World Cup of Literature

WCLitI think I know a little bit about how soccer works, after all I did once live in Germany. “The ball is round,” explains Sepp Herberger (the German translation of Yogi Berra), “and the game lasts 90 minutes.” Oh, and “if you don’t know what else to do with the ball, just put it in the goal.” I also understand that if you want lots of different teams from all over the world to play each other, you’d better be organized about it. You can’t just run down to the playground and ask who wants to go next. So team A plays team B, and team X plays team Y, and then the two winning teams play against each other, i.e. A against X, or A against Y, or B against X, or B against Y. With all the teams in the world wanting a turn, you can see how quickly this will get complicated. Except tomorrow, when Brazil will be playing Croatia, plain and simple, at 4:00 p.m. New York time.

Imagine my surprise this spring when I logged on to Twitter only to discover that one of my publishers, Norton, was putting on something called “March Madness,” a virtual event that involved books “competing” against each other, much as soccer teams might. I read with interest that readers were invited to submit something called a “book bracket.” Alas, I still don’t know what a bracket is, though I was certainly pleased to see how this particular competition turned out.

But wait, they’re at it again! This time it’s Three Percent that’s thrown down the gauntlet, and since that particular blog is run by the famously sports-obsessed editor/publisher Chad Post, I’m thinking it should be a good show. Maybe by the end of things I’ll even have learned what a bracket is. Meanwhile, here’s an explanation of what going on, including a chart of all the players. Each of the countries selected for the competition is represented by one book, and I guess they’re going to duke it out in some form. Germany is represented by Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald, and Switzerland by My Mother’s Lover by Urs Widmer. If you want to check which other countries are included and which books have been named their champions, you’ll have to consult the bracket. There, did I use the term correctly?

I hope the World Cup of Literature is a hit this year, because if so, Chad has promised to run a World Cup of Literature by Women next year, and I do intend to hold him to it. And the year after: maybe only countries that weren’t considered mainstream enough for inclusion this time around? How about Austria for example? You can follow the action on the Three Percent blog or on Twitter (@WorldCupofLit).

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