Annual Tournament of Books Offers Different Kind of Literary Competition

by Staff

The NCAA college basketball tournament recently ended, but the second annual Tournament of Books—a literary showdown between sixteen novels sponsored by the Morning News and—is still going strong. This year’s competition features titles by Mary Gaitskill, Kazuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan, and Zadie Smith, among others.

Here’s how it works: In each tournament round, a pair of the sixteen finalists (fourteen of which are chosen by the Morning News editors, and two more by a readers’ poll) are matched up and evaluated by a single judge. This year’s panel of judges includes Anthony Doerr, Brigid Hughes, Maud Newton, and others. The winner of each round moves on, and must advance through four rounds to get to the championship. Once there, all the judges will vote together for the overall winner, who receives the honorary “Rooster” award, named after the nickname that David Sedaris’s brother gives to himself in the essay “You Can’t Kill the Rooster,” from Sedaris’s collection Me Talk Pretty One Day (Little, Brown, 2000).

After each round, the judges offer an explanation of their choice, which is published by the Morning News. All novels in the tournament can be purchased from for a thirty-percent discount.

Some highlights of this year’s battle have been the second-round victory of Nicole Krauss and The History of Love (W.W. Norton, 2005) over her husband Jonathan Safran Foer and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Houghton Mifflin, 2005), and judge Dale Peck’s third-round refusal to choose either Ian McEwan’s Saturday (Nan A. Talese, 2005) or Ali Smith’s The Accidental (Pantheon, 2006). The tournament organizers, Rosecrans Baldwin, Kevin Guilfoile, and Andrew Womack, flipped a coin and picked The Accidental. Smith’s novel now faces Homeland (Picador, 2005) by Sam Lipsyte for the championship.