The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
vs. Life: A User's Manual by Georges Perec
Life: A User's Manual is one of those books that makes you feel not smart enough to read it. Particularly when I read afterwards that you're not supposed to necessarily read it in the order in which it's printed - there's a puzzle somewhere in it that when solved would make things go in a different, more sensical order. That's fine, I guess, but I had no interest in going back. And I enjoyed The Long Earth, even if I didn't love it.
Winner: The Long Earth
The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent vs. The Peripheral by William Gibson
Whereas I thought the earlier Gibson book I read last year didn't stick the landing, I felt that this one ended okay, but had been muddy in the middle. He just can't seem to completely win with me. On the other hand, I liked it better than the irritatingly typeset HERetic's Daughter, particularly when I'm not sure there was a heretic, but there was a lot that bothered me. So Gibson gets a bit further in the competition this time.
Winner: The Peripheral
Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett vs. Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
Men at Arms was a great deal of fun, but a little light on content, as is the case with a lot of the earlier Discworld books. In contrast, Blue Mars is long on content, but short on fun. In fact, it spent nearly as much time enraging as entertaining me, and it was around the time I read it that I put together the pattern of irrational shrill women that has really dented my enjoyment of Robinson's work. That, and the pessimism. The fun definitely wins it between these two.
Winner: Men at Arms
The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman vs. Home by Marilynne Robinson
This is one of those insanely hard first round choices that has my husband trying to convince me I should be handicapping this somewhat so two books that I liked so much don't come up against each other this early on. I kind of like the unfair chaos of the way it happens, though. Still, these are both books I loved a lot. In The Magician's Land, Quentin grows up, and we get a whole new magic to contend with, while in Home, Marilynne Robinson adds layers onto Gilead in ways that took my breath away. It may not be the best way to decide, but there is only one Lev Grossman book in the competition this year, and four Marilynne Robinsons.So...I reluctantly let Home go.
Winner: The Magician's Land
Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen vs. This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
We're making up for the last agonizing choice with this one - both books about guys who treat the women in their lives like shit, but in only one of these is that done with a critical eye. Beautiful Losers was the first of the books I read in the year that handled rape terribly badly, as well as the female characters, and I really disliked it. On the other hand, Diaz treads lightly when talking about Yunior and his interactions with the women in his life, but I generally didn't get the feeling I was supposed to approve. And the writing is beautiful.
Winner: This Is How You Lose Her