Tournament of books 2017: late to the party
First, preliminaries. I want to say that I love The Morning News for providing interactive brackets this year. It makes writing these posts so much easier. Secondly, as the post header suggests, I’m late to this party. I did not predict (or honestly even think about that much) who would win the play-in match or the first two match-ups.
What I will say is that I’m not surprised that Underground Railroad took the first round. I’m also so happy that The Vegetarian lost in its bracket that I literally cheered when I saw the result. Aside: I cannot believe it won the Man Booker, I disliked it so much I couldn’t even bring myself to review it. Anyway.
Currently, I’ve read about ten books in the Tournament. I hope to finish a few more before their match-ups. I also hope to bang out some more mini-reviews of the ones that I’ve read, hopefully to go live tomorrow or Sunday. Work is hectic so, we’ll see.
Based on what I’ve read, (and buzz that I’ve heard) I think that this year’s Tournament is likely to come down to four books. The Nix (read), Grief is the Thing With Feathers (review), The Mothers (review), and Underground Railroad (based on buzz). I advanced All the Birds in the Sky instead of Underground Railroad, simply because I’ve read the latter.
As the Tournament wears on, I hopefully will post to update my brackets and make new predictions.
I love this time of year, Reader. Don’t you? It’s so much more fun than March Madness, can we all agree on that?
weekend gourmet: piedmont (or misadventures in beets)
PIEDMONT: DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA
Experience Date: Saturday, February 25, 2017
Price: $60 per person, with wine pairings, four courses
Mr. SFR is up in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina for a period of time due to his job, so I flew out this past weekend to go see him. He made reservations at Herons, which I hope to write a future post on because it was fabulous and magical, and Piedmont which… was not. I don’t think I’ve ever written a truly negative restaurant review here – but if nothing else, Piedmont has inspired me to do that.
Before we get to the food, I’ll start with saying the atmosphere wasn’t great – right off the bat. We were seated upstairs and it seems as if the kitchen doesn’t have enough ventilation because looking across the restaurant there seemed to be a low level of haze.
Next let’s talk service. We ordered cocktails almost as soon as we sat down along with a snack of buffalo brussel sprouts. (I’ll get to the flavor in a moment.) The brussel sprouts came – no cocktails. To be fair the waiter did apologize for the delay. We went ahead and put in our order for the tasting menu – no cocktails. We finish the brussel sprouts and finally – cocktails! Literally two minutes later we get the first course of our tasting menu, which we’re not at all prepared to start because… you guessed it, we hadn’t finished our cocktails. Granted, $60 for four courses, plus wine pairings isn’t super expensive – but it’s expensive enough that I expect the kitchen and bar to be able to properly time out cocktails, food, and wine.
Okay. Let’s talk food. Apparently the prix fixe menu changes monthly. February was beets. Again, to be fair, I’m not overly fond of beets, but Mr. SFR threw down the gauntlet and I accepted the challenge. I’ve had many dishes that featured beets, which in the hands of master chefs, were absolutely delicious. But let’s start at the beginning.
faulkner-esque friday: lincoln in the bardo
Oh my goodness, you guys. Saunders has completely blown me away with Lincoln in the Bardo. I described it repeatedly to an illiterate co-worker (love you B!) as The Sound and the Fury with ghosts. Saunders creates a beautifully atmospheric novel without sacrificing character development – though – it doesn’t happen the way you’d expect.
This novel is incredibly, well, novel. Saunders creates a world where we are able to see the main players reflected through the eyes of the dead who are obsessed with petty (and not so petty) wrongs that happened to them in life. Thus, they are stuck in ‘the bardo’. When Willie Lincoln dies, we get to see the confusion of a dead child along with the reflections of his father’s grief. What’s so interesting about the form of Lincoln in the Bardo, is that it’s written more like a Greek chorus, with other ‘characters’ explaining the action – rather than us seeing the action.
There are intermittent background chapters that appear to be excerpts from memoirs or history books about what is happening in the world outside the graveyard. Explaining the pressure of the Civil War on President Lincoln, the party that happened prior to Willie’s death, and other general historical snippets to give the rest of the novel context.
The concept of the bardo is fascinating enough it ran me down a brief wormhole of Tibetan death rituals and the such. I may have some future reading about that.
Overall, this is an excellent novel by an author who I believe will be considered one of the great authors of our lifetimes. It has a fresh form, an interesting story, atmosphere, and just generally fantastic writing. This is a book that literary fiction lovers absolutely must check out.
Does this sound too weird for you, Reader? Too hard? It’s definitely not a beach read, but it’s hard reading that I think is totally worth it.
m-mini reviews: tournament of books 2017
A weak correlation of books, I realize it, connecting the ‘M’ titles together in the Tournament of Books selections, but time is growing short. Today, I’m going to take a look at Moonglow, The Mothers, and Mister Monkey.
MOONGLOW BY: MICHAEL CHABON
Brief Synopsis: The author’s grandfather makes a deathbed confession about war, love, childrearing, and mental illness.
Brief Review: When a novel starts with the aside: “In preparing this memoir I have stuck to facts except when facts refuse to conform with memory, narrative purpose, or the truth as I understand it.” I know that I’m probably going to have a good time. (This was of course before KellyAnne Conway’s ‘alternative facts’ nonsense, but I digress.) I did find Moonglow to be pretty fun. It jumps around in time quite a bit and has inspired me to want to learn more about Werner von Braun and the Nazi development of rocket.
Brief Rating: Probably a solid three stars. Maybe more if you like Nazis and space.
THE MOTHERS BY: BRIT BENNETT
Brief Synopsis: An African-American girl growing up in California survives her mother committing suicide only to get pregnant too young. When she makes the choice to have an abortion, lives change.
Brief Review: Look. The writing in this book is gorgeous. The characters are well developed and believable. The story is interesting and compelling. My issue with this book is the fact that it feels a little preachy. Nadia’s pregnancy and subsequent abortion completely defines who she is through the entire novel. I’ve not had an abortion, but the literature of women who have cite that more often than not, this is not the case (see Katha Pollitt’s masterpiece Pro). Let me be fair by saying that I’m sure that it can be the case sometimes.
Brief Rating: Definitely at least four stars, if it hadn’t been so preachy on the abortion thing, it would have easily been five for me.
MISTER MONKEY BY: FRANCINE PROSE
Brief Synopsis: A novel that details pieces of characters lives involved with an off-off-off Broadway production of a children’s musical: Mister Monkey.
Brief Review: While I didn’t find the comedy to be “effervescent” nor the prose to be “breathtaking”, but this novel is unique, if nothing else. I loved how Prose has a chapter told from the point of view of each character, randomly, spiraling farther and farther from the theatre troupe the reader would expect to be hearing from. This book is fun, a little wacky, and weirdly it has its deep and important moments.
Brief Rating: 3.5 stars or so, definitely worth a try, but probably won’t change your life.
The Tournament grows nigh, dear Reader! Are you planning on playing along? How many have you read thus far?