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Again, the cock crows

January 26, 2009 | 10:25 pm

Morningnews2009

Sometimes it feels like the publishing world is awash in prizes. The last few days have brought us the National Book Critics Circle finalists, the American Library Assn. Awards, the Best Translated Book of the Year finalists and probably more that I can't keep up with. But one that I do keep up with is the Tournament of Books from The Morning News.

Designed like the NCAA basketball tournament, the novels in the Tournament of Books face off in brackets during the month of March. Sober debate and careful consideration begin to give way to the silliness of the project -- what sense does it make, really, for the slender and bookish "Firmin" by Sam Savage to face off against Emily Barton's walloping historical fiction "Brookland"? The judges explain their decisions in each match online, which are then subject to amused commentary by the site's editors. The winner gets awarded a rooster -- in name, anyway; so far no author has been forced to accept a live rooster for the honor, although the editors threaten to present one.

The Tournament of Books is not a fair arbiter. Sasha Frere-Jones "only got through 300 pages" of "Against the Day" by Thomas Pynchon before deciding it was a loser, which made me, a fan, a bit bonkers. But it's that kind of competition: Judges can say, no, no sirree, no can do. In fact, Sam Lipsyte, the judge in the prior round, hadn't finished the 1,001-page novel either -- but he'd decided it was a winner.

The list of contenders in the 2009 Tournament of Books follows.

All books in the competition are 30% off at Powell's, if you want to get in on the action. Click the links below for our reviews.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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