The Voyage Out Book Group Tournament : Day One

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As mentioned before, The Voyage Out Book Group Tournament is happening! I thought I’d take a minute to introduce the group to anyone who may not know what we do.

We are a public reading group that meets the last Sunday of every month at 5pm. We meet at the wonderful and generous BookPeople Bookstore in Austin. We’ve been getting together and doing this for over four years, and I can’t tell you how rewarding it has been to read with the group members. Some people have been here from the beginning, some came shortly after, some have come by for a few months and left, and some came for the first time last Sunday. All of you have taught me something about reading.

Everyone is welcome, so come on by.

This tournament is a fun way to introduce you to the types of books we’ve been reading, and to get you up to speed on some of the group’s history. I hope you have as much fun following the tournament as we’ve had contriving it.

So, without further delay, Day One!

You can find the bracket here.

1. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy Vs. 8. Look at Me by Jennifer Egan:

Blood Meridian was the first book we read, and may still be the best. There’s just so much to talk about with McCarthy’s masterpiece. Is it a Western, is it Southern Gothic, Historical Fiction, a biblical parable? How do we define this violent, unrelenting, at times overwrought, but always moving literary novel? We talked for two and a half hours, and I don’t think I’ve recovered yet.

Look at Me is an odd duck. There was a fatal flaw in the text that made the book almost unreadable to a few members. I won’t get into that here, but rest assured that this is a great, but not perfect book. What you get when you read Egan is the best crafts(wo)man of fiction working today. This novel builds and layers, folding over on itself again and again, until the last thirty pages are so heavy that they must explode off the page. I enjoyed the writing at the end of this novel more than chocolate.

In the end, McCarthy wins! Blood Meridian moves on to round two.

3. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov Vs. 6. Snow by Orhan Pamuk

 Another battle of titans. Snow has a vulgarity and a grace that is undeniable. The thing about Pamuk’s book that is so hard to crack is the seamless splicing of politics, religion, fanaticism, and violence, with a true to life romance. Pamuk’s Ka is not soon to be forgotten.

Bulgakov’s wild satire starts out like this: an editor, a poet, and the Devil sit in a Russian café, drinking orange soda and discussing the existence of God. I will say no more.

Pamuk, in the closest competiton of this round, wins by a stanza.

4. The Master of Go by Yasunari Kawabata Vs. 5. Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden

 On paper this is a classic mismatch. Kawabata won a Nobel, and Boyden, although well known in Canada, does not have a large of a following here in the U.S.. Kawabata’s novel is about one single game of Go, played by and old master and his heir apparent. The novel mirrors the game itself. Subtle, intelligent in a slow way, and oddly addictive. The Master of Go is the punch you don’t see coming, and it knocks you out cold without you ever really seeing why.

Through Black Spruce is a fine novel. Part of the group’s mission, and one thing that we’ve had success with in the past is reading authors that no one in the group is familiar with. We try to take chances with unknown (to us) authors, and we’ve been rewarded for our bravery in the past. I’m glad I read Boyden’s novel, but it just doesn’t stack up to Kawabata.

Kawabata wins!

2. Galore by Michael Crummey Vs. 7. A Visitation of Spirits by Randall Kenan

 We all have those books that hit us harder than they do other people. A Visitation of Spirits hits me solidly in the jaw. Experimental at times, Kenan’s disjointing novel never feels superfluous. It works. The question that kept coming up with regards to Horace, Kenan’s troubled hero, is why he didn’t just leave? Surely he could have found peace and acceptance of his sexuality in a larger city? Why did he stay? The response to this question was remarkable to me, as a few members began to talk about their own experiences with being from small towns. They told stories about the comfort and pull that these intimate places have, and they understood why Horace wanted to be free, but freedom in this sense meant staying home. The conversation helped me understand just how tormented a young man like Horace can feel, and I gained a new level of empathy for him. This conversation is why I’ve been running this group for so long.

Even after all that, Galore is one of those books that we keep coming back to. We can’t get it out of our minds. We’ve read some pretty great books over the past four years, and many of them have remarkable beginnings. My favorites being Tiger’s Wife, when the tiger mauls the man, or the previously mentioned The Master and Margarita (see above), but no book has had a more intriguing beginning than Crummey’s novel. When a whale washes ashore in Paradise Deep, the townspeople go to work to harvest all the goodness that comes from such a gift of nature. What they find out is that there is a man inside the whale. To their complete shock, the man is alive. What happens over the next 350 pages is magical, earthy, vulgar, violent, and romantic. This book is so well crafted that you can almost smell fish and salt coming out of the binding.

Who to choose? Flip a coin? My decision comes down to this: I love Other Press more than I love my dog (sorry Miles). If you want to check out a group of people doing things the right way, please check out Other Press. They publish Galore, and that’s why Crummey wins this round.

That’s the end of day one. I hope to see you soon with the day two’s matchups:

2. A Personal Matter by Kenzaburo Oe Vs. 7. Brownsville by Oscar Casares

4. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood Vs. 5. Provinces of Night by William Gay

3. The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht Vs. The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

1. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Vs. God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

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10 thoughts on “The Voyage Out Book Group Tournament : Day One

  1. Pingback: Voyage Out Tournament Day Two | The Voyage Out Book Group

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