WIBR Tournament – The Final Four

This, my friends, is what it all comes down to. Four books, each having made it through three tough match-ups, each representing its respective bracket.

We’ve got a quad-logy, a graphic novel, an Oprah Book Club selection and a modern look at humor. We’ve got numerous awards, including a Pulitzer Prize winner and a Nobel Price recipient.

We’ve got subjects ranging from wild and rangy office life to three generations of fuck-ups (actually, that one happens twice.) We’ve got exposes on the nation in the guise of Everyman and we’ve got a love letter to a former home.

Ware. Steinbeck. Updike. Ferris. Two are legends, two are modern stars.

Only two will move on.

Click here for the entire bracket.

The What I’ve Been Reading Tournament of Books

Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth – Chris Ware
East of Eden – John Steinbeck

Both Jimmy Corrigan and East of Eden deal with multiple generations. Each corresponding generation has a difficulty learning from the mistakes of its former. Flubs resonate throughout the family, creating a butterfly effect that slaps each family member in the face, one by one, slowly and methodically, like the wings of that butterfly against the wind.

Ware takes Jimmy Corrigan and makes him real. Jimmy is an emotional mess, a bundle of nerves wrapped up, with crucial sections exposed to the world. Life pokes at his ribs, forcing him to choke back restrained tears. He struggles to understand what has happened – how he’s managed to go so wrong, how he’s become so misunderstood.

It’s this struggle that hit me so hard. I’ve never genuinely felt so sorry for someone as much as I have for Jimmy Corrigan. He’s a character that still affects me today, leaves me searching for a way to console him, as if he was a neighbor boy mourning the loss of his mother.

Chris Ware doesn’t just take a novel approach to drawing – he takes a writer’s approach to writing, fleshing out the story through the details, relying not just on his images but on his story, the plausibility and emotion of the words used. The pared back style helps the reader focus on the story, not on beautiful drawing.

Of course, East of Eden is what it is – Steinbeck’s greatest novel, according to some. The Grapes of Wrath was Important. But East of Eden? It’s Good. Simply Good. There was no need to go any deeper, to bring out a political message or rely on historical accuracy – it was just a solid, beautiful story that spanned three generations of Trasks.

It’s still a surprise to me that Jimmy Corrigan made it this far. But you can’t blame me for making the obvious choice.


The Winner:
East of Eden – John Steinbeck

Rabbit Angstrom – John Updike
Then We Came to the End – Joshua Ferris

Then We Came to the End is a clever and hilariously funny book.

But let’s be frank, here. I’ve already moved Rabbit Angstrom through Gilead, through Travels with Charley and through The Road. I’ve had to go to long lengths as to why I chose the book three straight times. It didn’t get the simple path that East of Eden got – it had to fight its way through the Bracket from Hell.

Then We Came to the End? It beat Atonement, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Black Swan Green. Not a cakewalk by any means. But certainly not two Pulitzers and a Nobel.

When it comes down to this, Ferris is the tournament’s Davidson – a great book that few thought had a chance. And against a book like Rabbit Angstrom? Yeah – it doesn’t.

Thanks, Ferris. It’s been a great run.

Rabbit Angstrom

The Winner:
Rabbit Angstrom – John Updike

This was lovingly handwritten on May 1st, 2008