Charles and Emma by Deborah Heiligman Henry Holt The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly Henry Holt Judged by M.T. Anderson
DARWIN VS. TATE: MANO A MANO (with opposable thumbs)
In last year’s Battle of the Books, judges fretted about comparing apples to oranges. That’s not my problem. I’m forced to compare apples to apples: two books about scientific investigation, Darwinism, and large families, both with yellow foolscap covers ornamented with Victorian silhouettes. One book is fiction (Jacqueline Kelly’s The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate) and one is non-fiction (Charles and Emma: Darwin’s Leap of Faith, by Deborah Heiligman). So here they are – if not the same species, then at least, er, a case of convergent evolution resulting in paired traits appearing in separate clades. So let’s hit it, kiddies: Darwin vs. Tate! ** Survival of the fittest! ** Mano a mano with opposable thumbs!
How do we make a comparison and choose a “winner”? A judge from last year told me that the purpose of this exercise is to show people what authors talk about when we talk about books. (??? Because, you know, we have that obtruse way of talking about books, as we stroll together in our vast estates, murmuring, surrounded by topiary clipped into the forms of our characters … I, myself, sit in a gazebo under a box-tree that’s in the shape of Octavian Nothing.)
So when authors talk about Literature, what are our probing literary questions, typically? Well, they go something like …