Contenders: The Story Prize and the Tournament of Books

One of the best things January has going for it, other than the fact of having gotten through the holidays intact, is the announcement of the finalists in two of my favorite book contests: The Story Prize and the Morning News Tournament of Books. Both of them manage to hit the interface between serious and fun—The Story Prize leaning a bit toward the former, with its $20,000 purse and accumulated respectability, and the Tournament of Books hanging resolutely onto its irreverent roots.

The finalists for The Story Prize, the annual award for short fiction, are:

The Angel Esmeralda by Don DeLillo
We Others by Steven Millhauser
Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman

If you’re a completist there’s plenty of time to read all three before the March 21 award event. The Pearlman’s been on my wishlist for a while now; Millhauser is always worth checking out—“Tales of Darkness and the Unknown, Vol. XIV: The White Glove,” from this collection, was one of my favorite pieces in Tin House’s 2010 Summer Reading issue—and while I’m not sure I would have picked up the DeLillo on my own, this month’s Open Letters Monthly review has me interested.

For anyone unfamiliar with the wonder that is the Tournament of Books, it’s a March Madness-style bracketed literary competition involving what they consider “16 of the most cherished, hyped, ignored, and/or enthusiastically praised books of the year” and a panel of highly biased judges from all over—this year they include writers, reviewers, musicians, actors, bloggers, editors, and an outlaw artist and poet. This year’s roster of titles doesn’t seem to be heavy on the “ignored” category—it’s a fairly straightforward list, with not much off the beaten track, and Kate Zambreno’s Green Girl is the only real dark horse in the bunch. But the fun is all in the judging, which is done out in the open and tends toward the entertaining end of things. There’s a downloadable bracket so you can follow along; the contenders are as follows:

The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Open City by Teju Cole
Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
Green Girl by Kate Zambreno

I’m secretly hoping to see Patrick deWitt go up against Helen DeWitt, just because. But really, it’s anyone’s game.

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