Summer is nearly here, as is the third edition of the Rooster Summer Reading Challenge!
Wait, it’s not called that anymore.
Welcome, everybody, to Camp ToB, the summer reading program from the Tournament of Books! Why the name change? Because we want this summer event to be about all of us, reading together, experiencing and discussing some of our favorite fiction of the year so far.
And we really do mean “our” favorite fiction—because this year you’ll decide our entire playing field. Based on our reading, plus books suggested by the Commentariat during the final week of the 2019 Tournament of Books—a list that we’ve compiled into a spreadsheet for your reference—the ToB Committee has selected 12 Rooster-worthy novels according to our normal criteria: fiction first published in English in the calendar year that we feel is excellent and interesting. We’ve included those titles in the poll below. Based on your votes, we’ll compile a final set of six contenders that the ToB Committee will arrange into three matchups, one for each month that Camp ToB will be in session this summer.
The poll closes at midnight (ET) on Monday, May 13—get whittling, campers. See below for our summer reading list and schedule.
(We’ve also included a spot in the poll for a write-in vote. If there’s a novel you think deserves to be in play, add it there. And feel free to conspire in the comments.)
Update: Our Camp ToB 2019 Reading Schedule
With our Camp ToB 2019 poll now closed and your votes counted, our summer reads and schedule are finalized! We’ll specify pages and chapters in an upcoming announcement, but here is our overall summer schedule:
- June 5: Bowlaway through page 172
- June 12: Bowlaway to the end
- June 19: Daisy Jones & the Six through page 151 (finish “The Numbers Tour” section)
- June 26: Daisy Jones & the Six to the end
- July 3: VACATION
- July 10: Lost Children Archive through page 186 (finish part 1, or chapter 11 on audio)
- July 17: Lost Children Archive to the end
- July 24: Trust Exercise through page 131 (finish part 1, or chapter 5 on audio)
- July 31: Trust Exercise to the end
- Aug. 7: American Spy through page 141 (finish chapter 12)
- Aug. 14: American Spy to the end
- Aug. 21: Black Leopard, Red Wolf through page 243 (finish chapter 2)
- Aug. 28: Black Leopard, Red Wolf to the end
- Sept. 4: Announce summer champion
Just as you’ll decide the books we read, at the end of each month you’ll also decide which book advances to our end-of-summer championship, where you’ll make the ultimate call on which of our three finalists wins an automatic berth in the 2020 Tournament of Books.
Which brings us to an additional change, effective this summer: None of our summer reads—or any of the titles in the poll below—will be disqualified automatically from next year’s Tournament of Books. What happens at camp, stays at camp.
Something that hasn’t changed, however, is our general reading schedule. Two weeks per book, then we meet back here on Wednesdays. On odd weeks we’ll discuss the first half of a book, and on even weeks we’ll cover its conclusion. In between Wednesdays, watch the comments to see more detailed discussions about our progress through each book.
There’s just one more new item to announce: For our weekly discussions, instead of bringing outside judges into the booth, we’ll interview a Commentariat member about their experience reading the novel currently in play. That person will also help us kick off the week’s discussion in the comments section.
So, readers, if you’re interested in joining us in the booth this summer, please enter your email address in the poll below. Once we have our final set of books in hand, we’ll hold a drawing to randomly select our booth participants, and will let you know which half of which book you’ll be discussing.
Before we get to the books, we want to extend our deepest thanks to our Sustaining Members for making this event possible. Please take a moment to find out why The Morning News and the Tournament of Books depend on your support, and consider becoming a Sustaining Member or making a one-time donation. Thank you!
The 2019 Camp ToB Shortlist
Please note: We get a cut from any purchases made through the list links. Book descriptions are excerpted from publishers’ summaries and edited for length.
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson
It’s 1986, the heart of the Cold War, and Marie Mitchell is an intelligence officer with the FBI. She’s brilliant, but she’s also a young black woman working in an old boys’ club. So when she’s given the opportunity to join a shadowy task force aimed at undermining Thomas Sankara, the charismatic revolutionary president of Burkina Faso whose Communist ideology has made him a target for American intervention, she says yes. Yes, even though she secretly admires the work Sankara is doing for his country. Yes, even though she is still grieving the mysterious death of her sister, whose example led Marie to this career path in the first place. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
Engaged to track down a mysterious boy who disappeared three years earlier, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone when he finds himself part of a group that comes together to search for the boy. The band is a hodgepodge, full of unusual characters with secrets of their own, including a shape-shifting man-animal known as Leopard. As Tracker follows the boy’s scent, he and the band are set upon by creatures intent on destroying them. As he struggles to survive, Tracker starts to wonder: Who, really, is this boy? And why do so many people want to keep Tracker from finding him? (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)
Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken
From the day she is discovered unconscious in a cemetery at the turn of the 20th century—nothing but a bowling ball, a candlepin, and 15 pounds of gold on her person—Bertha Truitt is an enigma to everyone, and her mysterious origin scandalizes and intrigues the locals. But when Bertha dies in a freak accident, her past resurfaces in the form of a heretofore-unheard-of son. Soon it becomes clear that Bertha’s defining spirit and her obfuscations live on, affecting future generations through inheritance battles, murky paternities, and hidden wills. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)
Bunny by Mona Awad
Samantha Heather Mackey couldn’t be more of an outsider in her small, highly selective MFA program at New England’s Warren University, where she is utterly repelled by the rest of her fiction writing cohort—a clique of rich girls who call each other “Bunny.” But everything changes when Samantha receives an invitation to the Bunnies’ fabled “Smut Salon.” As she plunges deeper and deeper into the Bunny cult and starts to take part in their ritualistic off-campus “Workshop” where they magically conjure their monstrous creations, the edges of reality begin to blur, and her friendships are brought into deadly collision. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)
Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Daisy is a girl coming of age in LA in the late ’60s. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock ’n’ roll she loves most. By the time she’s 20, her voice is getting noticed. Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road. Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)
If, Then by Kate Hope Day
In the quiet haven of Clearing, Ore., four neighbors find their lives upended when they begin to see themselves in parallel realities. Ginny has a baffling vision of a beautiful co-worker in Ginny’s own bed and begins to doubt her marriage. Ginny’s husband, Mark, sees a vision that suggests impending devastation and grows increasingly paranoid. Samara, desperately mourning the recent death of her mother, witnesses an apparition of her mother healthy and vibrant. Cass catches a glimpse of herself pregnant again, just as she’s on the brink of returning to a career-defining project. When a natural disaster threatens Clearing, it becomes obvious that the visions were not what they first seemed. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)
kaddish.com by Nathan Englander
Larry is the secular son in a family of Orthodox Brooklyn Jews. When his father dies, it’s his responsibility to recite the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, every day for 11 months. To the horror and dismay of his sister, Larry refuses—imperiling the fate of his father’s soul. To appease her, Larry hatches an ingenious if cynical plan, hiring a stranger through a website called kaddish.com to recite the prayer and shepherd his father’s soul safely to rest. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
A mother and father set out with their two children, driving from New York to Arizona in the heat of summer. On the radio, there is news about an “immigration crisis”: thousands of kids trying to cross the southwestern border into the United States, but getting detained—or lost in the desert along the way. As the family drives, we sense they are on the brink of a crisis of their own. A fissure is growing between the parents, one the children can almost feel beneath their feet. They are led, inexorably, to a grand, harrowing adventure—both in the desert landscape and within the chambers of their own imaginations. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)
Sea Monsters by Chloe Aridjis
One autumn afternoon in Mexico City, 17-year-old Luisa boards a bus to the Pacific coast with Tomás, a boy she barely knows. He seems to represent everything her life is lacking: recklessness, impulse, independence. Tomás may also help Luisa fulfill an unusual obsession: She wants to track down a traveling troupe of Ukrainian dwarfs. According to newspaper reports, the dwarfs recently escaped a Soviet circus touring Mexico. The imagined fates of these performers fill Luisa’s surreal dreams as she settles in a beach community in Oaxaca. As she wanders the shoreline and visits the local bar, Luisa begins to disappear dangerously into the lives of strangers on Zipolite, the “Beach of the Dead.” (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)
Sing to It by Amy Hempel
These 15 stories introduce characters, lonely and adrift, searching for connection. In “A Full-Service Shelter,” a volunteer at a dog shelter tirelessly, devotedly cares for dogs on a list to be euthanized. In “Greed,” a spurned wife examines her husband’s affair with a glamorous, older married woman. And in “Cloudland,” a woman reckons with the choice she made as a teenager to give up her newborn infant. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)
Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea by Sarah Pinsker
The baker’s dozen stories gathered here (including a new, previously unpublished story) turn readers into travelers to the past, the future, and explorers of the weirder points of the present. The journey is the thing, weaving music, memory, technology, history, mystery, love, loss, and even multiple selves on generation ships and cruise ships, on highways and high seas, in murder houses and treehouses. They feature runaways, fiddle-playing astronauts, and retired time travelers; they are weird, wired, hopeful, haunting, and deeply human. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)
Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
In an American suburb in the early 1980s, students at a highly competitive performing arts high school struggle and thrive in a rarified bubble. When two freshmen, David and Sarah, fall headlong into love, their passion does not go unnoticed—or untoyed with—by anyone, especially not by their charismatic acting teacher, Mr. Kingsley. The outside world of family life and economic status, of academic pressure and of their future adult lives, fails to penetrate this school’s walls—until it does, in a shocking spiral of events that catapults the action forward in time and flips the premise upside-down. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)