The Tournament of Books: State of Wonder vs. The Sisters Brothers

I am a judge in this year's Tournament of Books at The Morning News. The Tournament is a bracketed competition that pits sixteen books against each other, two books at at time. It's sort of like March Madness, if March Madness didn't bore me to death.*

I love to read, and I have so much going on**, I don't have as much time as I need to read everything I want. When something like this comes along that basically gives me an excuse to read books and not feel guilty because I should be doing something else, I always get excited.

The round I judged went live today. Here's a little bit:

I’ll spare you any sort of contrived suspense (there’s plenty of that in State of Wonder) about which book I picked to send to round two, and just cut to the chase: I had to restrain myself from reading The Sisters Brothers in one sitting, and State of Wonder felt like the most tedious homework assignment I’ve ever had in my life. The Sisters Brothers easily and handily wins this matchup.

Of course, there's much more to it than that, but why bury the lede? I hope you'll take a moment and head over to the tournament and check out the whole thing, then come back.

Okay. Welcome back. I hope my judgement entertained you. I knew that I wasn't going to write as intellectually as the other judges, so I just embraced who I am, and wrote my judgement the same way I'd write a blog post or one of my columns. I made a deliberate choice to be direct, hopefully humorous, and unapologetically opinionated.

I expected to be savaged in the comments over there, but they've been almost entirely awesome, whether they agree with me or not. In fact, it's one of the rare times I've actually enjoyed reading a comment-based discussion. See, kids? Reading makes you a smarter and better person than not reading. And that's a fact!


*Insert sportsball joke here.

**I'm kind of a big deal. /smirk

11 thoughts on “The Tournament of Books: State of Wonder vs. The Sisters Brothers”

  1. It is a forum where tl;dr is a bit of a faux pas. Almost as if it were a civilized discussion where people listened to each other. Funny how that brings down the dickishness factor.

  2. Sorry for the O/T – I’m rushing like mad to get out the door to work (YES at 4:30 in the frickin’ am!) but I saw today’s Woot shirt and had to share it (in case you don’t follow shirt.woot, which um would be silly of me to assume but there you go, it’s 4:25 in the AM). I think it’s a pretty safe bet you will like today’s shirt Wil: Hope so. Back to your regularly scheduled programming! And have a nice day!

  3. I did not (yet) read the comments over there, but would like to comment over here. You see, a book review is like a movie review. It can be (but need not be) entertainment in its own right. It MUST, however, inform. The information we readers are generally trying to get out of a review is pretty simple: “Should I bother buying, borrowing, or stealing this book for my own edification or entertainment or ______ (fill in the blank)?” This means that the review is only useful if it is intimately written from the “first-person” point of view. While reading the review, we either have to understand the reviewer or already know the reviewer (which is why most newspapers use the same movie reviewer every week). I think that the Miami Herald’s Rene Rodriguez’reviews are very helpful. Not because I agree with him. Quite the opposite sometimes. But he is consistent in this point of view, so I can generally figure out if I would like the movie, based on his review; whether HE liked it or not. Knowing Wil Wheaton helps when reading the review of these two books. But what is more important to me is that you did not really judge Ann Patchett’s writing skill. You judged the book based on your own standards. As long as the audience understands YOUR preferences (and we regular readers probably do) then the reader can judge for him or herself whether or not the book is worth a read. If I usually find myself disagreeing with you – your review is just as valuable. I’ll go out and steal a copy of State of Wonder. If I feel that I have similar tastes, I will go aout and buy a copy of The Sisters Brothers. The point (which I am very bad at getting to) is that I love the way you managed to create a meaningful and useful review WITHOUT TRASHING EITHER WRITER! Way to go Wil! You put everything in a context that will help me decide if I would enjoy reading either of these books. And that’s the job of a reviewer.

  4. Now that I’ve had a chance to read it, I have to say I found it to be an excellent review. It meets my criteria in that it describes enough to let me know if I should explore the title further. And I agree with Mister Lizard – I really appreciated that you gave your opinions without dissing either author. Thanks!

  5. “Reading makes you a smarter and better person than not reading. And that’s a fact!”
    QFT. Just don’t buy into that nonsense about it needing to be the classics to count. Every generation has their Dan Browns (I’m look at you, Charlotte Bronte), and while not every generation has their Shakespear, we do have our Cervantes, our Dumas and our Dickens. You might have to dig around a bit to find them, but that’s half the fun, isn’t it?

  6. A. You are a big deal, but don’t let it go to your head. :)
    B. The review was good, but you don’t need verification it was good from us. You are Wil Wheaton. Sparks McGee has nothing on you. ‘Nuff said.

  7. I’ve been thinking about having a Murch Madness film festival/movie night thing… showcasing movies with sound design or editing by Walter Murch. THX-1138, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, etc… Somehow, I don’t think it would draw the same crowd as March Madness…

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