One of the best things about blogging is the conversation it can engender. I was consequently pleased then when my last post on the Meanjin Tournament got some conversation going about the tournament itself – some thoughtful, respectful conversation. So, before I report on the final round, I thought I’d discuss this a little …
This year is the third time Meanjin has run the Tournament of Books. The first, in 2011, focussed on books by women writers, while last year’s focused on short stories. This year, they chose a, I guess you could call it, topic, the sea. The tournament was inspired by the American Morning News Tournament of Books, which is now 9 years old. Blogger Kerry of Hungry Like the Wolf has, for a few years, shadowed the tournament. That was my first introduction to the concept, so when Meanjin decided to emulate the idea – including the comic commentary – I decided to report on it.
However, some commenters – commenters I respect like blogger Lisa (ANZLItLovers) and novelist/artist Sara Dowse – are uncomfortable about the tournament. Similar concerns were expressed during my reporting on the first round. I wrote a post then on my understanding of the tournament, which is that I:
- don’t take literary competition seriously. (Australian writer Christos Tsiolkas has said that “he envied the surety of the outcome in most sport – unlike with books, when prize judging is largely subjective”. Winning an award, or having great sales, does not necessarily reassure you as a definition of success, he has said. This, I think, says it all.)
- think that literary competitions can promote literature, can get a conversation going.
The thing about the Tournament of Books is that it has a tongue-in-cheek aspect. It recognises, I believe, that literary competitions are fundamentally questionable as identifiers of “best”. But, humour is difficult to get right, and we don’t all see humour as appropriate in all situations. I’d be very sorry, as I responded to Sara on my last post, if this competition caused distress to the writers involved or worked in any way to undermine their achievements or sense of self.
In response to these concerns, I posted a question on one of the judge’s blogs – Belinda Rule’s barking dogmouth – regarding her understanding of the tournament. Here is part of her response:
it’s an organised series of comparative book reviews, with the intention of being light-hearted and entertaining (or so the judging brief tells us!), and starting a conversation about the books involved. I guess the high-level objective is to promote Australian fiction in an entertaining way.
I’d be interested to know what you think. I’d also love to know what Meanjin thinks it is doing and what if any evaluation it is doing of the “event”.
But now, the last round between Tim Winton’s Breath and Margo Lanagan’s Sea hearts. As for last year, the final adjudications involved three judges:
Judge 1: David Mence, a Melbourne based writer and playwright, saw it as a battle between David (Margo Lanagan) and Goliath (Tim Winton). He opted for Margo Lanagan’s Sea hearts because: Winton
is without a doubt the jaeger (or MechWarrior) of Australian literature, the champion defender of all that we stand for. But then again, I have always loved monsters from the deep—I would not want to live in a world without monsters—and it seems to me that Lanagan’s book is, among other things, a homage to that which is strange, difficult and monstrous in our world.
Judge 2: Bethanie Blanchard, a Melbourne based freelance writer and literary critic, who decided on the basis of which book was most about the sea. She gave it to Winton:
In Lanagan’s work the sea is an abiding presence in the background, but the tale is less about the ocean than the inhabitants who spring from and long to return to it. It is Breaththat is more truly steeped in the ocean, in its changeable hardness and lure. Winton writes powerfully of the beauty of the water when riding high upon it, ‘for a moment—just a brief second of enchantment—I felt weightless, a moth riding light,’ as well as the danger and impossibility of its conflict between the fear of not breathing and the desire to stay immersed.
And so it came down to the deciding vote of:
Judge 3: Belinda Rule, who describes herself on her blog as “a Melbourne writer of fiction and poetry”, says she loves and defends Tim Winton. However, like Sara Dowse who commented on my previous Meanjin post, she’s bothered by the “mean sexy lady” in Winton’s fiction. She gives her vote to Lanagan:
It’s Lanagan for me! I love Winton’s miscellany of things to do with breath, but I don’t want it nearly as badly as I want Lanagan to get me on the ground and kick me in the heart again.
There is, as yet, no commentary from Melbourne comedians Ben and Jess on this final round, but I believe it is coming …
However, just to confirm, the winner of the 2013 sea-themed Meanjin Tournament of Books is Margo Lanagan’s Sea hearts. I wasn’t expecting that at the beginning, but there you go. Serious or not, this tournament can raise readers’ awareness of works they may or may not have heard of, or may have heard of but decided wasn’t for them.
You can read the full judgements for 2013 here.