The BO is based on March Madness, once removed. I was following the March Madness-inspired online Morning News book tournament (the one with a rooster as a logo) and foolishly said something like, “We ought to start our own tournament.” Kilian jumped on it. And so we cobbled together the BO.
Kilian named it the Buff Orpington because we needed a name and the BO is a chicken and I have this chicken thing and the tournament that inspired ours has a rooster for a logo. So the hen is our logo.
That first year Kilian and I picked titles out of thin air and we scrambled for judges. You will perhaps recall we didn’t finish our report on the winners that first year until April some time.
Because it’s our party we run it the way we like. Kilian picks the books. Each of us gets a veto, which is seldom exercised, on titles that might otherwise make it to the longlist. And each of us gets to put a title on the shortlist that might not otherwise make it there, again a privilege not often exercised.
We go looking for little-known publishers and first-time authors but of course we don’t limit the contestants to those categories. There has been talk of seeding the titles next year -- mostly my idea, egged (sic) on by Judge Pamela Thomas It seems a shame to have the books that are the big favorites judged against one another in the first round.
I might add that judges are encouraged throughout the year to name titles that they think should be on the longlist and/or among the sweet 16. This year Judge Nancy Couto brought up The Unnecessary Woman, which might otherwise not have made it onto the shortlist.
There are no criteria for judging except that the judge liked one book better than another. There's no pretension to literary merit if the judge doesn’t want to address that issue, though some judges have done so and to great effect in past essays. But “I just didn’t like the author’s writing style,” or “I took a dislike to the major characters and couldn’t get past it,” are both valid decisions for choosing Title A over Title B in the BO.
I’m still stunned that so many people have been willing to be judges. (We have a waiting list!) I mean, at our age, to agree to have two loopy females assign us two novels to read, possibly titles and authors we’ve never heard of in genres we have spent a lifetime avoiding. And then to be assigned to write a book report by a certain deadline like this was 7th grade!
So that’s the history of the BO. Kilian has the almost impossible task of reducing the million or so novels published in English in the past year to a mere 16. I throw together the schedules and collect the essays. The judges do the hard work, reading and thinking about and writing about the books in the contest.
Our first two winners were: Esi Edugyan’s Half-Blood Blues and Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. This year? I have my favorites but I can’t begin to guess which will win.
The 2015 Buff Orpington tournament will be getting underway soon. Starting early in March we will have a contest every day until on the 31st our championship round judge will announce the winner.
I'll post the list of contenders soon.