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!