We’re getting closer to this year’s online reading and book-reviewing competition. The Tournament of Books is a free platform (hosted by The Morning News) where readers and judges discuss fiction published in the previous year, eliminating a book throughout each round of the tournament in March. Each year’s “shortlist” of selections competes in a March Madness-style bracket, with literary judges for each match-up, and extensive commentary from the readers. The shortlist was released in mid-December, so us readers from the “commentariat” have been excitedly reading those books so our arguments can be well-informed during the tournament. The winning book for each year is named “the Rooster.” The 2019 tournament Rooster was awarded to “My Sister the Serial Killer” by Oyinkan Braithwaite, which beat out the other shortlist books after coming back as a “zombie” pick from the readers’ poll taken in December 2018.
The heavy hitters for the 2020 tournament include “The Testaments” by Margaret Atwood, “The Water Dancer” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Normal People” by Sally Rooney, and “Girl, Woman, Other” by Bernardine Evaristo. And we will be revisiting Valeria Luiselli’s “Lost Children Archive,” the winner of last summer’s Camp ToB competition. I have four more shortlist books to read, but so far my favorite (and zombie pick) was Evaristo’s stunning and memorable collection of novellas featuring black women who were connected in various ways. I found her character development to be incredible and I plan to study this one for my creative writing projects. My personal runner up is probably Ocean Vuong’s “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.” I listened to the audio version that is narrated by the author and found it to be a moving and powerful listening experience. His use of language and philosophical approach to writing were admirable and I hope this book does well in the tournament.
This year’s play-in theme is “ The Future Is Getting Here Awfully Fast“ where three books will compete for the final spot in the bracket of 16. These selections include “Golden State” by Ben H. Winters, “Oval” by Elvia Wilk, and “We Cast a Shadow” by Maurice Carlos Ruffin. After reading these I have a slight preference for the last one to move forward, but I found them all to be slightly strange and they had different levels of directness about the social commentary they were exploring through their stories.
Along with the comments sections in The Morning News, the tournament is also discussed in a Goodreads group. There was one novel that stood out to many of us that should have made the longlist (released mid-November) but didn’t, which was “Cantoras” by Carolina De Robertis. It was probably my most-enjoyable read for 2019 out of the nearly 200 books I read. She created an intriguing setting, beautiful relationships, and just the right amount of conflict to keep readers savouring each sentence while yearning to see what’s on the following page. The book that many of us loved from the longlist that didn’t make the shortlist was “A Girl Returned” by Donatella Di Pietrantonio. It felt like a quiet and simple story that really pulled me in, and I appreciated the heartfelt sibling bond that was explored throughout the story.
It’s never too late to join the fun; even if you haven’t read this year’s tournament books you can follow along and learn about some novels that might end up being your next favorite read.