The Rooster

Announcing the 2013 Tournament of Books

The ides of March may be four months away, but a certain rooster is sick of waiting. Introducing the finalists and judges for TMN’s ninth annual Tournament of Books, presented by NOOK® by Barnes & Noble.

A short time ago, in a barnyard far, far away, a bleary-eyed Rooster woke up from a dream. It had been a good dream. He was clucking around his pen, strutting his stuff, and there on the ground lay 16 of the finest works of fiction from 2012, all for him to shred, devour, and consume without mercy.

If you have no idea what we’re talking about, get ready: We are thrilled to announce the Ninth Annual Morning News Tournament of Books, coming March 2013.

That’s right—the granddaddy of highbrow bracketology is back!

The ToB is an annual springtime event here at the Morning News, where 16 of the year’s best works of fiction enter a March Madness-style battle royale. Today we’re announcing the judges and final books for the 2013 competition as well as the long list of books from which the contenders were selected.

But before any of that, a big announcement: We are thrilled to say this year’s Tournament will be presented by NOOK® by Barnes & Noble! Welcome, NOOK, to the terror-dome!

If you’re new to the tournament, here’s how it works: Each weekday in March, two works of fiction from 2012 go head to head, with one of our judges deciding—with elaborate explanation—to advance one title into the next bracket. At the end of the month, the winner of the tournament is blessed with the Rooster, our prize named after David Sedaris’s brother (because why not). Along the way, each judge reveals his or her biases and interests, any connections they have to the participating authors, and, most importantly, how they decided between the two books. Then our ToB Chairmen, authors Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner, weigh in with commentary, and finally leave it up to you, the readers, to add your own passionate thoughts and rebukes to the mix.

There’s also a Zombie Round, plenty of contests and prizes, a visit from the Biblioracle, and a new feature for 2013 called the Pre-Tournament Playoff—but we’ll get to all that in the coming weeks.

Consider the Tournament of Books our attempt—with our judges’ assessments, our commentators’ wit, and especially your contributions—to talk about what is really our true passion in the end: reading fiction.

For now, the reason we’re announcing this three months early is because, over the years, readers have told us they enjoy having some time before the tournament to read the finalists themselves in order to participate more fully in the discussion.

A note about our finalists: The books listed below came to us from many sources. Publishers, agents, editors, writers, and critics. Newspapers’ best-of-the-year round-ups, and radio reports we half-heard in the car. Online merchants, neighborhood booksellers, and also plenty of ToB readers and followers. We consulted the staff of The Morning News, we consulted our parents, and we consulted some cowboys in a bar in rural Idaho (really). Our decision panel weighed each book’s merits, got into fights over email, bargained and pleaded, laughed and cried—and, in the end, we’re confident our final list truly represents some of the best fiction from 2012.

But we’d also like to insist that our list isn’t definitive at all. How could it be? The year of 2012 was outstanding for fiction. There will be dozens of great books—even books people loved and recommended to us—that didn’t make the long list, never mind the finalists. It’s mean. It’s unfair. And of course the idea of considering one of these books the “best” of the year is absolutely silly.

But contests do have value. They can entertain, celebrate, and inform. Nine years ago, when we conceived this tournament in a Brooklyn bar while plenty drunk, we talked about how we equally loved and despised book prizes. Couldn’t there be another way, rather than the big awards’ incestuous juries and smoke-filled-rooms, to discover the best? So consider the Tournament of Books our attempt—with our judges’ assessments, our commentators’ wit, and especially your contributions—to talk about what is really our true passion in the end: reading fiction. 

The Rooster may want blood, but he does so because he cares.

A final note: As is our custom, we held a contest this month for one of our readers to become a judge in this year’s tournament. We’re excited to announce the winner: Dave Pacey, who won us over with his passionate dedication to the ToB.

Maybe you’ve noticed we’re all about passion around here.

Now to the books and judges. A final welcome to NOOK and Barnes & Noble, and a great big welcome to you. We wish you happy and safe holidays, and we’ll see you in March!


The 2013 Tournament of Books Finalists

Pre-Tournament Playoff Round

The 2013 Tournament of Books Judges

Stefan Beck has written for the Wall Street Journal, the New York Sun, the Weekly Standard, the New Criterion, the Barnes & Noble Review, and other publications. He lives in Connecticut.

Kate Bolick is a contributing editor for the Atlantic. Her first book, Among the Suitors: On Being a Woman, Alone, is forthcoming from Crown/Random House, and her Atlantic cover story “All the Single Ladies” is in development with CBS as a TV sitcom. She lives in Brooklyn Heights.

Nathan Bradley is an active-duty Army officer and writer. His work has previously appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and is forthcoming in the Iowa Review. Follow him on Twitter at @inthesedeserts.

Lev Grossman is the author of the New York Times bestsellers The Magicians and The Magician King. He's also the book critic at Time Magazine, and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Wired, The Believer, the Wall Street Journal, and Salon, as well as on NPR. And one day it will all disappear.

Jack Hitt writes for the New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker, and Rolling Stone. He is also a contributor to public radio's This American Life. His most recent book, Bunch of Amateurs, is coming out in paperback this May.

Ron Hogan launched Beatrice back in 1995, and he's been using the internet to tell people what they should read ever since. He lives in Queens.

Elliott Holt’s first novel, You Are One of Them, will be published by The Penguin Press in June 2013. Her short fiction has appeared in The Pushcart Prize XXXV 2011 anthology, among other places. Follow her on Twitter at @elliottholt.

Tony Horwitz is the author, most recently, of Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War. His other books include Confederates in the Attic, Blue Latitudes, Baghdad Without a Map, and A Voyage Long and Strange. He is also a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has written for the New Yorker and worked as a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal.

Saeed Jones received his MFA from Rutgers University, Newark, and is a 2011 Pushcart Prize nominee. His work has appeared in Ebony, Guernica, The Rumpus, Lambda Literary, and Hayden’s Ferry Review, among others. He has received fellowships from Cave Canem and the Queer/Art/Mentorship.

Edan Lepucki is a staff writer for The Millions and the author of the novella If You’re Not Yet Like Me. Her short fiction has been published in McSweeney’s and Narrative Magazine, among other places, and she’s the founder and director of Writing Workshops Los Angeles. Her first novel will be published by Little, Brown in spring 2014.

D.T. Max is the author of The Family That Couldn’t Sleep and Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, two children, and a rescued beagle named Max.

Dave Pacey, our ToB 2013 Reader Judge, is the proud father of an eight-year-old boy named Owen, an avid outdoorsman, a book collector, a traveler, and, when he's not reading, a dentist.

Rachel Riederer is an editor at Guernica: A Magazine of Art and Politics and a writing teacher at Baruch College. Her work has appeared in Tin House, Mother Jones, The Nation, The Rumpus, and Best American Essays 2011. Her tinier observations can be found on Twitter at @readerer.

Davy Rothbart is the creator of Found Magazine and the author of the essay collection My Heart Is an Idiot and the story collection The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas. A contributor to public radio’s This American Life, he lives in Los Angeles.

Natasha Vargas-Cooper is a longtime resident of the San Fernando Valley and a former union organizer, and has been published in the New York Times, the Atlantic, GQ, and Spin.

Caity Weaver is a staff writer at Gawker and has been published in Mental Floss and The Hairpin.

Charles Yu is the author of three books, including the novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, which was a New York Times Book Review Notable Book and selected by Time Magazine as one of the best books of 2010. His most recent book is Sorry Please Thank You. He is always looking for human connection, in a (mostly) non-creepy way.

The 2013 Tournament of Books Long List

  • Fobbit by David Abrams
  • At Last by Edward St. Aubyn
  • The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg
  • Toby’s Room by Pat Barker
  • Maidenhead by Tamara Faith Berger
  • HHhH by Laurent Binet
  • Country of the Bad Wolfes by James Carlos Blake
  • Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
  • Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
  • With Blood in Their Eyes by Thomas Cobb
  • What They Do in the Dark Amanda Coe
  • Perla by Carolina de Robertis
  • This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz
  • A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers
  • The Round House by Louise Erdrich
  • Absolution by Patrick Flanery
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  • Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
  • The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  • Threats by Amelia Gray
  • Arcadia by Lauren Groff
  • The World Without You by Joshua Henkin
  • How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti
  • May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes
  • A Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins
  • In One Person by John Irving
  • The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
  • That’s Not a Feeling by Dan Josefson
  • The Dead Do Not Improve by Jay Caspian Kang
  • Good Behaviour by Molly Keane
  • Gone to the Forest by Katie Kitamura
  • Ivyland by Miles Klee
  • Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzru
  • The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle
  • Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
  • Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy
  • Railsea by China Miéville
  • Pure by Andrew Miller
  • The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
  • Magnificence by Lydia Millet
  • Dear Life by Alice Munro
  • The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
  • Boy21 by Matthew Quick
  • The Cove by Ron Rash
  • The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
  • Redshirts by John Scalzi
  • Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple
  • Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  • NW by Zadie Smith
  • This Bright River by Patrick Somerville
  • Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub
  • Drama by Raina Telgemeier
  • The Dream of Doctor Bantam by Jeanne Thornton
  • By Blood by Ellen Ullman
  • Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
  • Building Stories by Chris Ware
  • Jack Holmes and His Friend by Edmund White
  • The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
  • Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles
  • Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe

The Tournament of Books’ organizers Andrew Womack and Rosecrans Baldwin are TMN’s co-founders. Baldwin’s most recent book is Everything Now, winner of the 2022 California Book Award. For his other books, try More by The Tournament of Books Staff