The Biblioracle: Estimating his prophet margin

Crystal Ball

The Biblioracle looks into his crystal ball in an attempt to predict the winner of the National Book Award for fiction. His dog Oscar also gets in on the act. (Brand New Images, Getty Images)

It's not clear to me why anyone tries predicting anything, because no one is any good at it.

There is a tie at the top of the horrible prognosticators list between sports reporters and political pundits. Often, the greater the apparent expertise, the more wrongheaded the predictions. Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist George Will looked into his crystal ball and foresaw a Romney presidency by a 321-217 electoral-vote margin. (The actual tally was 332–206 for President Obama.)

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And of the 43 so-called baseball "experts" at ESPN, exactly zero predicted either the Red Sox or the Cardinals making the World Series.

Nonetheless, I will predict the National Book Award winner for fiction — to be announced Wednesday — because I think it's about time people start talking about me as an expert when it comes to books. Granted, my prediction will almost certainly be wrong, but I'm declaring with full confidence that I am correct, because I've learned from my sports- and politics-focused commentariat brethren that the first step to being accepted as an "expert" is to make sure your prediction carries all the certainty of the Cubs being out of the pennant race by the All-Star break.

Plus, the consequences for making wrong predictions appear to be low. George Will is wrong about almost everything, and he still has a job.

If I believed in the ability of anyone to predict these things, I'd feel good about my chances. Of the five finalists — "The Flamethrowers" by Rachel Kushner, "The Lowland" by Jhumpa Lahiri, "The Good Lord Bird" by James McBride, "Bleeding Edge," by Thomas Pynchon, and "Tenth of December" by George Saunders — I've read three (Lahiri, Kushner, Saunders), am familiar with the previous works of Pynchon, and have heard from a Biblioracle adviser, novelist Kevin Guilfoile, that "Good Lord Bird" is terrific.

My personal favorite, "Pacific" by Tom Drury, fell by the wayside as the long list was made short, so I don't have a rooting interest to skew my analysis. (You heard it here first: Cubs World Series champs, 2014!)

"The Lowland" is a safe bet. Lahiri has already won a Pulitzer. Except that "The Lowland" was also a finalist for Britain's Booker Prize and lost to Eleanor Catton's "The Luminaries," so it's looking a little too Susan Lucci to me.

Back on Jan. 3, a writer for The New York Times Magazine declared "Tenth of December" "the best book you'll read this year." That's the kind of hyperbole/certainty of great punditry I respect, but I can't concur.

Pynchon has already won an NBA back in 1974, for "Gravity's Rainbow," so I'm ruling him out, even though that's a terrible reason to do so.

Kushner will win a big prize someday, but response to "The Flamethrowers" has been somewhat polarizing, so on a jury where five people need to reach consensus, I don't see it winning.

So in something of an upset, I'm picking "The Good Lord Bird," a book I haven't read.

Why? Because I'm an expert.

To hedge my bets, I also let my dog, Oscar, make a pick. I wrote the book titles on five index cards and placed them on the ground. The one he started chewing first is his pick.

He's going with "Bleeding Edge." We'll see who's right on Wednesday.

Biblioracle John Warner is the author of "The Funny Man." Follow him on Twitter @Biblioracle.

The Biblioracle offers his recommendations

1. "Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls" by David Sedaris

2. "In the Woods" by Tana French

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