I came across this event a few years and, ever since, have had a blast following it. Here’s a description from the organizers about its creation:
Artistic awards are like wet kisses from your Aunt Mabel. You should be gracious when you get one, but actually seeking one out is kind of unseemly. And yet every year, our most esteemed, and especially elderly, writers crank out novel with important theme after novel with important theme in the desperate pursuit of the Pulitzer or National Book Award or Nobel. And then a bunch of guys in a conference room halfway around the world go ahead and give the thing to Doris Lessing. (Like the Nobel committee, I too once pretended to understand what Canopus in Argos was all about.) Anyway, it’s enough to make Philip Roth cry and we are not in favor of anything that makes Philip Roth cry, which is why we are also against the unexamined values of the middle class and the songs of Harry Chapin.
A few years ago some of us were up late and we were talking about this very thing, about how much we enjoy literary awards in spite of the fact they are also silly and arbitrary. The idea that we should accept the word of any small group of people—people in most cases whose names we don’t even know—about a topic so subjective as the best literature of the year is pretty ridiculous, and forcing authors to compete against each other is just stupid on its face. We were also drinking quite a lot, which I mention because by the next morning we had the rough outlines of something called The Tournament of Books, in which we would seed the year’s most celebrated works of fiction in a March Madness-type bracket and pit those novels against each other in a “Battle Royale of Literary Excellence.” In honor of our favorite character in contemporary literature, David Sedaris’s brother, aka “The Rooster,” we decided to present the winning author with a live chicken.
Don’t worry. No live chickens have been awarded to date. But the smart silliness is very present. And so here are this year’s books and here are this year’s judges. What is fun about it is the wit of the judges; doesn’t really matter if you’ve read the books (at least it didn’t to me). They have commentary, betting, the works. It starts next Friday. Check it out!