferris’s Then We Came to the End. I mean, come on – the guy writes a book about life in a big city advertising agency, complete with mundane trivialities, account pitches and interoffice relationships – and makes it side-splittingly funny. He takes what’s usually seen as boring, soul-drenching environment and makes it memorable in a way no one else has before.

In other words, he wrote the book I wished I had written. From the view I wish I had. In the position I currently hold. He’s a copywriter who wrote a funny book that everyone loved. I’m blood-curdlingly jealous.

(I just made that word up. Blood-curdlingly.)

Atonement was one of the few period pieces I’ve actually liked, though it’s not as much a period piece as, say, the Austen canon. Yet, there are entire sections of the book that I barely remember. Whether this is because I read it too fast or because they were wholly unremarkable is hard to figure out.

The book gets extra marks for sending a mass of refugee soldiers down a long and burnt road toward the sea, foreshadowing Cormac McCarthy’s The Road in a grand and dramatic style, and for making me care about fountains and greenery and those other things best left in a Virginia Woolf novel.

Atonement is a better novel from a technical standpoint – beautifully written by one of today’s masters. So what if he lifted a line or two, right?

But Then We Came to the End is one of those rare books I want to go out and buy after reading it for free from the library. I think that counts for a lot more.

Then We Came to the End

The Winner: Then We Came to the End – Joshua Ferris

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

Jorge Luis Borge (whose name sounds like a nursery rhyme) is the master of magical realism, an expert at creating ideas that leave your mind reeling, thinking about what is real and what is our imagination. The stories in this book – the only entry from the Pocket Penguins 70th Anniversary Box Set – are the best of what I’ve come across, spanning the entire genre with tales of crucial lotteries and kingdoms of the blind and the like.

Unfortunately, it’s very short – 56 pages. It feels like a Borge primer, an opening stanza that was never quite finished. For this reason, I’ve never really held it in high esteem. Mirror of Ink is like an hors d’oeuvre; I need an entire collection of his stories, a full-out anthology, something with weight that I can read and enjoy until I am full.

Black Swan Green carried with it a sense of weight, though that weight was mainly made up of horrible memories and trying times throughout middle school, classically thought of as one of the most harrowing times in a young, unpopular boy’s life. That’s me, friends, and I took Mitchell’s account of fighting your way into the cool crowd as a guide to what should have been.

Borge is fantastic. So is Black Swan Green. When it comes down to it, Borge may be the more important author, with the better stories and better skill. But Black Swan Green was inspirational, if only in a bittersweet way, and it has the added benefit of being a little meatier.

Black Swan Green

The Winner:
Black Swan Green – David Mitchell

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

The last two books were, in some odd way, collections of short stories. Mirror of Ink was more of an excerpt – a small collection that spanned an entire career – while Black Swan Green was a series of short stories arranged in a chronological order, much like Melissa Bank’s The Wonder Spot.

Considering both Deliver Me from Nowhere and Like Life are both short story collections, we’ve managed to group nearly all of the great short fiction I’ve read over the past three years into one side of a bracket. No matter what, a short story collection will fight to represent Bracket 4 in the Final Four.

Should I actually talk about the books now?

There’s really no need. Like Life was a top 10 selection for the end of 2006. And Deliver Me From Nowhere wasn’t. The feeling still stands today.

Because while I love the idea of crafting a set of short stories based on the feeling and emotion of an album (in this case, Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska) I just liked Lorrie Moore better.

No real reason. It’s hard to explain. Maybe I’m just a sucker for stories set in New York City. Maybe I like a slice of city life more than I like a slice of trailer park trash.

Or maybe I just liked it better. Let’s go with that.

The Winner:
Like Life – Lorrie Moore

This was lovingly handwritten on April 22nd, 2008