Category Archives: Tournament of Books


The Tournament of Books is back!

Every year, I eagerly anticipate the arrival of The Tournament of Books over on The Morning News. It’s a bracket-style competition to select the best novel of the previous year. Wonderfully, unlike any other award system, it is completely transparent, acknowledges exactly how silly it is to give out awards, offers a running commentary of the judging process, and is one of the only places on the entire internet where the comments section is filled with intelligent, thoughtful, considered feedback. It’s basically Internet Utopia: where smart people freely exchange opinions about books, dissent is welcomed, and everyone is a reader.


For the past few years, I’ve entered to try to become the special guest judge. I keep trying to convince them that the perspective of someone in the biz could be a unique one in the tournament. They don’t seem to believe me any more than I believe myself. I still think it would be fun to take part.


Almost as good as taking part? Knowing someone else who is! This year, DGLM’s own author Tayari Jones will be one of the judges. Tayari’s first novel, LEAVING ATLANTA, was one of the first things I read after being hired full time a dozen or so years ago, and I still have the loveliest memories of reading it while weeping quietly at my desk. It’s just a good thing she’s not one of my personal clients since I would probably harass her for behind-the-scenes scoops the whole way through.


So with two months to go before the tournament kicks into gear, it’s a near foregone conclusion that anything Sharon Pelletier or I read for pleasure will be on the list of finalists. Happily, this year I’d already read six. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng and Adam by Ariel Schrag are my favorites so far. Time will tell how many others I might get to. The trouble with reading for a living is that you don’t always have much time to read NOT for a living.


Who has delved into the list? Who will follow along with me? Or better yet: who HATES one of the books on the list? I always like to hear folks grumble!


March Madness

It’s started, folks. The Morning News Tournament of Books kicked off yesterday. As you may remember, at the start of the year Jim set himself the goal of reading all seventeen books on the list; never one to avoid a challenge, I jumped right on his band wagon.

Well, I won’t ask Jim to report publically on his results, but I’m proud to share my success! So far I’ve read eleven of the books and by the end of this week I will have finished two more. Additionally, three books I read at least a hundred pages of before letting myself move on to the next title on the list (life’s too short and all that – though I won’t tell you the books that just weren’t working for me). So if you’re keeping up with the math, that makes sixteen TOB candidates under my belt, with just the second half of The Luminaries standing between me and (semi)victory.

I’m glad I co-opted Jim’s challenge, because I’ve discovered a few new favorites I might never have picked up otherwise! And because the TOB is, well, a Tournament, I decided to fill out an official bracket. Well, that was harder than I expected! After much agonizing, erasing, re-writing, second-guessing, here’s my prediction:


Yay, I already got one right! (Don’t worry – I filled this out before the first judgment was posted yesterday.)

If you want to play along, check out the Tourney website and download your own bracket! (We can meet back up here in a few weeks to second-guess the judges’ opinions and gloat about our brilliant guesses. Maybe I’ll even tell you which ones I actually liked best!)

Do you agree with any of my choices? Which book do you think will be the ultimate winner?


Hating winter, loving contests

I do not love winter in general. Snow appalls me. I do not enjoy temperatures under 40. And I look terrible in hats. But two things happen in winter that bring me glimmers of hope: awards season (which I will not be discussing here) and the announcement of the Morning News’ annual Tournament of Books (which I will).

What the Tournament explains as its aim is revealing how silly the act of choosing works of art as the “best” is while also reveling in a little literary bloodsport. What it gives ME is a chance to obsess about a whole bunch of novels I meant to read in the previous year but hadn’t gotten to yet.

Every year, I get it in my head that I’ll read all of the novels in the tournament before it starts. I’ve only actually done it once, but like clockwork, when the list came out, I started stocking up on books. Especially because I had read a whopping ONE of the 17 books in contention this year. That being Rainbow Rowell’s delightful ELEANOR & PARK.

This past weekend I tore through one and a half of the other books on the list and bought a dozen more. I am a man on a reading mission. And I will stay that way until something gets in the way of me completing the task (like work…or life).

What I wonder is, does anyone else ever feel the need to be prompted to read more? Do you go through moments when the books keep piling up faster than you can read them until you eventually move whole piles and start new shorter to-be-read piles? And does anyone else want to join my read-‘em-all before March challenge? I got through HILL WILLIAM and a little over half of LIFE AFTER LIFE (which I’m loving!).

Full list here!


The Tournament of Books: a blog post (you knew it was coming)

I blog about The Morning News’s Tournament of Books every year.  There’s been little evidence that anyone cares very deeply, but I do. So I’ll keep doing it!

The tournament is a March Madness style head to head of books from the past year. It’s usually 15 literary novels and one outlier—one year it was a YA novel, another year they had something more commercial. This year they have Anne Carlson’s poetry collection/scrapbook/objet d’art Nox. Whatever you want to call it, it’s beautiful. And it doesn’t have a chance of winning.

The real question this year is whether Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom will go the distance or whether it will be trounced in a backlash. As someone who liked it considerably less than The Corrections but still admires Franzen’s phenomenal skill as a writer, I’m completely okay with it going either way. The books I’m rooting for are my two favorite novels of last year: Room by Emma Donoghue and A Visit from the Goon Squad by the incomparable Jennifer Egan.

Again this year, I conned the DGLM bookclub into reading titles from the tournament, randomly selected from a hat. Miriam is deeply bitter about getting Lord of Misrule. Prediction: she’ll hate it. I ended up choosing James Hynes’ Next. Halfway through, I’m falling very, very hard for it. I can only hope that it sustains itself at the level of grace, insight, and humor it has shown so far.

I’m also pleased that someone is doing a contest for folks to predict the outcome. You can enter here.  I’m personally not predicting many spoilers in the first half of the contest. I get much nervier with the right side of the bracket when I predict Super Sad True Love Story gets knocked out super-fast. Of course, that’s because I’ve read (or tried to read) each of Gary Shteyngart’s novels and deeply disliked each one in new and exciting ways.

So join me in following the tournament this year? It’s good fun, I promise. It doesn’t take itself seriously, and it’s ultimately a bunch of nerds talking about books and presenting an award in the process. These are a few of my favorite things…


Jim will tell you what to read

by Jim

A few days back, John Warner, one of the commentators for The Tournament of Books, offered up a service. If you listed the last five books you had read, he would tell you what you should read next.

It sprang from a discussion about how we decide to choose what we read when we each know darn well that we’ll never get through every book out there. So a lot of folks stick with what they expect to like and might miss out on some great reads.

Unable to turn down something like this, I listed the last five books I had read (that weren’t work related). Warner suggested I read Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon. I groaned a bit since I had read a collection of Chaon’s short stories a few years back and was underwhelmed. I wouldn’t have picked his new novel up on my own without the recommendation, but I grabbed it that night and finished it this weekend. It’s a literary whodunit that is enervating and upsetting, beautiful and bleak. I loved it.

All of this said, the Tournament of Books commentators and readers seem to have a distinct literary fiction bias. The proportion of readers who included Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask in their past five was very telling (which is not an insult—it was in mine!). Knowing that we have readers who write across genres and for very different target audiences, I’d love to try to recreate Warner’s experiment here and see what the results are. What I’ll try to do (and I have no idea how this will work in practice) is recommend a little outside the box. Maybe an adult novel to someone whose last five reads were YA. Or a thriller to someone who skews more romantic. Or maybe there’s another book just like the ones you list that I’ll think you absolutely have to read. I will try to recommend only books that I have read but may have to turn it over to colleagues or our readers if I feel stumped. So let’s see if this works: just promise that you’ll let me know if and when you actually read the book—y’all can find my email address!

Update: A little confusion–sorry for my lack of clarity! Post the titles in the comments, and I’ll give the recommendation there. You should email me if you read the book and/or want to chat about my choice!


The Tournament of Books 2010

by Jim

Long time followers of our blog may remember that I’m a giant fan of any awards shows or competitions. And if it wasn’t exciting enough that it’s Oscar season, the Olympics are coming, and the Australian Open is going on, the Morning News recently revealed the judges and competing titles for their annual Tournament of Books.

It’s a sort of predictable bunch of literary fiction with limited concessions to commercialism (The Help sold a ton of copies) and some other trend (last year featured a YA title, this year it’s a graphic novel). But who cares?! It’s a contest that acknowledges how arbitrary it is, AND that gets people engaged in a dialogue about books. So I don’t mind that my favorite book of last year (This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper) didn’t make the shortlist. Or that what I thought was the most overrated book of last year did (Lowboy by John Wray, how twee and dull I found you).

Instead, I’m going to celebrate that I’ve already read four of the sixteen competing titles (also including Let the Great World Spin; Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned; and Miles from Nowhere). Then I’ll pretend I’m going to read the other twelve, get through maybe two of them, and follow the tournament like a bookie at the races.