Tag : the-rooster


2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Fiction

The 2014 Pulitzers were announced today. And this year’s winner for fiction is . . .

The Goldfinch
The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

A contender in this year’s Tournament of Books! I half expected the winner of the Tournament, The Good Lord Bird, to win the Pulitzer this year because of its focus on the Civil War. But I am glad to have an extra push to read The Goldfinch. Soon.

Here are the two finalists:

The Son, by Philipp Meyer

The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, by Bob Shacochis

I read and loved The Son, another contender in this year’s Tournament of Books. I have not heard of The Woman Who Lost Her Soul.

What do you think about this award? Have you read the winner or the finalists? Do you plan to?

Categories: Book Events

The Rooster

#ToBX Roundup

It’s March! It’s March! And that means the Tournament of Books is here! You may or may not know just how much I love this tournament, but suffice it to say that I do. I really do.

Anyway, since the finalists were announced in January, I’ve managed to read seven of the seventeen contenders, to add to the two I read last year. I’ve already reviewed Eleanor and Park, How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, and Long Division, but I want to quickly review the other six before the first official tournament round goes live tomorrow.

ToBX Roundup

The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert

I know.  It’s written by the author of Eat, Pray, Love (a book I happened to love and yet is almost universally scorned).  But it’s not really fair to judge this lovely work of fiction on the author’s past works, whatever your feelings about them. Alma Whittaker is the only biological child of wealthy Henry Whittaker. She grows up with the world as her oyster – there’s money, there’s the large estate, and there’s the rotation of up-and-comers dining with the family each evening. Even with all of these advantages, Alma struggles to define herself and find happiness.

The Signature of All Things kind of took my breath away.  It is a large tome, for sure, weighing at 1.6 pounds for the hardback edition and clocking in at 512 pages. And it is weighty in subject matter too. But for all that weight, I managed to fly right through. Gilbert knows how to pace things. She knows how to tell a story.

The Son, by Philipp Meyer

I read and enjoyed Meyer’s first novel, American Rust, but I loved The Son. It tells the tale of a family from the years establishing a homestead on the frontier (complete with an Indian kidnapping) to the twenty-first century (with oil wells and vast wealth). It’s both a good yarn and a poignant look at the victims progress leaves in its wake. I did have some trouble keeping the characters and relationships straight and thus spent some quality time with the family chart at the beginning. But mostly, I was able to lose myself in this story. Lengthy as it was, I found I wanted more.

The Good Lord Bird, by James McBride (Audio)

It’s embarrassing to admit, but, before reading this book, and I little-to-no knowledge of John Brown or the incident at Harper’s Ferry. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The Good Lord Bird follows a fictional slave “freed” by John Brown after the death of his father. Henry “Henrietta” Shackleford, also known as “The Onion,” was in fact a boy but lived as a woman for most of the book. I listened to the audio of this, and I’m glad I did, because it is written in dialect, which some people noted they had a hard time acclimating to. The narrator, Michael Boatman, did a fantastic job, and I had no trouble with the dialect at all.

Perhaps this is due in part to listening to the book rather than reading it, but I felt the pacing was sometimes uneven and there were odd repetitions of phrases. I was occasionally annoyed with Onion’s failure to “be a man,” but I was fascinated with the portrait of John Brown. He was out fighting slavery at a time when that was a very dangerous proposition, but often his methods bordered on insanity and extreme violence. At least as he’s portrayed here, he’s a fascinating paradox. In all, I was very pleased by both the education and story of this book. The Good Lord Bird won the 2013 National Book Award for fiction, and I can certainly see why.

The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri

Another embarrassing admission: this is my first time reading Jhumpa Lahiri. And I was not disappointed. The language, story, and characters of this one all stuck with me. I can see the beaches in Rhode Island and the soldiers in Calcutta even though I’ve never been either place. The Lowland is the story of two brothers, Subhash and Udayan Mitra, who are very close as children, but drift apart in interests and location as they grow older. I loved the slow way the story built itself to a gratifying conclusion. This certainly won’t be the last time I read Lahiri’s work.

A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki

I really liked this book. It’s so unique. Ruth lives in British Columbia on a remote island. One day, on the beach, she finds a diary, along with some mementos and letters. The diary belongs to a teenage girl, Nao, living in Tokyo and contemplating suicide. The story alternates between Nao’s journal and Ruth and her efforts to discover more about the girl. I loved both stories equally, which is unusual for split narratives like this – often times I’m drawn to one over the other. Towards the end of the book, there are a few instances of what can probably best be called magical realism and references to quantum physics. Though I agree with some of the criticism out there, that it felt like the first half was almost a different book from the second half, I appreciated what the author was trying to do with the concepts of time and space. This is one I will definitely reread in the future.

The Dinner, by Herman Koch (Audio)

Here’s a telling fact: I listened to this eight hour audio book in two days. I was fascinated by this story, but I don’t think I’m going to tell you much about it. It is, in fact, about a dinner and is divided by the courses of the meal. But that’s all I knew about it going in, and I loved discovering the twists and turns of the plot. I enjoyed the look into Dutch culture, and the way the characters are slowly revealed. I did have some trouble following the timeline of events, as the narrative jumps back and forth in time a bit, but that might have been because I sometimes miss small things on audio. (P.S. I thought this narrator, Clive Mantel, was fantastic.) And then there is the small fact that pretty much every character is terrible and that the narrator, Paul Lohman, is not quite reliable. I do have minor quibbles with The Dinner, but overall, it was a lovely meal.

Categories: Fiction, Reviews

Long Division

Long Division, by Kiese Laymon

Oh boy. This was a strange one. It starts out with City, a young black teenager, inadvertently becoming a YouTube sensation. He is then shipped off to his grandma’s house out in rural Mississippi to deal with the fallout. That story is intermixed with a book City is reading, called Long Division. In the book, the main character is named City too, and he and his friends time travel from 1985 to 2013 to 1964.

I had a hard time getting through this pretty short book. I wasn’t sure what to do with the time travel elements or the meta elements. There were moments that packed a punch though. And it explored a lot of issues without hitting you over the head. This quote really struck home to me:

But the Bible was better than those other spinach-colored Classic books that spent most of their time flossing with long sentences about pastures and fake sunsets and white dudes named Spencer. I didn’t hate on spinach, fake sunsets, or white dudes named Spencer, but you could just tell that whoever wrote the sentences in those books never imagined they’d be read by Grandma, Uncle Relle, LaVander Peeler, my cousins, or anyone I’d ever met.

So, I’m glad I read it, because it is outside of the books I usually read and it made me think.

Other related posts:
Finalists for the 2014 Tournament of Books

Find Kiese Laymon on the interwebs: Website

Categories: Fiction, Reviews

How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, by Mohsin Hamid

So, I probably never would have heard about let alone picked up this book with the Tournament of Books. And that is exactly why I love the tournament so much, because this is a fantastic book.

It’s written in second person. The main characters are not named. It’s written as a kind of self-help manual. Each chapter starts out with an instruction, a step on the road to becoming filthy rich – “Don’t Fall in Love,” “Learn from a Master,” “Work for Yourself,” etc. And then the self-help portion shifts flawlessly to narrative. Admittedly, it sounds unemotional, but it isn’t. I was unduly invested in the boy and then the man’s journey from peasant village to poor boy in the city, from an enterprising young adult to a wealthy man. It’s also a love story, of sorts.

I could not put it down. It was a book that I thought about during the hours in which I had to put it down to go about the business of life. The writing is magnificent. Hamid often managed to deftly capture sentiments I had felt before but could not adequately describe. Here is my favorite:

Your mother is quiet throughout, as she tends to be in her interactions with medical professionals. They are unusual in their capacity to cause this behavior in her. Their power to kill in the future by uttering mysterious words today robs her of her confidence and she, a customarily confident woman, resents this. She longs to resist them but has no idea how to do so.

In sum, I’d highly recommend this one. And I’m definitely in its cheering section for the Tournament. Cheers.

Other related posts:
Finalists for the 2014 Tournament of Books

Find Mohsin Hamid on the interwebs: Website

Categories: Fiction, Reviews

The Rooster

Finalists for the 2014 Tournament of Books

Finally!! I’ve been waiting and waiting for this list of finalists to come out. Less than two months in which to read them all!

Wait. I should back up. Are you confused? Have you heard of the Tournament of Books (aka “The Rooster”) before? If not, here’s a brief rundown from The Morning News, home of the tournament:

In case you’re new to all this, the ToB is an annual springtime event here at The Morning News, where a group of the best works of fiction from last year enter a March Madness-style battle royale.

In March, these novels will be seeded and paired off in an NCAA Tournament-like bracket. For each pairing, one of our esteemed judges will read both novels and advance one, with a transparent explanation of how they made their decision. Along the way, our ToB Chairmen, authors Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner, will weigh in with commentary, and you, the readers, will add your own.

Eventually, only two books will remain, to be judged by our entire panel, and one will be crowned the Rooster of 2014.

I discovered the Rooster two years ago, and I love every second of it. Okay, enough of that. Without more ado, here are the finalists!

Finalists for the 2014 Tournament of Books
At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcón (own, read)
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (library, own, currently reading)
The Tuner of Silences by Mia Couto
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (own, read)
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid (library, read)
The Dinner by Herman Koch (library, read )
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (library, read)
Long Division by Kiese Laymon (library, own, read)
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride (library, read )
Hill William by Scott McClanahan (own, read)
The Son by Philipp Meyer (library, read)
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (library, read)
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (own, read)
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (own)
The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara
[Winner of the Pre-Tournament Playoff Round]

Pre-Tournament Playoff Round
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (own)
Woke Up Lonely by Fiona Maazel

I’ve only read two of these books: Eleanor & Park, and The Signature of All Things. I enjoyed both of those thoroughly and thus have high hopes for the rest of the list. I currently own two others: The Goldfinch and Life After Life. I can’t wait to get started tracking these down and reading them!

Do you follow the tournament? Have you read any of these books?

Categories: Book Events