The Rooster

The 2011 Tournament of Books

Announcing the contenders, judges, and Zombie Round for the bloodiest award in publishing: the Seventh Annual Tournament of Books, presented by Field Notes.

Presented by Field Notes Brand

This morning, amid a great thrum of imaginary fanfare, the Morning News Selection Committee unveils this year’s 16 contenders and judges for that battle royale of literary excellence, the Seventh Annual Tournament of Books presented by Field Notes, sponsored by Powell’s Books.

The competition doesn’t begin until Monday, March 7, 2011, but today’s announcement will allow time for Tournament fans to begin reading so they can follow along with the blood sport.

We’ll also let you know below how you can help determine the participants in this year’s Zombie Round.

But First, a Word From Our Sponsor

You know Field Notes, right? Makers of the Field Notes Brand memo books, steno books, and other handy products, made right here in the U.S.A.?

Well, they have created a special, limited-edition Tournament of Books memo book (see picture above) that you can use to track your Rooster reading. Buy anything from Field Notes from now until the end of the Tournament and you’ll receive a special “reading list” memo book free while they last. (Just use coupon code ROOSTER.)

How the Tournament Works

Each spring we take 16 of the most celebrated novels of the previous calendar year (30 percent off from and seed them into a competitive bracket—the kind you see in the N.C.A.A. basketball championship. Seventeen judges are enlisted throughout several rounds of competition, with each arbiter considering two books and advancing one. In this way, a pool of 16 books becomes eight, eight becomes four, four becomes two, and two becomes one, The Rooster, Champion Book of the Year.

Well, almost. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Each weekday in March, two books go head to head, with a judge explaining in detail how he or she has chosen one of them to advance to the next round. Unlike other book awards, we ask our judges to come clean about how they made their decision, their literary biases and reading preferences, their personal and professional conflicts and affiliations.

We also give you, the readers and fans, a chance to determine the outcome. (Don’t forget, we already held a contest for one of you to become a judge.) During competition, once the judges have winnowed the field to two books, we enter the Zombie Round. This is where the top two most popular books among you readers that were earlier eliminated in the competition rise from the dead and get another chance to trip up the semi-finalists on their march to victory.

See instructions below for how you can help determine which of this year’s novels will get that second chance.

Finally, one book wins The Rooster, the Champion Book of the Year, and we award/threaten its author with the presentation of a live rooster, the official Tournament of Books mascot, named after our favorite character in contemporary literature, David Sedaris’s brother.

If any of this seems confusing to you, you can listen to an All Things Considered interview here, which puts it in language any NPR listener can understand.

What This List of Books Is and What It Is Not

It is not a list of the best novels of 2010. The novel had an incredible year, in our opinion, but this is not even a list of our favorite books from 2010. Because compiling such a list would be absurd. Even collectively we have read only a tiny fraction of the books published last year. We haven’t even read all the books on the Rooster list, at least not yet.

Each of these books was chosen because it was hyped. Or celebrated. Or not celebrated or hyped enough. Or because it won an award. Or because an individual (or individuals) we admire lobbied passionately for its inclusion.

Buy anything from Field Notes from now until the end of the ToB and receive a special “reading list” memo book free, while they last. Use coupon code ROOSTER.

This might have been a family member, a critic, a publicist, a friend, a bookseller, or a guy we met at the Miami Book Fair who bought us drinks.

The point is, throughout the year we asked writers, booksellers, TMN readers, and random people on airplanes for their favorite titles, and all of that information contributed to the process. Eventually, in a series of combative round-robin emails, a list of 16 books emerged from a much bigger pool. And it is not a comprehensive list. It is not definitive. People with axes to grind will find plenty to sharpen their axes on. We admit there are many multiples of 16 books that easily could have made this list.

Every author who wrote an outstanding book in 2010 (and there were many) entered a lottery, and these 16 are the mostly arbitrary winners of that process. So it is with any award. We are happy to admit that truth.

But we believe it is a very strong list.

As mysterious and random as the selection process is, we try our best, as the competition begins, to make the randomness more transparent. Come March, you will see which judge advances which book, and you will be able to read their justification. There will be surprises and controversies, upsets and kerfuffles. As usual, we’ll have our color commentators on hand to discuss the decisions, and our Rooster statistician will return to provide analysis and predictions.

Then there’s you, the reader. Sometimes you’ll agree with the decisions, sometimes you won’t, and in both cases we hope you’ll voice your opinion in the discussion—which has become, as Salon critic Laura Miller put it last year, “a rare pocket of civility and informed intelligence.” The point is, some of you will be delighted, and some of you will become angry beyond boundaries of rational perspective. Some of you will declare the process a travesty and declare you are never coming back.

And that’s OK. Because we were dumb drunk in a Brooklyn bar seven years ago when we came up with the Rooster. But like the inventor of the vortex beer bottle, we woke up the next morning, sorted through our regrets, and realized we had a dream worth realizing, a dream in which 16 of the world’s best novelists fought valiantly for a live cock.

And it has been great fun six years running.

The 16 Books That Will Compete in Our Seventh Annual Battle Royale

Booksellers and readers, please note that we’ll soon have a beautiful brackets poster that you can use for displays, gambling, cubicle decoration, etc. Keep an eye on TMN and Twitter.

Our Honorable Judges for the 2011 Tournament of Books

Elif Batuman lives in Istanbul, where she is writer-in-residence at Koç University, and writes for the New Yorker. Her first book, The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, was published in 2010.

Rosecrans Baldwin is a founding editor of The Morning News. His first novel, You Lost Me There (Riverhead), was named an editors’ choice by the New York Times Book Review and a Best Book of 2010 by NPR. His next book, Paris I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down, is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus & Giroux. When he orders takeout, he leaves John as his name at the counter.

Matthew Baldwin is a programmer from Seattle who lives with the Best Wife Ever and a handful of good-for-nothing cats. He runs the website defective yeti, loves to play board games, and once convinced 30 sober adults to run the 100-meter dash with their pants around their ankles.

Matt Dellinger is the author of Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway.

Anthony Doerr is currently a Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. His most recent book is Memory Wall.

Michele Filgate is the Events Coordinator at RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, N.H. She’s a writer, book critic, and freelance producer for NHPR’s Word of Mouth. Her reviews have been published in the Star Tribune, Bookslut, the Quarterly Conversation, the Brooklyn Rail, and other publications. Follow her on Twitter.

TMN Reader Judge Contest Winner Catherine George was born and raised in British Columbia, where she first got started with books when her mother took a job at the local library and assigned the book stacks to be her babysitter. She graduated from a BFA in Creative Writing in 2006 and has been struggling to figure out what to do with it ever since. In 2009, she quit a job as a reporter to spend a year writing the Great Canadian Novel. Result: one 400-page clunker of a first draft and one kernel of something better. Despite currently being a law student, she continues to believe she’ll finish the novel.

Radhika Jones is an assistant managing editor at Time, supervising coverage of culture and society. Previously, Jones was the managing editor of The Paris Review. Her writing has appeared in Time, The Paris Review, the New York Times Book Review, and Bookforum, where she wrote a column called “Collections,” profiling cultural figures through the contents of their bookshelves.

Jessica Francis Kane is the author of a story collection, Bending Heaven (Counterpoint), and a novel, The Report (Graywolf Press), which was a finalist for the 2010 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize and a Barnes & Noble “Discover” pick. Kane’s writing has appeared in many publications, including VQR, McSweeney’s, and Granta. A new story collection is forthcoming from Graywolf next year. She lives in New York with her husband and their two children.

Hamilton Leithauser is the lead singer of the band The Walkmen.

C. Max Magee created and edits The Millions. He is co-editor of the forthcoming collection of essays, The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books.

Sarah Manguso’s most recent books include The Two Kinds of Decay and Hard to Admit and Harder to Escape. Honors for her writing include a Hodder Fellowship, the Rome Prize, and residencies at MacDowell and Yaddo. Her next book, The Guardians, a prose elegy, is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Kate Ortega is—most days—an assistant news editor for the website of the Wall Street Journal. She is from Columbus (Ohio, but she shouldn’t need to clarify that), she knows the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs, and she is oddly proud of both of these accomplishments. In her free time, she enjoys living in Brooklyn, knitting (mostly hats), and running in the park (mostly fast).

John Roderick is currently the lead singer and guitarist in the band The Long Winters. His first book of extremely short prose, Electric Aphorisms, was published in November 2009.

Jennifer Weiner is the author of eight books, including Good in Bed, In Her Shoes, Best Friends Forever, and Fly Away Home. She is a graduate of Princeton University and lives in Philadelphia with her family. She can be found on Twitter.

John Williams is the founder and editor of The Second Pass, an online book review. His work as a freelance writer has appeared in Slate, Stop Smiling, the Barnes & Noble Review, and other publications.

Andrew Womack is a founding editor of The Morning News and the publisher of The Staff Recommends.

Finally, It’s Zombie Time

You have until next Thursday, Jan. 27, to click this link and tell us which book from the list above was your favorite in 2010. Don’t forget to pick up your books at Powell’s and snag one of those sexy Rooster notebooks, while supplies last, with any Field Notes purchase (coupon code: ROOSTER).

The Tournament begins Monday, March 7, 2011. To stay up to date on the latest ToB news, keep reading TMN, like the Tournament of Books on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter. Plus, you can interact with other readers and discuss this year’s ToB books at The Cage, our reader community powered by Thank you, and happy reading!


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