Indie author tries and fails to drop out of Tournament of Books

There was a dust-up at the Tournament of Books on Monday when the site was informed that author Scott McClanahan was withdrawing his novel “Hill William” from the competition. The unusual and oblique notice came via a Facebook post by McClanahan, shared by someone else in the comments of the ToB’s Monday post about its upcoming annual literary showdown.

“I am resigning ‘Hill William’ from the tourney [sic] of Books. I am sorry to say so,” he wrote in the Facebook post, adding a comment with strong language. “Soccer moms are still idiots. I have resigned from the judging. Notify Anna Stein.”

“Hill William” is slated to go up against “The Luminaries” by Eleanor Catton on Thursday in the first face-off of the tournament-style competition. Can McClanahan stop it?


“No, he can’t do that,” the ToB’s Kevin Guilfoile told The Times by e-mail. “ ‘Hill William’ will remain in the ToB as advertised.”

It will be an interesting match-up: “Hill William” was published by the independent press NY Tyrant, and ToB organizers describe McClanahan as an “indie superstar.” Catton’s “The Luminaries” won the 2013 Man Booker Prize; she is the youngest author ever to win the award and her book is the longest.

McClanahan did not contact the ToB organizers to ask that his book be removed from competition.

“The first we heard about it was today, when someone posted his Facebook status in the comments of the first match,” Guilfoile says. “He apparently thought the proper way to do it was to notify someone named ‘Anna Stein,’ but I don’t know who that is.” (It’s possible McClanahan meant Sadie Stein, a regular contributor to the blog at the Paris Review, which is not connected to the Morning News, the site that presents the ToB.)

“He can’t withdraw from the ToB any more than I can unread ‘Hill William,’ which I wouldn’t want to do, because, despite never having heard of Scott McLanahan before he was shortlisted for the ToB, I enjoyed it,” Guilfoile continued. “Scott McLanahan of course, might be the kind of author who doesn’t want people to ‘enjoy’ his books, but instead get punched in the face by them or something, so, OK, whatever.”

Now in its 10th year, the Tournament of Books pits 16 books against each other in brackets, NCAA-basketball style. Judges, literary and otherwise, read two books and select which should advance to the next round.

“Despite parsing it several ways, it’s not even clear to me what he meant by his Facebook post. He’s not a judge, so he can’t ‘resign from judging,’ ” Guilfoile says. “I guess he meant ‘withdraw from judgment’ but, no, nobody who writes a book can do that, obviously. He might have meant that he was just ‘indifferent’ to the Tournament of Books, in which case he can join a long list of authors who didn’t care that they were on our shortlist, either. We are indifferent to their indifference.”

More than 100 comments on the post show that readers are hardly indifferent to the McClanahan posting. Some say they saw additional, derisive comments about the contest on McClanahan’s Twitter feed, although they have since been deleted.

One commenter suggested that McClanahan was simply trying to attract attention. “I feel like Little Scotty soaked up all of the publicity for being the small press title in the TOB for the past few months, and now he’s trying to get one more publicity bump by being the jerk who derides the contest, thus retaining his hipster cred. He wants us to hate him because the hate equals more free pub and more purchases. If he wanted out of the TOB, he could have said so months ago.”

Guilfoile addressed that. “Perhaps he’s just putting this stuff out there for publicity, of course, in which case he will have to also ‘resign’ from our gratitude,” he said. “In any case, Scott McLanahan is just going to have to suck it up until he either gets eliminated or wins. If he wins, I suppose he can do it Brando-style by declining to attend the Rooster ceremony and sending in his stead a representative of the people he believes have long been persecuted by our nation’s scourge of ‘soccer moms.’ Not sure who that would be. Maybe an overworked barista.

“Oh wait,” he added, “there is no Rooster ceremony.”

The Tournament of Books ends March 28 with two final books facing off against each other. The winner is declared and reigns for a year. Previous champions include Adam Johnson’s “The Orphan Master’s Son,” “The Sisters Brothers” by Patrick DeWitt and “Wolf Hall” by Hilary Mantel.


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