How do you feel about March Madness? I’ve never watched much basketball, but I do love brackets. So much so that I’ll happily play along as other topics get a chance to battle it out in a quest to become the best of the best.
One of my favorite matchups to watch is The Morning News’ Tournament of Books. They pick the best books of the year and pair them up for smart, funny, and devoted judges to weigh their merits.
Usually I am pretty good at predicting and reading the books that will meet up. This year, I had read only three going into the competition, so I didn’t have a clear winner in my mind. I read two others during the course of the battle, both of which I enjoyed immensely, though neither won the top prize—a live rooster.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson had a scrappy start in the battle, playing its way in through a pretournament round and then being reincarnated through a zombie poll.
Atkinson’s newest novel traces the life of Ursula as she tries to survive the perilous years from her birth in 1910 to her deaths at various points in the 20th century. After each fatal encounter, whether it be a childhood accident or the Blitz, Ursula comes back to life and gets another shot.
At first, I was concerned about this book. I had read another of Atkinson’s books last year and it was not at all my cup of tea. However, the historical fiction and the manipulation of her personal story engaged me throughout.
Atkinson doesn’t portray her characters as nice or kind or good; everyone is complex and every iteration shows just how one interaction can impact the rest of history.
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki also portrays a complicated relationship with geography, personal history, and time narratives.
The story is in fact two. One is the diary of Nao, a teenage girl living in Japan, and the other is Ruth, a middle-aged woman living in a remote part of British Colombia who comes across a mysterious package washed ashore.
Ruth, herself a writer, delves into the well-wrapped Hello Kitty lunchbox she has discovered on the beach. The package includes not only Nao’s diary, but also a series of letters in Japanese, a diary in French, and a rare wristwatch.
It’s not a pretty story—Nao’s life as a 16-year-old raised in the US and now trying to transition to life back in Japan is filled with cruelty that only teenagers can inflict, and Ruth is dealing with her own complicated issues with writer’s block, small-town nosiness, and fear of early Alzheimer’s. The story is magical, rich, and utterly captivating.
Both books are wonderful and played well against stiff competition in the Tournament of Books. The winner ended up being James McBride (former Nashua Reads author) with his new book The Good Lord Bird. I have not yet read it, but it’s back to the top of my list.
Last year’s winner—The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson—turned out to be one of my favorites, and I look forward to seeing how the judges did this year. We have all the books that were in the tournament, so come check them out and tell me which won it for you!
About Sophie Smith
Sophie Smith is the supervisor of teen services at the Nashua Public Library and can also frequently be found at the reference desk. As a history and Spanish major at Kenyon College she spent a year in Salamanca, Spain. She earned her master's in library and information science from Simmons College.