Are summer camps even happening this year? Is summer happening? No one knows, but Camp ToB is for sure happening, because just like the novels we read, it doesn't happen in the real world. Really makes you think.
Or maybe we've been sitting near this burning citronella candle too long.
But still! Camp ToB 2020 is happening—scheduled, staffed, and we're prepping the campfires as we speak. It's all about the Rooster community coming together to do what the Rooster community does best: read books, fall in love with some books, passionately engage-in-but-not-love some books, and passionately discuss it all with our friends.
But before camp officially kicks off on June 3, you need to decide which books we're reading for the summer. In the poll below we've got 12 Rooster-worthy novels for you to vote on—novels first published in English in this calendar year that we feel are excellent and interesting, great reads. (There's also a blank for a write-in vote, should you want to take matters into your own hands.) We'll take the top vote-getters and 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.
Camp bylaws are the same as last summer:
- Every week we'll read half of each book, then discuss here on Wednesdays.
- We'll be joined in the commentary booth each week by a different member of the Commentariat. (Please volunteer for that in the form below!)
- At the end of each month you decide which of the two books we just read heads to the end-of-summer finale, where you'll cast one final vote to decide which of our summer reads heads to the 2021 Tournament of Books.
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 2020 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.
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
In Manhattan, a young grad student gets off the train and realizes he doesn't remember who he is, where he's from, or even his own name. But he can sense the beating heart of the city, see its history, and feel its power. In the Bronx, a Lenape gallery director discovers strange graffiti scattered throughout the city, so beautiful and powerful it's as if the paint is literally calling to her. In Brooklyn, a politician and mother finds she can hear the songs of her city, pulsing to the beat of her Louboutin heels. And they're not the only ones. Every great city has a soul. Some are ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York? She's got six.
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
Camino Rios lives for the summers, when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this year, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people. In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash. Separated by distance—and Papi’s secrets—the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered. And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.
The Heap by Sean Adams
Standing nearly 500 stories tall, Los Verticalés once bustled with life and excitement. Now this marvel of modern architecture and nontraditional urban planning has collapsed into a pile of rubble known as the Heap. Orville Anders burrows into the bowels of the Heap to find his brother Bernard, the beloved radio DJ of Los Verticalés, who is alive and miraculously broadcasting somewhere under the massive rubble. The brothers’ conversations are a ratings bonanza, and the station’s parent company wants to boost its profits by having Orville slyly drop brand names into his nightly talks with Bernard. When Orville refuses, his access to Bernard is suddenly cut off, but strangely, he continues to hear his own voice over the airwaves, casually shilling products as “he” converses with Bernard.
Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
Willis Wu doesn’t perceive himself as a protagonist even in his own life: He’s merely Generic Asian man. Sometimes he gets to be Background Oriental Making a Weird Face or even Disgraced Son, but he is always relegated to a prop. Yet every day he leaves his tiny room in a Chinatown SRO and enters the Golden Palace restaurant, where Black and White, a procedural cop show, is in perpetual production. He’s a bit player here, too, but he dreams of being Kung Fu Guy—the most respected role that anyone who looks like him can attain. At least that’s what he has been told, time and time again. Except by one person, his mother. Who says to him: Be more.
Long Bright River by Liz Moore
Two sisters travel the same streets,though their lives couldn’t be more different. Then one of them goes missing. In a Philadelphia neighborhood rocked by the opioid crisis, two once-inseparable sisters find themselves at odds. One, Kacey, lives on the streets in the vise of addiction. The other, Mickey, walks those same blocks on her police beat. They don’t speak anymore, but Mickey never stops worrying about her sibling. Then Kacey disappears, suddenly, at the same time that a mysterious string of murders begins in Mickey’s district, and Mickey becomes dangerously obsessed with finding the culprit—and her sister—before it’s too late.
The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich
It is 1953, and Thomas Wazhashk and the other Chippewa Council members at the Turtle Mountain Reservation are facing a new Congressional bill that threatens the rights of Native Americans to their land and their very identity. Also living in this impoverished reservation community is Patrice Paranteau, whose beloved older sister, Vera, moved to the big city of Minneapolis, hasn't been in touch, and is rumored to have had a baby. Determined to find Vera and her child, Patrice makes a fateful trip to Minnesota that introduces her to unexpected forms of exploitation and violence, and endangers her life.
Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn
In 1995 Kailua-Kona, Hawai‘i, seven-year-old Nainoa Flores falls overboard into the Pacific Ocean. When a shiver of sharks appears in the water, everyone fears the worst. But Noa is gingerly delivered to his mother in the jaws of a shark, marking his story the stuff of legends. Noa’s family hails his rescue as a sign of the favor of ancient Hawaiian gods—a belief that appears reinforced by Noa’s puzzling new abilities. Now Noa, working as a paramedic in gritty Oregon neighborhoods, attempts to fathom his expanding abilities; in Washington, his older brother Dean hurtles into the world of elite college athletics; and in California, risk-addicted younger sister Kaui navigates unforgiving academic and wilderness landscapes to forge her independence from the family’s legacy.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Alix Chamberlain is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains’ toddler one night, walking the aisles of their local high-end supermarket. The store’s security guard, seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, accuses Emira of kidnapping the child. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make things right. But Emira herself is aimless, broke, and wary of Alix’s desire to help. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix’s past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other.
Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann
This account of the 17th-century vagabond performer and trickster Tyll Ulenspiegel begins when he’s a scrawny boy growing up in a quiet village. When his father, a miller with a secret interest in alchemy and magic, is found out by the church, Tyll is forced to flee with the baker’s daughter, Nele. They find safety and companionship with a traveling performer, who teaches Tyll his trade. And so begins a journey of discovery and performance for Tyll, as he travels through a continent devastated by the Thirty Years’ War and encounters along the way a hangman, a fraudulent Jesuit scholar, and the exiled King Frederick and Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia.
We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry
In the coastal town of Danvers, Mass., where the accusations began that led to the 1692 witch trials, the 1989 Danvers High School Falcons field hockey team will do anything to make it to the state finals—even if it means tapping into some devilishly dark powers. Helmed by good-girl captain Abby Putnam (a descendant of the infamous Salem accuser Ann Putnam) and her co-captain Jen Fiorenza (whose bleached-blonde “Claw” sees and knows all), the Falcons prove to be wily, original, and bold, flaunting society's stale notions of femininity in order to find their glorious true selves through the crucible of team sport and, more importantly, friendship.
Weather by Jenny Offill
Lizzie Benson slid into her job as a librarian without a traditional degree. But this gives her a vantage point from which to practice her other calling: she is a fake shrink. Then her old mentor, Sylvia Liller, makes a proposal. She wants to hire Lizzie to answer the mail she receives: from left-wingers worried about climate change and right-wingers worried about the decline of western civilization. When her brother becomes a father and Sylvia a recluse, Lizzie is forced to address the limits of her own experience—but still she tries to save everyone, using everything she's learned from her years of wandering the library stacks.
Writers & Lovers by Lily King
Blindsided by her mother’s sudden death, and wrecked by a recent love affair, Casey Peabody has arrived in Massachusetts in the summer of 1997 without a plan. A former child golf prodigy, she now waits tables in Harvard Square and rents a tiny, moldy room at the side of a garage where she works on the novel she’s been writing for six years. At 31, Casey is still clutching onto something nearly all her old friends have let go of: the determination to live a creative life. When she falls for two very different men at the same time, her world fractures even more. Casey’s fight to fulfill her creative ambitions and balance the conflicting demands of art and life is challenged in ways that push her to the brink.
We'll see you soon!