The Rooster

The 2018 Rooster Summer Reading Challenge: The Final

It’s the end of the summer, the readers have spoken, and we have a winner.

Nozlee Samadzadeh: The votes are in, and every one of them counted. The winner, by a very close margin for all three books, is Census by Jesse Ball. That means it now has a guaranteed spot in the 2019 Tournament of Books, which kicks off next March.

Census already ousted its July competitor, Circe by Madeline Miller, and has now defeated our other summer finalists, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones and The Friend by Sigrid Nunez.

Andrew Womack: Congratulations to Census, which won our reader poll by just a single vote over An American Marriage—and four votes over The Friend. Remember: Every vote matters. This seems like a good time for all the Americans here to check and make sure you’re registered to vote in your state.


When a widower receives notice from a doctor that he doesn’t have long left to live, he is struck by the question of who will care for his adult son—a son whom he fiercely loves, a boy with Down syndrome. With no recourse in mind, and with a desire to see the country on one last trip, the man signs up as a census taker for a mysterious governmental bureau and leaves town with his son. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

Book description excerpted from publisher’s summary and edited for length.


Rosecrans Baldwin: Thank you to everyone who took part in this year’s 2018 Rooster Summer Challenge! We hope you enjoyed it. We also want to extend our thanks to Laura van den Berg, Kelly McEvers, Nathan Deuel, and Emma Straub for joining us as our summer judges.

And a huge thank-you to our Sustaining Members, who are helping to make sure we’re able to bring you the Tournament of Books for years to come. If you haven’t already, please consider becoming a Sustaining Member or making a one-time donation. Thank you for your support.

And thank you especially to Nozlee, who has some news to share.

Nozlee: Yes. So. This is not a goodbye, but this is my last Rooster event as producer.

Everything about the Tournament—the long list prep in November; the flurry of the start of judging being synonymous with Christmas and New Year’s in my brain; working with our judges and befriending the geniuses of the commentariat; the amazing judgments and amazing books (my experience of contemporary fiction in my adult life is inextricable from the ToB); constantly being impressed at the depth of Kevin and John’s knowledge of books; our guest commentators, live events, and meetups; and perhaps most importantly, the chance to work with Andrew and Rosecrans—has brought me a lot of joy and fulfillment. This decision wasn’t easy. But after eight years, I’m off to see what I might work on next.

And this should go without saying, but next March? See you in the comments, having devoured most of the shortlist.

Rosecrans: We can’t even begin to express the proper amount of thanks that Nozlee deserves for all of her hard work and passion and dedication. If you’ve been following the Tournament of Books, you already know how integral she has been to the ToB—and if you’ve read the Q&A with her over at Goodreads you also know how much sleep she’s lost over the Tournament! Nozlee, thank you a million Roosters over.

Andrew: Over the course of the past eight years, Nozlee has made the Tournament better in innumerable ways. I know we’ll be working hard to continue all the good work she’s done. Thank you, Nozlee. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Now let’s take a look ahead to next year. We now know Census will be on our shortlist; but before we have a shortlist we’ll need a long list—and you can expect to see on Monday, Nov. 12. To find out when we release the long list and the shortlist, and to stay up to date on everything about the Tournament of Books, subscribe to our newsletter.


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And if you’re looking for some book recommendations in the meantime, at the end of the 2018 ToB many of you in the commentariat suggested some of your favorite books from the year so far, and you can peruse those here.

Speaking of reading recommendations: Nozlee and Rosecrans, is there anything you’re especially enjoying so far this year?

Rosecrans: Most of my reading’s been research for a nonfiction book I’m writing, but I really enjoyed There There by Tommy Orange, The Dictionary of Animal Languages by Heidi Sopinka, Talent by Juliet Lapidos, and some great collections of poetry, including Whereas by Layli Long Soldier.

Nozlee: I loved Mary H.K. Choi’s debut YA novel Emergency Contact, a book with the most natural-feeling rendering of text messages I’ve ever encountered in fiction, and I just picked up Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg on the recommendation of former ToB contender and judge Will Chancellor (whose taste I always trust to challenge me!).

This book doesn’t come out until 2019, but I’m also very eagerly awaiting the publication of our very own Pitchaya Sudbanthad’s debut, Bangkok Wakes to Rain. It’s been a good year for the books of TMN alums!

Andrew: On that note, I want to direct our readers’ attention to Alexander Chee’s excellent How to Write an Autobiographical Novel from this year and Jessica Francis Kane’s forthcoming Rules for Visiting, which also comes out in 2019.

Nozlee: To everyone here, please let us know what you’ve been reading (and enjoying) in the comments below. And before we close out our second Rooster Summer, please also tell us what you’d like to change—for example, should we meet twice a month and discuss the whole book at once?—and what you’d like to keep the same for future Rooster bouts.

Finally, one more thank you, from the bottom of my book-reading, Rooster-loving heart, to Rosecrans, Andrew, and every single one of you. We’ll see you soon.



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

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