Tournament of Books discussion

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

The winner of the summer book club. Will it go all the way to the Rooster, like Fever Dream did last year, or be out in the opening round?


message 2: by Lacy (new)

Lacy (kempfme) | 1 comments Tina wrote: "The winner of the summer book club. Will it go all the way to the Rooster, like Fever Dream did last year, or be out in the opening round?"

I think that it will be out in the opening round. There were some interesting passages, but it was a little confused on what type for book it was, was it science fiction or a road trip read?


message 3: by Amy (new)

Amy (asawatzky) | 1737 comments This book needled its way into my head, in part due to listening rather than reading. I am interested to see the conversations it prompts - in some ways it was such a lovely observation of humans and in some ways it was just so... weird.


message 4: by Dianah (new)

Dianah (fig2) | 255 comments I adored this book. It seemed just ok as I was reading along, then, before I realized it, I was in love! This felt, to me, like a giant love letter to parenthood.


message 5: by [deleted user] (last edited Dec 24, 2018 11:20PM) (new)

I missed whatever it is that people loved about this novel and all of Jesse Ball's work. I've read three of his books, and though I enjoyed aspects of each of them, I found all of them confusing and odd. I don't expect it to get past the opening round, but I thought Circe would prevail over Census in the summer tournament, and I was wrong.


message 6: by Claire (new)

Claire  | 11 comments I really loved it, and agree with Dianah: it is a lovely tribute to parenthood.


message 7: by Jan (new)

Jan (janrowell) | 1099 comments Claire wrote: "I really loved it, and agree with Dianah: it is a lovely tribute to parenthood."

Dianah and Claire, quick, you need to go share your love for Census on the short list thread, haha. (It was just a three-star read for me. I found the ending moving and the census visits interesting in a Rachel Cusk sort of way. On the other hand, the cormorant was just plain annoying.)


message 8: by Rachelnyc (new)

Rachelnyc | 61 comments It was a solid 3 star read for me. It took a little while to get used to the writing style and while I found it well written, I never really connected with the characters or story. I was intrigued by Ball's inspiration being his relationship with his brother and expected this to be more emotionally moving than it was.

There were some lovely passages that I saw a glimpse of what I expected the book to be but there wasn't enough for me to really love it. Oh and I am with Jan on the cormorant theme being annoying.


message 9: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 504 comments I don't expect this one to go far, but I did enjoy it, as much as you can enjoy such a somber book. I didn't like it much at the beginning but the end made quite an impression on me. And the pacing of the book and the unanswered questions and the odd world that was created.

I was rooting for Circe also, and would have rooted for it til the end. Sigh.


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 642 comments Well I just forced my way to the end of this one. On the one hand, I feel like the author basically commands that you love it for sentimental reasons, but that's not what I find in the book. What it reminds me of the most are the books that come out of the USSR and former USSR, full of satire and hidden meaning, of people working in jobs that never end, full of bureaucracy and ridiculousness. It is reminiscent of Memoirs Found in a Bathtub by Stanislaw Lem or even Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal.

I agree with Jan that the Cusk-like census conversations were the best parts - but why is he tattooing them? What kind of country is this?

I'm okay with novels where nothing happens but this one was too abstract/surreal for me.

But you know, I read it, okay? :)


message 11: by Amanda (new)

Amanda | 129 comments Initially, I was frustrated with the whole cormorant passages until I figured out their purpose. They were a way to bring up the story of the woman found on San Nicolas Island because the son's story mirrors hers. This was my favorite read from the summer tournament.


message 12: by Caroline (new)

Caroline   | 150 comments This was a book I could not give a star rating too because it confounded that kind of evaluation for me (also how I responded to 'A Little Life' but for very different reasons.) I'm hoping it does spark some interesting conversations but I neither loved nor hated it and am not sure how well I'll remember it from last summer.


message 13: by Lauren (new)

Lauren Oertel | 960 comments Great comments here - it was also a three-star read for me. I appreciated the strong bits scattered throughout, and the ending was quite sentimental, but it was confusing as a whole.


message 14: by Tristan (new)

Tristan | 105 comments I may have to create a rule that I will never read books with "census" in the title. While this was much better than "this census taker" by China Miéville, it was still a book that totally lost me. Ball seems to be a gifted writer, but the book lacked a story. Instead it was a confusing and rambling series of memories that were barely related to each other and went nowhere.


message 15: by Lauren (new)

Lauren Oertel | 960 comments Tristan wrote: "I may have to create a rule that I will never read books with "census" in the title. While this was much better than "this census taker" by China Miéville, it was still a book that totally lost me...."

Agreed - I also had trouble with "This Census Taker" and thought the same thing! :)


message 16: by Neale (new)

Neale  (collincollinsbookblogcom) | 122 comments I agree that Ball does appear to be a gifted writer, but I just could not connect with this book at all.


message 17: by Trish (new)

Trish | 33 comments I really enjoyed this book. I love how the main character took on the job of census taker, began quite methodically, then started picking and choosing, then left it entirely unfinished without seeing the ultimate outcome. It mimics what it's like to have children. You begin all in, then as they grow you let go, only getting to be involved in parts of their lives, then ultimately you die and you never get to see how it all ends. I think this was a really smart book by Ball - the Census is nonsensical, much as life itself.


message 18: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 504 comments Trish wrote: "I really enjoyed this book. I love how the main character took on the job of census taker, began quite methodically, then started picking and choosing, then left it entirely unfinished without seei..."

I like that perspective on it, Trish!

I liked the book also - I got impatient with it at points, but the end came together in a way that was really impactful for me.


message 19: by Dianah (new)

Dianah (fig2) | 255 comments Trish wrote: "I really enjoyed this book. I love how the main character took on the job of census taker, began quite methodically, then started picking and choosing, then left it entirely unfinished without seei..."

Yes, Trish! I felt exactly the same way ❤


message 20: by Bryn (Plus Others) (last edited Feb 06, 2019 11:10AM) (new)

Bryn (Plus Others) (brynplusplus) | 97 comments I am so glad I read this one -- I thought I would hate it, and spent all of 2018 avoiding it, and now I feel very warmly towards it. I was expecting something very concrete and realistic about Life With My Disabled Relative, and instead this is so beautiful and emotional and philosophical, about twenty different things at once, with a lot of room for the reader to look for what interests them rather than a voice yelling about what is most important. I can see dozens of potential readings here --- the parenthood one that Trish suggests, absolutely, and also ones about how people treat strangers and how much of our relating to others is about what is happening inside our own minds (his wife going to look at the rented apartment where the stranger is moving around inside to feel the feeling of seeing her husband through the curtains), and how fiction works in the first place (the narrator talking about the woman whose husband had died, layers of story each of which turn out to be somewhat false), and there are many more. The one that strikes me most, writing this, is the census experience as an experience of trying to learn the world, particularly through books -- one begins by stopping at every house and marking the person as known, or trying to read every book and marking the book as read, as though the experience and the marking really mean something, and then as time goes on some readers shift their approach like the narrator, to look for the special people/books and look for what is unique or different in them, what makes them themselves, and eventually perhaps starts to question the entire project of census-taking (or reading) at all -- and meanwhile the narrator's son (and the cormorant woman) have an utterly different way of learning and knowing things, taking everything that comes as it comes, seeing wholes for what they are -- there is that bit about how his son would never see the whole of something and ask what it is.

Oooh, I am so surprised at how much I loved this.


message 21: by Lauren (new)

Lauren Oertel | 960 comments Bryn (Plus Others) wrote: "I am so glad I read this one -- I thought I would hate it, and spent all of 2018 avoiding it, and now I feel very warmly towards it. I was expecting something very concrete and realistic about Life..."

Great analysis here! I'm glad you found so much depth in this story and I wish I had seen your comments before reading the book, as it may have done more for me then.


message 22: by Melanie (new)

Melanie Greene (dakimel) | 241 comments I may opt to reread in light of Bryn+'s comments, but OTOH, I did go into it over the summer w a benefit of the doubt for Ball, and still would barely remember the thing if I hadn't made a point of remembering it because of the tournament.

Maybe if it makes it out of round one, then I'll read it again. But I'll be a bit grumpy about it.


message 23: by Tom (new)

Tom Marshall | 10 comments I constantly felt that there was some deeper symbolism I wasn’t getting, especially in light of the introduction. I didn’t feel that I came to any greater understanding of the relationship between the father and son. There also seemed to be something slightly sketchy about the census, and I kept hoping for a big reveal, especially as the father increasingly stopped following the rules. I can’t see this going far in the tournament.


message 24: by Carmel (new)

Carmel Hanes | 131 comments Bryn (Plus Others) wrote: "I am so glad I read this one -- I thought I would hate it, and spent all of 2018 avoiding it, and now I feel very warmly towards it. I was expecting something very concrete and realistic about Life..."

I appreciate your thoughts, Bryn. I have this one but haven't started it yet due to reading so many negative reactions to it, or at least lukewarm reactions. The premise attracted me, so you may have motivated me to read it.


message 25: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 504 comments Tom wrote: "I constantly felt that there was some deeper symbolism I wasn’t getting, especially in light of the introduction. I didn’t feel that I came to any greater understanding of the relationship between ..."

Man, I had such a different experience! I felt their relationship was so interesting. He feels so protective of his son, and we end up seeing the world's interaction with him, who treats them well, who treats them poorly. The ending was what did it for me - him having to let go even though he's not sure of his son's future.

I never understood the alphabetic cities, but it felt like a census of society. Like he knew he was dying and needing to understand the world that his son would be left with. And I was hoping for a big reveal also about it, but I liked that it left me feeling a little confused. I liked that the farther he went with the census the less he cared about it and the more he just focused on his son.

It was a weird one for sure, and I don't judge people for not enjoying it. Was just the right weird book for me at the time.


message 26: by [deleted user] (last edited Feb 10, 2019 11:46PM) (new)

For me, the ending redeemed much of the weirdness that came before it, though I'm not sure that what I think happened is what the author intended.

I agree with Tom that there was something off about the census. And I felt, as I have with all of Ball's novels, that there was some deeper meaning that I was missing. I don't think I'll read any more of his books. I've come away from all of them feeling a bit dumb, and that's not fun!

As for this novel not going far in the tournament, I hope it won't, but expect that it will. It won the summer ToB, and was much loved by the judges and most of the commentariat. Though it's not what I want, I can imagine Census knocking out all its competition on the way to the Rooster, like Fever Dream did last year.


message 27: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 504 comments Oh man, even though I liked it, I don't really want it to go as far as Fever Dream did. I don't think it has the emotional "pow" that Fever Dream did. I'm hoping My Sister the Serial Killer is this year's Fever Dream. :)


message 28: by Lisa (new)

Lisa (lisgitt) | 88 comments I've read this and one other of Ball's novels, and they don't work for me at all. Even though I want to appreciate his writing, I can't enjoy it. As I've said elsewhere, I'm rather grumpy about this year's TOB.


message 29: by Neale (new)

Neale  (collincollinsbookblogcom) | 122 comments Lisa wrote: "I've read this and one other of Ball's novels, and they don't work for me at all. Even though I want to appreciate his writing, I can't enjoy it. As I've said elsewhere, I'm rather grumpy about thi..."

No, I agree with you completely. There are many people who just don't get this book, and I am one of them. After reading the introduction I thought I was going to love it, but no., not for me. I hope The Golden State knocks it out, and it's the only book in the list I have not read. apart from Call Me Zebra.


message 30: by Karin (new)

Karin (8littlepaws) | 97 comments I read this back in the summer, and at the time it was about a 3.5 for me but the more time passes the lower it sinks in my estimation. I did like the ending, and I also appreciated the author's note about his brother. I'm curious what other readers took from the clowning aspect of the mother. Such an unusual touch for a character.


Bryn (Plus Others) (brynplusplus) | 97 comments For me, the mother's clowning is what bridges the gap between the two ways of knowing Ball is interested in -- the father's initial attempts towards precise indexing and parts-leading-to-wholes and the son's gestalt understanding of a whole as a whole. For me the key scene was the reflection on the mother being trained at the clown school to walk into a room and observe it all, both the whole of it and every individual part -- that's the bridge between the son's world and the father's world (which is the more typical human understanding), and why she was so good at parenting her son.


message 32: by Ruthiella (new)

Ruthiella | 366 comments I am enjoying the commentary on this book much more than I enjoyed the book itself! It didn't spark my imagination at all, unfortunately.


message 33: by Karin (new)

Karin (8littlepaws) | 97 comments Bryn (Plus Others) wrote: "For me, the mother's clowning is what bridges the gap between the two ways of knowing Ball is interested in -- the father's initial attempts towards precise indexing and parts-leading-to-wholes and..."

So beautifully put! Thank you for sharing.


message 34: by Rachelnyc (new)

Rachelnyc | 61 comments Ruthiella wrote: "I am enjoying the commentary on this book much more than I enjoyed the book itself! It didn't spark my imagination at all, unfortunately."

I feel exactly the same!


message 35: by Drew (new)

Drew (drewlynn) | 425 comments Rachelnyc wrote: "Ruthiella wrote: "I am enjoying the commentary on this book much more than I enjoyed the book itself! It didn't spark my imagination at all, unfortunately."

I feel exactly the same!"


Me, too! I think Jesse Ball is going on my list of authors to avoid in future.


message 36: by [deleted user] (new)

Ruthiella wrote: "I am enjoying the commentary on this book much more than I enjoyed the book itself!"

I agree, and I expect more lively conversation about this book during the tournament. Ball has many fans among the commentariat.


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