The Tournament of Books is not considered a great prize and there is no monetary award, just a rooster, but I contend that it is the most exciting literary time of the year–better than the Pulitzer, the Man Booker, the National Book Award, and even the Nobel.
All those other awards are given under a shroud and with just a few lines of justification. Spend a few days in anticipation while waiting for the announcement, yeah. Get a momentary thrill, sure. Question the decision process, yes. But a day or two later, the discussion ends. The Tournament of Books is not like that–not at all.
A project of The Morning News, the Tournament take place all through the month of March. It pits 13 books against each other in one-on-one rounds, with the judges for each round named and specifically discussing the two books and why they chose the winner they did. Two official commentators give their opinions and the public also comments. Still, the winner is the winner, and that book moves onto the next round while the loser is knocked out of the competition.
Or so you may think.
By the time the end of the month nears, and the books have been whittled down to two, the zombie round ensues. Two books that have already been knocked out are voted back in by the public. These two books compete with the remaining two in the final set of battles.
The Tournament of Books touts its transparency in coming to a decision, and specifies none of any of this is fair–it’s all taste and opinion. But it’s a fun discussion of books. Whether you have read all the books in contention and are rooting for your favorite, or you’ve read none and you get to hear what the judges, commentators, and public have to really say about these books to add to your reading list, it’s an active discussion of books that gets those who keep up with it excited about reading. Curious? Read the judging for last year’s play-in round between Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving and A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler, judged by the writers of Bob’s Burgers.
When you’re done, check out this year’s short-list and prepare for another kind of March Madness.