Reading the Tournament of Books books!


Last month was my Tournament of Books reading month! Here’s the shortlist and here are my thoughts on:

All the light we cannot see – Anthony Doerr
All the Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld

Reading Dept of Speculation and Silence Once Begun made me realize that I like more traditional narratives. As in, a storyline, a plot, dialogue written with apostrophes. And books that are written in a more experimental style are not exactly in my comfort zone.

But sometimes it is good to read out of one’s comfort zone.

I am glad I read Dept of Speculation. Jenny Offill has a way with words and her style is intriguing, the way she has written this story of a marriage in short paragraphs, sometimes just a few sentences. But I was left wanting more. I suppose that might be the point of this book? At any rate, I am interested enough to want to read her next book!

Jesse Ball’s Silence Once Begun is styled as a collection of transcripts. It is an interesting idea, a man who signs a confessions, admitting to having killed many. The writer interviews his family, the man himself, and an elusive woman who visits him. Thus the transcripts.

But this book was not for me. It had its moments, and a unique concept, but it wasn’t something I could appreciate. And it dragged a bit too much for me. I didn’t really want to finish it. I ended up finishing it anyway as I just wanted to tick it off the list. Luckily it wasn’t too long a book.

Well at least I got somewhere with that one. I downloaded a library e-copy of Wittgenstein Jr by Lars Iyer. But after the first five pages I knew that I would not like this book.

Michel Faber’s Book of Strange New Things fared a lot better. It is a far more straightforward narrative – a pastor who heads to an outer space colony to minister to the natives (that is the “aliens”) there. I am quite fond of reading SF books, although I have not read many, I like exploring new worlds and all that. And this one was fun on that part. The rain, the aliens, the adaptation to life on this planet. The humans working on this planet were equally fascinating. But it did wear on a bit for me. What was happening on earth (the pastor’s wife remained on Earth) though just seemed too much. All this happening when he’s away in outer space? The messages between the two were sometimes a bit tedious and I was glad to get out of that and return to what was actually happening on the planet.

I have saved the best for last.

I am sorry to edge An Untamed State in here too. It does deserve its very own post but I find it hard to write about it. Because there was a lot of angry reading going on. It was a book full of emotions and rage. And such pain and sorrow. I couldn’t finish it fast enough because I just needed to finish it and return it so that I wouldn’t have to think about it anymore. It made me feel sick. I know that’s not the way to recommend a book but such is the power of Roxane Gay’s writing, her storyline and the situation she puts her characters in, before and after, that I couldn’t not feel the rage as I read this book.

And finally, now that I have written about it, I feel like I can put it to rest now.

I’m glad I decided to read off the shortlist last month, it made me reach out for books that I might not have picked up. I tend to not read the ‘latest’ books (yes, I say latest although these were published last year), preferring to let any hype die down for a while before finally reading them, but I’ve been following the Tournament for the past few years, wishing I knew what the hell the judges are talking about. I might not be able to read all the rest of the books on the shortlist (I am still WAITING for my Station Eleven hold gaaaahhhh!! But my time will come… soon… it better!!) but at least I can read some of the commentary and yell at my tablet when they’re making the wrong decision.



  1. I know exactly what you mean about An Untamed State. I started listening to it, then after that first really horrific scene I had to take a break for about a week. After that I finished it in a single listen, just to be done. It took me about another week to shake the feeling of being kicked in the stomach every time I thought about it. Now, a few weeks later I’ve got a little more distance (and the words of the story aren’t echoing quite so loud in my head) and I can really appreciate how well done it is. But eeesh I’ve had trouble deciding whether or not to recommend it to friends.


    1. Exactly! It’s like, hey this is an awesome book!
      – Why? What’s it about?
      Erm a woman in Haiti gets kidnapped and abused both emotionally and physically by her kidnappers.
      – And why would I want to read that?


      1. And, yet, as another reason to recommend it, it’s paced brilliantly. It’s very hard to put down. (But I had to return my library copy unfinished, because it arrived during the winter break and there were just too many non-reading-duties interfering.) So at least the act of its reading is not laborious while reading about such challenging subject matter and themes….


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