TOB Longlist and Award Announcements

by Sunita

It has been a busy week. Oh, wait, I was supposed to be talking about awards and longlists. On Monday the Tournament of Books published its 76-book longlist, from which 16 books (plus two additional for play-in rounds) will be chosen for the tournament. The longlist is an amalgam of TOB regulars’ suggestions and books put forth by the TOB powers-that-be. 

I’ve been following the TOB for about 5 years, I think? I’ve known of it for at least a decade (this is its 15th year) but didn’t pay much attention unless I was reading a specific judge’s decision or looking for the winner. Then I started following the tournament closely over the two weeks it takes place, then I discovered the longlist, etc. etc. For the last couple of years I’ve picked up books from the longlist and read them over the course of the year, and I’ve found some real gems. I have fared less well with the actual tournament. I enjoy rubbernecking in the comments section, but the literary sensibilities of most of the judges and the regulars don’t overlap that much with mine. The choices try to reflect a broad range of Anglophone and a few translated novels and short stories, but they tend to be NYC/MFA in their approach. In other words, they’re definitely the books that are talked about in New York publishing, but not necessarily books that are finding audiences in the UK or Europe. And the Canadian selections rarely range beyond the obvious. 

This sounds grumpy, and I don’t want that to be the dominant tone. I’ve loved the sense of discovery I get from perusing the longlist, and while I am not much of a horse-race literature award/contest reader, I like reading the judges’ verdicts and readers’ reactions to them. I find new books and authors, which is the most important and fun thing. 

This year, thanks to reading so many awards-nominated books, I’ve managed to read 16 books on the longlist (definitely the most ever by a lot):

  • From A Low and Quiet Sea, Donal Ryan
  • Sabrina, Nick Drnaso
  • Small Country, Gaël Faye
  • Heads of the Colored People, Nafissa Thompson-Spires
  • Kudos, Rachel Cusk
  • French Exit, Patrick deWitt
  • A Lucky Man, Jamel Brinkley
  • The Perfect Nanny, Leila Slimani
  • The Shepherd’s Hut, Tim Winton
  • Warlight, Michael Ondaatje
  • An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
  • Winter, Ali Smith
  • The Mars Room, Rachel Kushner
  • Milkman, Anna Burns
  • Washington Black, Esi Edugyan
  • The Overstory, Richard Powers

There are another 11 books that are either in my TBR or on my list to borrow/buy. Happily, eight are available at my library’s Overdrive account, one on Hoopla, and I own one in a print edition.

  • Blue Self-Portrait, Noémi Lefebvre
  • Go, Kazuki Kaneshiro
  • Waiting for Eden, Eliot Ackerman
  • Some Trick, Helen deWitt
  • Don’t Skip Out on Me, Willy Vlautin
  • There There, Tommy Orange
  • Insurrecto, Gina Apostol
  • The House of Broken Angels, Luis Alberto Urrea
  • Flights, Olga Tokarczuk
  • The Great Believers, Rebecca Makkai
  • Gnomon, Nick Harkaway

Of the remaining 49, I have 15 in the “possibly” category and the rest as “no,” either because I’d ruled them out earlier in the year or because the blurbs don’t sound all that appealing. 

The shortlist is posted in January, to give people time to read the 16 + 2 books before the tournament starts in March. There is also a Goodreads group if you’re interested in following readers as they work their way through the list. I belonged for a while, but I didn’t really have much to say. I’m finding that even my limited level of GR social reading is as much as I want to do right now. I love talking to my friends in my feed and I find new readers to follow through them, but the groups often go in directions I don’t want to join. Like every other social media platform these days!

In other news, both the Goldsmiths Prize and the National Book Award winners were announced on Wednesday. To my great surprise and delight, The Long Take by Robin Robertson won the Goldsmiths. It was a terrific shortlist and I’m glad I’m not a judge. 

The National Book Award for Fiction went to Sigrid Nielsen’s The Friend, which I have picked up and put down several times over the last year before returning it unread (it’s me, I’m sure, not the book). I was sorry but not entirely surprised the shortlist book I loved, Where the Dead Sit Talking, didn’t win. It’s a wonderful book that I recommend highly. 

The newly resuscitated NBA for Translated Literature went to The Emissary by Yoko Tawada (translated by Margaret Mitsutani). Another welcome surprise! It was a very competitive shortlist; I read three of the five and a fourth, which is in my TBR, won the Man Booker International Prize this year (Flights by Olga Tokarczuk). I thought Flights or Dominic Starnone’s Trick would take it, but I’m very happy for the Tawada. It’s deceptively simple, I think. I’m partway through it and I’ll report back when I’m done. 

The Giller Prize winner is announced next Monday, November 19th. I’ve now read three of the five, and while I haven’t read the Dupont (I have it, just haven’t gotten to its 600+ pages), if I were a betting woman I’d put my money on Washington Black.