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Looking for your next favorite novels?
How about a place to discuss them with other book lovers?

Last year I discovered “The Tournament of Books” which is a free online platform (hosted by The Morning News) to discuss books and root for your favorites. Each year’s list of selections competes in a March Madness-style bracket, with literary judges for each match-up, and extensive commentary from the readers. The winning book is named “the rooster” for that year. The 2019 tournament started with 18 books that were published in 2018 (three competed in a “play in” round for the final spot in the bracket of 16). The final four books included “There, There” by Tommy Orange, “Warlight” by Michael Ondaatje, “The Mars Room” by Rachel Kushner and “My Sister the Serial Killer” by Oyinkan Braithwaite (the underdog, after it came back into the bracket in a zombie round). The rooster was ultimately awarded to Braithwaite’s book, which had most of us readers (or “the Commentariat”) celebrating.

The Tournament of Books is currently wrapping up its Summer Camp event where readers discuss six summer selections, two books per month. A winner between the two is chosen each month and the final winner from those three earns an automatic spot in the following year’s tournament in March. So far we’ve seen “Daisy Jones and the Six” by Taylor Jenkins Reid advance in June (leaving behind “Bowlaway” by Elizabeth McCracken), and “Lost Children Archives” by Valeria Luiselli took the July win against “Trust Exercise” by Susan Choi. In August we are discussing “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” by Marlon James and at the end of the month it will go up against “American Spy” by Lauren Wilkinson (my favorite of the summer). This book is not a typical spy thriller, but more of a modern and upbeat cold-war-historical-fiction gem in the form of a mother explaining her story to her children through a letter before she sets off on a new mission. 

As the ToB is about to celebrate 15 years there will be a tournament with each year’s winners in 2020 (to find a “super rooster”!), after the regular tournament. This will have readers revisiting favorites from years ago, including: “The Underground Railroad” by Colsen Whitehead “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell, “The Sellout” by Paul Beatty, “Wolf Hall” by Hilary Mantel, “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel, and Toni Morrison’s “A Mercy.” I’ve read a little over half of this list of 15 previous winners, but I plan to finish the rest and reread a few, including Morrison’s, Mitchell’s, and Whitehead’s. I’m dreading “Wolf Hall” since it is long and the setting isn’t typically my favorite genre (1500s England), but other readers rave about it, so I’ll give it a try. I’m looking forward to reading “The Orphan Master’s Son” by Adam Johnson which was 2013’s tournament winner. It follows a young man’s epic journey through the mysterious dictatorship of North Korea. 

And of course, all of these books make for great selections for your own book clubs. Enjoy, and may the odds be ever in your (favorite book’s) favor!

Lauren

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My Love to Read by Christine Cawley

The birds started to sing and I looked up from my book. Fresh light was coming through the window. I had read through the night. Slowly, I stretched out like a cat on the bed and attempted to add circulation back into my limbs. I thumbed through the pages that were left to read. I looked up at the clock on the wall. Shoot. I am running out of time. I sighed with frustration and thought, I am so close to the end of the book. Hurriedly, I dove back into the pages and promised to read only until the end of the chapter. Exerting tremendous strength at the chapter’s end, I set down the story. What a wonderful thing a book is. I remember when my love for reading began. Every two weeks my mother and I would climb into the car and drive over to our little local library. I would lug the stack of books from our last visit and feed them into the return slot at the circulation desk. With empty book bags, my mother and I would open the double glass doors that lead into the main library. The silence echoed to us and the books called us forward. My mother let me go to the children’s section of the library all by myself. I was able to wander up and down the aisles alone. I felt very big. I felt a sense of adventure happening. At first, the thrill was merely the experience of going to the library with my mom. I loved to carry my library books, play with the card catalog, and thumb through the picture books in between the aisles. Curiously, I peaked at the card inside of the book’s back cover. There was a list of who had previously checked out the book. When we did check out a book, the librarian’s movements were percussive as she stamped each book with the date due. The ritual was rewarding. It was only later when the act of reading the books also became gratifying. In middle school, homeroom lasted fifteen minutes. Everyone was required to read. I began to devour stories. One day while at home, I was on our enclosed porch. I looked at the book shelf that had some of my mom’s paperbacks. I opened one up to see if I could read it. I read the first page. I understood it. I sat on our porch swing and read another page and another. When I finished that book, I felt as if I had achieved something grand. It was a very thick book. It had a lot of pages. And not one picture! My gaze returned to the clock on the wall and to my current book. Now I really did have to leave, I thought. I was glad to stop reading because the story was sadly almost finished. Often, I force myself to slow down reading a good book even though I want to know what happens. You see, when it is finished, I say good-bye to the characters and their adventures. I thank my mother for my love to read. ~ Christine Cawley

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