Tournament of Books, judgment time  MAR 29 2010

The semifinals in The Morning News Tournament of Books begin today with yours truly attempting to decide between The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver and Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann.

Consider the book as an object, as a vessel for the novel. Readers are warned against judging books by their appearances before they've read the novels within, but designers, publishing companies, and bookstores conspire against us. They use what economists refer to as signalling to compel people to buy (but not necessarily read) books. The physical size and shape, the page thickness, the fonts and colors used, the choice of title, the back- and front-cover blurbs, the embossed book award and/or Oprah stickers, and the cover -- especially the cover -- are all signals to the potential buyer that (a) this book is worth her time and money, and more importantly, (b) make her feel a certain way about herself: intelligent, hip, involved, safe. When you see a book, you can't not have an immediate reaction to it. Your brain does so without consent.

Twenty minutes into Let the Great World Spin and I knew everyone would expect it to beat The Lacuna. But which did I go with? Read on...

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