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The Rooster

The 2023 Tournament of Books Long List

Looking ahead to the 2023 Tournament of Books, presented by Field Notes, with 68 works of fiction we admired this year.

Today we are releasing the long list for the 2023 Tournament of Books, our 19th edition, once again presented by the beautiful people at Field Notes. In a few weeks we'll release the shortlist, so you can start reading prior to March; those titles will be selected from the 68 works of fiction below.

Where did we find these books? All over: Some were on the staff picks shelf at our local bookstore. One is a title someone mentioned on Instagram. One was a campfire recommendation on a fishing trip. Several were sent to us by people who work at small presses, thinking we might fit the vibe. And one was the favorite of a drunk young publicist at a Manhattan book party, who shipped us a copy two days later (and we loved it). Then there are personal favorites of the Rooster organizing committee, there are award winners, there are two books by authors we'd heard about for years and finally got around to discovering for ourselves. Is there a shared theme? Is there something five-dozen-plus books can share? We found them to be really interesting, basically, and in several cases we found them to be really great.

For anyone who's new to the Tournament of Books, here is an explanation as to how it all works, and here's a brief history of memorable moments. Once again, we want to express our immense gratitude for Field Notes, 2022's presenting sponsor. We're Field Notes subscribers ourselves—because we use their goods every day.

Big thanks, of course, also go to our Sustaining Members. Without their support, none of this would be possible. If you care about the Tournament of Books, please join their ranks today. You'll also score 50 percent off all ToB merch.

Finally, do we have several new things being prepared for this year's event? Will there be format changes? Will people's pets be involved? Make sure you sign up for the Rooster Newsletter for all updates. You can also find the Rooster faithful at the Tournament of Books Discord.

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Book descriptions are excerpted from publishers' summaries and edited for length. We get a cut from purchases made through the book links. Here is a spreadsheet of the full list.

 

2 A.M. in Little America by Ken Kalfus

Ron Patterson is an American who finds himself on distant shores, working as a repairman and sharing a room with other refugees. In an unnamed city wedged between ocean and lush mountainous forest, Ron can almost imagine a stable life for himself. Especially when he makes the first friend he has had in years—a mysterious migrant named Marlise, who bears a striking resemblance to a onetime classmate. Nearly a decade later—after anti-migrant sentiment has put their whirlwind intimacy and asylum to an end—Ron is living in "Little America," an enclave of migrants in one of the few countries still willing to accept them. Here, among reminders of his past life, he again begins to feel that he may have found a home. Ron adopts a stray dog, observes his neighbors, and lands a repairman job that allows him to move through the city quietly. But this newfound security, too, is quickly jeopardized, as resurgent political divisions threaten the fabric of Little America. Tapped as an informant against the rise of militant gangs and contending with the appearance of a strangely familiar woman, Ron is suddenly on dangerous and uncertain ground.

 

Babel by R. F. Kuang

1828. Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, all in preparation for the day he'll enroll in Oxford University's prestigious Royal Institute of Translation—also known as Babel. Babel is the world's center for translation and, more importantly, magic. Silver working—the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation using enchanted silver bars—has made the British unparalleled in power, as its knowledge serves the Empire's quest for colonization. For Robin, Oxford is a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge obeys power, and as a Chinese boy raised in Britain, Robin realizes serving Babel means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress, Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to stopping imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide: Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence?

 

Beside Myself by Ashley Marie Farmer

A girl drinks river water that gives her good advice but a bad reputation. A young woman's job at a make-up counter ends in disaster. Car accidents and cornfields cause siblings to disappear while, up above, airplane banners advertise hair care products. In this collection of short stories, brief, lucid dreams illuminate the moment the familiar becomes strange and that split second before everything changes forever.

 

The Birdcatcher by Gayl Jones

On the island of Ibiza, writer Amanda Wordlaw's closest friend, a gifted sculptor named Catherine Shuger, is repeatedly institutionalized for trying to kill a husband who never leaves her. The three form a quirky triangle on the white-washed island.

 

Black Cloud Rising by David Wright Falade

It's the fall of 1863. Sgt. Richard Etheridge—the son of a slave and her master, raised with some privileges but constantly reminded of his place—is eager to show himself to be a credit to his race. As the African Brigade, led by Gen. Edward Augustus Wild—a one-armed, impassioned Abolitionist—conducts raids through the areas occupied by the Confederate Partisan Rangers, Richard and his comrades recognize that they are fighting for more than territory. Wild's mission is to prove that his troops can be trusted as soldiers in combat. And because many of the men have fled from the very plantations in their path, each raid is also an opportunity to free loved ones left behind. For Richard, this means the possibility of reuniting with Fanny, the woman he hopes to marry one day.

 

The Book of Goose: A Novel by Yiyun Li

Fabienne is dead. Her childhood best friend, Agnès, receives the news in America, far from the French countryside where the two girls were raised—the place that Fabienne helped Agnès escape 10 years ago. Now Agnès is free to tell her story. As children in a war-ravaged backwater town, they'd built a private world, invisible to everyone but themselves—until Fabienne hatched the plan that would change everything, launching Agnès on an epic trajectory through fame, fortune, and terrible loss.

 

The Candy House by Jennifer Egan

The staggeringly brilliant Bix Bouton is so successful that he is "one of those tech demi-gods with whom we're all on a first name basis." Bix is 40, with four kids, restless, and desperate for a new idea, when he stumbles into a conversation group, mostly Columbia professors, one of whom is experimenting with downloading or "externalizing" memory. Within a decade, Bix's new technology, "Own Your Unconscious"—which allows you access to every memory you've ever had, and to share your memories in exchange for access to the memories of others—has seduced multitudes.

 

Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet

London, 1965. "I have decided to write down everything that happens, because I feel, I suppose, I may be putting myself in danger," writes an anonymous patient, a young woman investigating her sister's suicide. In the guise of a dynamic and troubled alter-ego named Rebecca Smyth, she makes an appointment with the notorious and roughly charismatic psychotherapist Collins Braithwaite, whom she believes is responsible for her sister's death. But in this world of beguilement and bamboozlement, neither she nor we can be certain of anything.

 

Checkout 19 by Claire-Louise Bennett

In a working-class town in a county west of London, a schoolgirl scribbles stories in the back pages of her exercise book, intoxicated by the first sparks of her imagination. As she grows, everything and everyone she encounters become fuel for a burning talent. The large Russian man in the ancient maroon car who careens around the grocery store where she works as a checkout clerk, and slips her a copy of Beyond Good and Evil. The growing heaps of other books in which she loses—and finds—herself. Even the derailing of a friendship, in a devastating violation. The thrill of learning to conjure characters and scenarios in her head is matched by the exhilaration of forging her own way in the world, the two kinds of ingenuity kindling to a brilliant conflagration.

 

Cult Classic by Sloane Crosley

One night in New York City's Chinatown, a woman is at a reunion dinner with former colleagues when she excuses herself to buy a pack of cigarettes. On her way back, she runs into an ex-boyfriend. And then another. And… another. Nothing is quite what it seems as the city becomes awash with ghosts of heartbreaks past. What would normally pass for coincidence becomes something far stranger. The recently engaged Lola must contend not only with the viability of her current relationship but with the fact that both her best friend and her former boss, a magazine editor turned mystical guru, might have an unhealthy investment in the outcome. Memories of the past swirl and converge in ways both comic and eerie as Lola is forced to decide if she will surrender herself to the conspiring of one very contemporary cult.

 

Cyclorama by Adam Langer

Evanston, Ill., 1982. A group of students at a magnet high school meet to audition for the spring play. They are eager for the chance to escape their difficult everyday lives. Declan, an experienced senior, is confident he'll get his first-choice role, but when the capricious, charismatic drama director casts Franklin, an unknown underclassman—and the two are seen alone at the director's house—a series of events that will haunt the cast for years begins to unfold. In 2016, the actors have moved on with their lives. Some are wildly successful, some never left their hometown, and some just want to be left alone. Everything changes, however, when one former cast member comes forward with an allegation dating back to the time of the play. The consequences of this public revelation will be far-reaching and complex, reverberating through all of their lives in unexpected ways.

 

Didn't Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta by James Hannaham

Carlotta Mercedes has been misunderstood her entire life. When she was pulled into a robbery gone wrong, she still went by the name she'd grown up with in Fort Greene, Brooklyn—before it gentrified. But not long after her conviction, she took the name Carlotta and began to live as a woman, an embrace of selfhood that prison authorities rejected, keeping Carlotta trapped in an all-male cell block, abused by both inmates and guards, and often placed in solitary. In her fifth appearance before the parole board, Carlotta is at last granted conditional freedom and returns to a much-changed New York City. Over a whirlwind Fourth of July weekend, she struggles to reconcile with the son she left behind, to reunite with a family reluctant to accept her true identity, and to avoid any minor parole infraction that might get her consigned back to lockup.

 

Dinosaurs: A Novel by Lydia Millet

A man named Gil walks from New York to Arizona to recover from a failed love. After he arrives, new neighbors move into the glass-walled house next door and his life begins to mesh with theirs.

 

Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou

Twenty-nine-year-old Ph.D. student Ingrid Yang is desperate to finish her dissertation on the late canonical poet Xiao-Wen Chou and never read about "Chinese-y" things again. But after years of grueling research, all she has to show for her efforts are junk food addiction and stomach pain. When she accidentally stumbles upon a curious note in the Chou archives one afternoon, she convinces herself it's her ticket out of academic hell. But Ingrid's in much deeper than she thinks. Her clumsy exploits to unravel the note's message lead to an explosive discovery, upending not only her sheltered life within academia but her entire world beyond it. With her trusty friend Eunice Kim by her side and her rival Vivian Vo hot on her tail, together they set off a roller coaster of mishaps and misadventures, from book burnings and OTC drug hallucinations, to hot-button protests and Yellow Peril 2.0 propaganda.

 

Either/Or by Elif Batuman

Selin is the luckiest person in her family: the only one who was born in America and got to go to Harvard. Now it's sophomore year, 1996, and Selin knows she has to make it count. The first order of business: to figure out the meaning of everything that happened over the summer. Why did Selin's elusive crush, Ivan, find her that job in the Hungarian countryside? What was up with all those other people in the Hungarian countryside? Why is Ivan's weird ex-girlfriend now trying to get in touch with Selin? On the plus side, it feels like the plot of an exciting novel. On the other hand, why do so many novels have crazy abandoned women in them? How does one live a life as interesting as a novel—a life worthy of becoming a novel—without becoming a crazy abandoned woman oneself? Guided by her literature syllabus and by her more worldly and confident peers, Selin reaches certain conclusions about the universal importance of parties, alcohol, and sex, and resolves to execute them in practice—no matter what the cost. Next on the list: international travel.

 

The Employees by Olga Ravn, translated by Martin Aitken

The human and humanoid crew members of the Six-Thousand Ship complain about their daily tasks in a series of staff reports and memos. When the ship takes on a number of strange objects from the planet New Discovery, the crew becomes strangely and deeply attached to them, even as tensions boil toward mutiny, especially among the humanoids.

 

Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho

Best friends since second grade, Fiona Lin and Jane Shen explore the lonely freeways and seedy bars of Los Angeles together through their teenage years, surviving unfulfilling romantic encounters, and carrying with them the scars of their families' tumultuous pasts. Fiona was always destined to leave, her effortless beauty burnished by fierce ambition—qualities that Jane admired and feared in equal measure. When Fiona moves to New York and cares for a sick friend through a breakup with an opportunistic boyfriend, Jane remains in California and grieves her estranged father's sudden death, in the process alienating an overzealous girlfriend. Strained by distance and unintended betrayals, the women float in and out of each other's lives, their friendship both a beacon of home and a reminder of all they've lost.

 

Flight by Lynn Steger Strong

It's Dec. 22 and siblings Henry, Kate, and Martin have converged with their spouses on Henry's house in upstate New York. This is the first Christmas the siblings are without their mother, the first not at their mother's Florida house. Over the course of the next three days, old resentments and instabilities arise as the siblings, with a gaggle of children afoot, attempt to perform familiar rituals, while also trying to decide what to do with their mother's house, their sole inheritance. As tensions rise, the whole group is forced to come together unexpectedly when a local mother and daughter need help.

 

Fruiting Bodies: Stories by Kathryn Harlan

Ranging from the fantastical to the gothic to the uncanny, these stories follow characters—mostly queer, mostly women—on the precipice of change. In "The Changeling," two young cousins wait in dread for a new family member to arrive, convinced that he may be a dangerous supernatural creature. In "Endangered Animals," Jane prepares to say goodbye to her almost-love while they road-trip across a country irrevocably altered by climate change. In "Take Only What Belongs to You," a queer woman struggles with the personal history of an author she idolized, while in "Fiddler, Fool, Pair," an anthropologist is drawn into a magical—and dangerous—gamble. In the title story, partners Agnes and Geb feast peacefully on the mushrooms that sprout from Agnes's body—until an unwanted male guest disturbs their cloistered home.

 

Gag Reflex by Elle Nash

It's 2005. Lucy shambles through the last weeks of her senior year of high school, jonesing for a thinner body, desperate to connect with another human. Who is reflected back at her when she is sleeping with someone, when she is puking into the toilet bowl? Who is reflected back when she's alone? Only the internet knows, where she muses on the concept of her "self" through her Livejournal, with a cadre of online friends who are definitely NOT pro-anorexic. Everyone's sick here, but at least they understand.

 

Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo

Destiny is a young goat who returns to Jidada to bear witness to revolution—and to recount the unofficial history and the potential legacy of the females who have quietly pulled the strings here. The animal kingdom—its connection to our primal responses and its resonance in the mythology, folktales, and fairy tales that define cultures the world over—unmasks the surreality of contemporary global politics to help us understand our world more clearly.

 

Grown Ups by Marie Aubert, translated by Rosie Hedger

Ida is a 40-year-old architect, single and starting to panic. She's navigating Tinder and contemplating freezing her eggs, terrified that time has passed her by, silently, without her ever realizing it, which feels even more poignant and common in our Covid era. All she sees are other people's children, everywhere. Now stuck in the idyllic Norwegian countryside for a gathering to mark her mother's 65th birthday, Ida is regressing. She's fighting with her younger sister, Marthe, and flirting with her sister's husband. But when some supposedly wonderful news from Marthe heightens tensions further, Ida is forced to mark out new milestones of her own.

 

Haven by Emma Donoghue

In seventh-century Ireland, a scholar and priest called Artt has a dream telling him to leave the sinful world behind. Taking two monks—young Trian and old Cormac—he rows down the river Shannon in search of an isolated spot on which to found a monastery. Drifting out into the Atlantic, the three men find an impossibly steep, bare island inhabited by tens of thousands of birds, and claim it for God. In such a place, what will survival mean?

 

Horse by Geraldine Brooks

Kentucky, 1850: An enslaved groom named Jarret and a bay foal forge a bond of understanding that will carry the horse to record-setting victories across the South. When the nation erupts in civil war, an itinerant young artist who has made his name on paintings of the racehorse takes up arms for the Union. On a perilous night, he reunites with the stallion and his groom, very far from the glamor of any racetrack. New York City, 1954: Martha Jackson, a gallery owner celebrated for taking risks on edgy contemporary painters, becomes obsessed with a 19th-century equestrian oil painting of mysterious provenance. Washington, DC, 2019: Jess, a Smithsonian scientist from Australia, and Theo, a Nigerian-American art historian, find themselves unexpectedly connected through their shared interest in the horse—one studying the stallion's bones for clues to his power and endurance, the other uncovering the lost history of the unsung Black horsemen who were critical to his racing success.

 

Human Blues by Elisa Albert

On the eve of her fourth album, singer-songwriter Aviva Rosner is plagued by infertility. The twist: as much as Aviva wants a child, she is wary of technological conception, and has poured her ambivalence into her music. As the album makes its way in the world, the shock of the response from fans and critics is at first exciting—and then invasive and strange. Aviva never wanted to be famous, or did she? Meanwhile, her evolving obsession with another iconic musician, gone too soon, might just help her make sense of things.

 

If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery

In the 1970s, Topper and Sanya flee to Miami as political violence consumes their native Kingston. But America, as the couple and their two children learn, is far from the promised land. The family pushes on through Hurricane Andrew and later the 2008 recession, living in a house so cursed that the pet fish launches itself out of its own tank rather than stay. But even as things fall apart, the family remains motivated, often to its own detriment, by what their younger son, Trelawny, calls "the exquisite, racking compulsion to survive."

 

An Island by Karen Jennings

Samuel has lived alone on a small island off the coast of an unnamed African country for more than two decades. He tends to his garden, his lighthouse, and his chickens, content with a solitary life. Routinely, the nameless bodies of refugees wash ashore, but Samuel—who understands that the government only values certain lives, certain deaths—always buries them himself. One day, though, he finds that one of these bodies is still breathing. As he nurses the stranger back to life, Samuel—feeling unsettled and strangely threatened—is soon swept up in memories of his former life as a political prisoner on the mainland: a life that saw his country exploited under colonial rule, followed by a period of revolution and a brief, hard-won independence, only for the cycle of suffering to continue under a cruel dictator. And he can't help but recall his own shameful role in that history. In this stranger's presence he begins to consider, as he did in his youth: What does it mean to own land, or to belong to it? And what does it cost to have—and lose—a home?

 

Joan Is Okay by Weike Wang

Joan is a thirtysomething ICU physician at a busy New York City hospital. She's a workaholic with little interest in having friends, let alone lovers, and her medical colleagues misread her dedication to work as ambition. The daughter of Chinese parents who immigrated to America to secure the American dream, Joan sometimes looks up and wonders where her true roots lie: at the hospital or with her family. After Joan and her brother, Fang, were grown, their parents moved back to China, hoping to live out the balance of their years in their homeland. But when Joan's father suddenly dies, her mother returns for a visit to America, determined to connect with her daughter while staying at Fang's sprawling Greenwich estate. On the cusp of the Chinese New Year and for lack of better options, Joan decamps to Fang's to regain her equilibrium—until the day she must return to the city to face a crisis larger than anything she's encountered before.

 

Lapvona by Ottessa Moshfegh

Little Marek, the abused and delusional son of the village shepherd, never knew his mother—his father told him she died in childbirth. One of Marek's few consolations is his enduring bond with the blind village midwife, Ina, who suckled him when he was a baby, as she did many of the village's children. Ina's gifts extend beyond childcare: For some people, her ability to receive transmissions of sacred knowledge from the natural world is a godsend. For others, Ina's home in the woods outside of the village is a place to fear and to avoid, a godless place. Among the villagers is Father Barnabas, the town priest and lackey for the depraved lord and governor, Villiam, whose hilltop manor contains a secret embarrassment of riches. The people's desperate need to believe that there are powers that be who have their best interests at heart is put to a cruel test by Villiam and the priest, especially in this year of record drought and famine. But when fate brings Marek into violent proximity to the lord's family, new and occult forces arise to upset the old order.

 

The Last Chairlift by John Irving

In Aspen, Colorado, in 1941, Rachel Brewster is a slalom skier at the National Downhill and Slalom Championships. Little Ray, as she is called, finishes nowhere near the podium, but she manages to get pregnant. Back home, in New England, Little Ray becomes a ski instructor. Her son, Adam, grows up in a family that defies conventions and evades questions concerning the eventful past. Years later, looking for answers, Adam will go to Aspen. In the Hotel Jerome, where he was conceived, Adam will meet some ghosts; they aren't the first or the last ghosts he sees.

 

The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid

One morning, a man wakes up to find himself transformed. Overnight, Anders's skin has turned dark, and the reflection in the mirror seems a stranger to him. At first he shares his secret only with Oona, an old friend turned new lover. Soon, reports of similar events begin to surface. Across the land, people are awakening in new incarnations, uncertain how their neighbors, friends, and family will greet them.Some see the transformations as the long-dreaded overturning of the established order that must be resisted to a bitter end. In many, like Anders's father and Oona's mother, a sense of profound loss and unease wars with profound love. As the bond between Anders and Oona deepens, change takes on a different shading: a chance at a kind of rebirth—an opportunity to see ourselves, face to face, anew.

 

Manhunt by Gretchen Felker-Martin

Beth and Fran spend their days traveling the ravaged New England coast, hunting feral men and harvesting their organs in a gruesome effort to ensure they'll never face the same fate. Robbie lives by his gun and one hard-learned motto: other people aren't safe. After a brutal accident entwines the three of them, this found family of survivors must navigate murderous TERFs, a sociopathic billionaire bunker brat, and awkward relationship dynamics—all while outrunning packs of feral men, and their own demons.

 

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Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra

Fifteen years after immigrating to Los Angeles, Rome-born Maria is an associate producer at Mercury Pictures, trying to keep her personal and professional lives from falling apart. Her mother won't speak to her. Her boss, a man of many toupees, has been summoned to Washington by congressional investigators. Her boyfriend, a virtuoso Chinese American actor, can't escape the studio's narrow typecasting. And the studio itself, Maria's only home in exile, teeters on the verge of bankruptcy. On the eve of America's entry into World War II, Mercury Pictures becomes a nexus of European émigrés: modernist poets trying their luck as B-movie screenwriters, once-celebrated architects becoming scale-model miniaturists, and refugee actors finding work playing the very villains they fled. While the world descends into war, Maria rises through a maze of conflicting politics, divided loyalties, and jockeying ambitions. But when the arrival of a stranger from her father's past threatens Maria's carefully constructed facade, she must finally confront her father's fate—and her own.

 

Monarch by Candice Wuehle

After waking up with a strange taste in her mouth and mysterious bruises, former child pageant star Jessica Clink unwittingly begins an investigation into a nefarious deep state underworld. Equipped with the eccentric education of her father, Dr. Clink (a professor of Boredom Studies and the founder of an elite study group known as the Devil's Workshop), Jessica uncovers a disquieting connection between her former life as a beauty queen and an offshoot of Project MKUltra known as MONARCH. As Jessica moves closer to the truth, she begins to suspect the involvement of everyone around her, including her own mother, Grethe (a Norwegian pageant queen turned occult American wellness guru for suburban housewives). With the help of Christine (her black-lipsticked riot grrrl babysitter and confidante), Jessica sets out to take down Project MONARCH. More importantly, she must discover if her first love, fellow teen queen Veronica Marshall, was genuine or yet another deep state plant.

 

Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson

In a first-class lounge at JFK airport, our narrator listens as Jeff Cook, a former classmate he only vaguely remembers, shares the uncanny story of his adult life—a life that changed course years before, the moment he resuscitated a drowning man. Jeff reveals that after that traumatic, galvanizing morning on the beach, he was compelled to learn more about the man whose life he had saved, convinced that their fates were now entwined. But are we agents of our fate—or are we its pawns? Upon discovering that the man is renowned art dealer Francis Arsenault, Jeff begins to surreptitiously visit his Beverly Hills gallery. Although Francis does not seem to recognize him as the man who saved his life, he nevertheless casts his legendary eye on Jeff and sees something worthy. He takes the younger man under his wing, initiating him into his world, where knowledge, taste, and access are currency; a world where value is constantly shifting and calling into question what is real, and what matters.

 

My Volcano by John Elizabeth Stintzi

On June 2, 2016, a protrusion of rock growing from the Central Park Reservoir is spotted by a jogger. Three weeks later, when it finally stops growing, it's nearly two-and-a-half miles tall, and has been determined to be an active volcano. As the volcano grows and then looms over New York, an eight-year-old boy in Mexico City finds himself transported 500 years into the past, where he witnesses the fall of the Aztec Empire; a Nigerian scholar in Tokyo studies a folktale about a woman of fire who descends a mountain and destroys an entire village; a white trans writer in Jersey City struggles to write a sci-fi novel about a thriving civilization on an impossible planet; a nurse tends to Syrian refugees in Greece while grappling with the trauma of living through the bombing of a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan; a nomadic farmer in Mongolia is stung by a bee, magically transforming him into a green, thorned, flowering creature that aspires to connect every living thing into its consciousness.

 

Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley

Kiara and her brother, Marcus, are scraping by in an East Oakland apartment complex optimistically called the Regal-Hi. Both have dropped out of high school, their family fractured by death and prison. But while Marcus clings to his dream of rap stardom, Kiara hunts for work to pay their rent—which has more than doubled—and to keep the nine-year-old boy next door, abandoned by his mother, safe and fed. One night, what begins as a drunken misunderstanding with a stranger turns into the job Kiara never imagined wanting but now desperately needs: nightcrawling. Her world breaks open even further when her name surfaces in an investigation that exposes her as a key witness in a massive scandal within the Oakland Police Dept.

 

Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance by Alison Espach

For much of her life, Sally Holt has been mystified by the things her older sister, Kathy, seems to have been born knowing. Kathy has answers for all of Sally's questions about life, about love, and about Billy Barnes, a rising senior and local basketball star who mans the concession stand at the town pool. The girls have been fascinated by Billy ever since he jumped off the roof in elementary school, but Billy has never shown much interest in them until the summer before Sally begins eighth grade. By then, their mutual infatuation with Billy is one of the few things the increasingly different sisters have in common. Sally spends much of that summer at the pool, watching in confusion and excitement as her sister falls deeper in love with Billy—until a tragedy leaves Sally's life forever intertwined with his.

 

Now Is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson

Sixteen-year-old Frankie Budge—aspiring writer, indifferent student, offbeat loner—is determined to make it through yet another sad summer in Coalfield, Tenn., when she meets Zeke, a talented artist who has just moved into his grandmother's unhappy house and who is as lonely and awkward as Frankie is. Romantic and creative sparks begin to fly, and when the two jointly make an unsigned poster, shot through with an enigmatic phrase, it becomes unforgettable to anyone who sees it. The posters begin appearing everywhere, and people wonder who is behind them. Satanists, kidnappers—the rumors won't stop, and soon the mystery has dangerous repercussions that spread far beyond the town. The art that brought Frankie and Zeke together now threatens to tear them apart. Twenty years later, Frances Eleanor Budge—famous author, mom to a wonderful daughter, wife to a loving husband—gets a call that threatens to upend everything: a journalist named Mazzy Brower is writing a story about the Coalfield Panic of 1996. Might Frances know something about that? And will what she knows destroy the life she's so carefully built?

 

Ocean State by Stewart O'Nan

A high school student has been murdered, and we know who did it. Next, the alternating perspectives of Angel, the murderer; Carol, her mother; and Birdy, the victim, converge in a climax both tragic and inevitable. Watching over it all is the retrospective testimony of Angel's younger sister Marie, who reflects on that doomed autumn of 2009 with all the wisdom of hindsight.

 

Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez

It's 2017, and Olga and her brother, Pedro "Prieto" Acevedo, are boldfaced names in their hometown of New York. Prieto is a popular congressman representing their gentrifying Latinx neighborhood in Brooklyn, while Olga is the tony wedding planner for Manhattan's power brokers. Despite their alluring public lives, behind closed doors things are far less rosy. Sure, Olga can orchestrate the love stories of the 1 percent but she can't seem to find her own… until she meets Matteo, who forces her to confront the effects of long-held family secrets. Olga and Prieto's mother, Blanca, a Young Lord turned radical, abandoned her children to advance a militant political cause, leaving them to be raised by their grandmother. Now, with the winds of hurricane season, Blanca has come barreling back into their lives.

 

The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy

1980, Pass Christian, Miss.: It is three in the morning when Bobby Western zips the jacket of his wet suit and plunges from the Coast Guard tender into darkness. His dive light illuminates the sunken jet, nine bodies still buckled in their seats, hair floating, eyes devoid of speculation. Missing from the crash site are the pilot's flight bag, the plane's black box, and the tenth passenger. But how? A collateral witness to machinations that can only bring him harm, Western is shadowed in body and spirit—by men with badges; by the ghost of his father, inventor of the bomb that melted glass and flesh in Hiroshima; and by his sister, the love and ruin of his soul.

 

Poguemahone by Patrick McCabe

Una Fogarty, suffering from dementia in a seaside nursing home, would be all alone without her brother Dan, whose epic free-verse monologue tells their family story. Exile from Ireland and immigrant life in England. Their mother's trials as a call girl. Young Una's search for love in a seemingly haunted hippie squat, and the two-timing Scottish stoner poet she'll never get over. Now she sits outside in the sun as her memories unspool from Dan's mouth and his own role in the tale grows ever stranger—and more sinister.

 

The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty

Ethereally beautiful and formidably intelligent, Blandine shares her apartment with three teenage boys she neither likes nor understands, all, like her, now aged out of the state foster care system that has repeatedly failed them, all searching for meaning in their lives.

 

The Return of Faraz Ali by Aamina Ahmad

Not since childhood has Faraz returned to the Mohalla, in Lahore's walled inner city, where women still pass down the profession of courtesan to their daughters. But he still remembers the day he was abducted from the home he shared with his mother and sister there, at the direction of his powerful father, who wanted to give him a chance at a respectable life. Now Wajid, once more dictating his fate from afar, has sent Faraz back to Lahore, installing him as head of the Mohalla police station and charging him with a mission: to cover up the violent death of a young kanjari. It should be a simple assignment to carry out in a marginalized community, but for the first time in his career, Faraz finds himself unable to follow orders. As the city assails him with a jumble of memories, he cannot stop asking questions or chasing down the walled city's labyrinthine alleyways for the secrets—his family's and his own—that risk shattering his precariously constructed existence.

 

Reward System by Jem Calder

Julia has landed a fresh start—at a "pan-European" restaurant. "Imagine that," says her mother. "I'm imagining." Nick is flirting with sobriety and nobody else. Did you know adults his age are now more likely to live with their parents than with a romantic partner? Life should have started to take shape by now—but instead we're trying on new versions of ourselves, swiping left and right, searching for a convincing answer to that question: "What do you do?"

 

Scattered All Over the Earth by Yoko Tawada, translated by Margaret Mitsutani

Welcome to the not-too-distant future: Japan, having vanished from the face of the earth, is now remembered as "the land of sushi." Hiruko, its former citizen and a climate refugee herself, has a job teaching immigrant children in Denmark with her invented language Panska (Pan-Scandinavian): "homemade language. no country to stay in. three countries I experienced. insufficient space in brain. so made new language. homemade language." As she searches for anyone who can still speak her mother tongue, Hiruko soon makes new friends. Her troupe travels to France, encountering an umami cooking competition; a dead whale; an ultra-nationalist named Breivik; unrequited love; Kakuzo robots; red herrings; uranium; an Andalusian matador.

 

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan

Frida Liu is struggling. She doesn't have a career worthy of her Chinese immigrant parents' sacrifices. She can't persuade her husband, Gust, to give up his wellness-obsessed younger mistress. Only with Harriet, their cherubic daughter, does Frida finally attain the perfection expected of her. Harriet may be all she has, but she is just enough. Until Frida has a very bad day. The state has its eye on mothers like Frida. The ones who check their phones, letting their children get injured on the playground; who let their children walk home alone. Because of one moment of poor judgement, a host of government officials will now determine if Frida is a candidate for a Big Brother-like institution that measures the success or failure of a mother's devotion. Faced with the possibility of losing Harriet, Frida must prove that a bad mother can be redeemed. That she can learn to be good.

 

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

Edwin St. Andrew is 18 years old when he crosses the Atlantic by steamship, exiled from polite society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party. He enters the forest, spellbound by the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, and suddenly hears the notes of a violin echoing in an airship terminal—an experience that shocks him to his core. Two centuries later, Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour. She's traveling all over Earth, but her home is the second moon colony, a place of white stone, spired towers, and artificial beauty. Within the text of Olive's best-selling pandemic novel lies a strange passage: a man plays his violin for change in the echoing corridor of an airship terminal as the trees of a forest rise around him. When Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective in the black-skied Night City, is hired to investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness, he uncovers a series of lives upended: the exiled son of an earl driven to madness, a writer trapped far from home as a pandemic ravages Earth, and a childhood friend from the Night City who, like Gaspery himself, has glimpsed the chance to do something extraordinary that will disrupt the timeline of the universe. (As the winner of Camp ToB 2022, Sea of Tranquility receives an automatic berth in the 2023 Tournament of Books.)

 

Search by Michelle Huneven

Dana Potowski is a restaurant critic and food writer and a longtime member of a progressive Unitarian Universalist congregation in Southern California. Just as she's finishing the book tour for her latest bestseller, Dana is asked to join the church search committee for a new minister. Under pressure to find her next book idea, she agrees, and resolves to secretly pen a memoir, with recipes, about the experience. That memoir, Search, follows the travails of the committee and their candidates—and becomes its own media sensation. Dana had good material to work with: The committee is a wide-ranging mix of Unitarian Universalist congregants, and their candidates range from a baker and microbrew master/pastor to a reverend who identifies as both a witch and an environmental warrior. Ultimately, the committee faces a stark choice between two very different paths forward for the congregation. Although she may have been ambivalent about joining the committee, Dana finds that she cares deeply about the fate of this institution and she will fight the entire committee, if necessary, to win the day for her side.

 

Sedating Elaine by Dawn Winter

Frances was not looking for a relationship when she met Elaine in a bar. She was, in fact, looking to drown her sorrows in a pint or twelve and nurse a broken heart, shattered by the gorgeous, electric Adrienne. But somehow (it involved a steady stream of beer and weed, as things often did with Frances) Elaine ended up in Frances's bed and never left. Now, faced with mounting pressure from her drug dealer, Dom (and his goon, Betty), Frances comes up with a terrible idea: She asks Elaine to move in with her for real. Unfortunately, this seemingly romantic overture makes Elaine even more sex-crazed and maniacal with love. Frances fears she may never escape the relationship, so, given no choice, she makes the obvious decision: She will sedate Elaine.

 

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka

Colombo, 1990. Maali Almeida—war photographer, gambler, and closet queen—has woken up dead in what seems like a celestial visa office. His dismembered body is sinking in the serene Beira Lake and he has no idea who killed him. In a country where scores are settled by death squads, suicide bombers, and hired goons, the list of suspects is depressingly long, as the ghouls and ghosts with grudges who cluster round can attest. But even in the afterlife, time is running out for Maali. He has seven moons to contact the man and woman he loves most and lead them to the photos that will rock Sri Lanka.

 

Seven Steeples by Sara Baume

It is the winter following the summer they met. A couple, Bell and Sigh, move into a remote house in the Irish countryside with their dogs. Both solitary with misanthropic tendencies, they leave the conventional lives stretched out before them to build another—one embedded in ritual, and away from the friends and family from whom they've drifted. They arrive at their new home on a clear January day and look up to appraise the view. A mountain gently and unspectacularly ascends from the Atlantic, "as if it had accumulated stature over centuries. As if, over centuries, it had steadily flattened itself upwards." They make a promise to climb the mountain, but—over the course of the next seven years—it remains unclimbed. We move through the seasons with Bell and Sigh as they come to understand more about the small world around them, and as their interest in the wider world recedes.

 

Small Moods by Shane Kowalski

A collection of 95 flash fictions that present lovers, dogs, bathtubs, hands, jewels, bananas, peasant boys, cuckolds, Jesus, dildoes, shoes, nudes, cults, sadness, the movie Carrie, and much much more.

 

Stella Maris by Cormac McCarthy

1972, Black River Falls, Wisc.: Alicia Western, 20 years old, with $40,000 in a plastic bag, admits herself to the hospital. A doctoral candidate in mathematics at the University of Chicago, Alicia has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and she does not want to talk about her brother, Bobby. Instead, she contemplates the nature of madness, the human insistence on one common experience of the world; she recalls a childhood where, by the age of seven, her own grandmother feared for her; she surveys the intersection of physics and philosophy; and she introduces her cohorts, her chimeras, the hallucinations that only she can see. All the while, she grieves for Bobby, not quite dead, not quite hers.

 

Sugar Street by Jonathan Dee

An unnamed male narrator has hit the road. Rid of any possible identifiers, his possessions amount to $168,548 in cash stashed in an envelope under his car seat. Vigilantly avoiding security cameras, he drives until he hits a city where his past is unlikely to track him down, and finds a room to rent from a less-than-stable landlady whose need for money outweighs her desire to ask questions. He seems to have escaped his former self. But can he?

 

Toad: A Novel by Katherine Dunn

Sally Gunnar has withdrawn from the world. She spends her days alone at home, reading drugstore mysteries, polishing the doorknobs, waxing the floors. Her only companions are a vase of goldfish, a garden toad, and the door-to-door salesman who sells her cleaning supplies once a month. She broods over her deepest regrets: her blighted romances with self-important men, her lifelong struggle to feel at home in her own body, and her wayward early twenties, when she was a fish out of water among a group of eccentric, privileged young people at a liberal arts college. There was Sam, an unabashed collector of other people's stories; Carlotta, a troubled free spirit; and Rennel, a self-obsessed philosophy student. Self-deprecating and sardonic, Sally recounts their misadventures, up to the tragedy that tore them apart.

 

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

On a bitter-cold day, in the December of his junior year at Harvard, Sam Masur exits a subway car and sees, amid the hordes of people waiting on the platform, Sadie Green. He calls her name. For a moment, she pretends she hasn't heard him, but then, she turns, and a game begins: a legendary collaboration that will launch them to stardom. These friends, intimates since childhood, borrow money, beg favors, and, before even graduating college, they have created their first blockbuster, Ichigo. Overnight, the world is theirs. Not even 25 years old, Sam and Sadie are brilliant, successful, and rich, but these qualities won't protect them from their own creative ambitions or the betrayals of their hearts.

 

The Torqued Man by Peter Mann

Berlin—September 1945. Two manuscripts are found in rubble, each one narrating conflicting versions of the life of an Irish spy during the war. One of them is the journal of a German military intelligence officer and anti-Nazi cowed into silence named Adrian de Groot, who charts his relationship with his agent, friend, and sometimes lover, an Irishman named Frank Pike. In de Groot's narrative, Pike is a charismatic IRA fighter sprung from prison in Spain to assist with the planned German invasion of Ireland, but who never gets the chance to consummate his deal with the devil. Meanwhile, the other manuscript gives a very different account of the Irishman's doings in the Reich. Assuming the alter ego of the Celtic hero Finn McCool, Pike appears here as the ultimate Allied saboteur. His mission: an assassination campaign of high-ranking Nazi doctors, culminating in the killing of Hitler's personal physician. The two manuscripts spiral around each other, leaving only the reader to know the full truth of Pike and de Groot's relationship, their ultimate loyalties, and their efforts to resist the fascist reality in which they are caught.

 

Touch by Olaf Olafsson

When the pandemic hits, Kristofer is forced to shutter his successful restaurant in Reykjavik, sending him into a spiral of uncertainty, even as his memory seems to be failing. But an uncanny bolt from the blue—a message from Miko Nakamura, a woman whom he'd known in the sixties when they were students in London—both inspires and rattles him, as he is drawn inexorably back into a love story that has marked him for life. Even as the pandemic upends his world, Kristofer finds himself pulled toward an answer to the mystery of Miko's sudden departure decades before, compelling him to travel to London and Japan as the virus threatens to shut everything down.

 

Trust by Hernan Diaz

Even through the roar and effervescence of the 1920s, everyone in New York has heard of Benjamin and Helen Rask. He is a legendary Wall Street tycoon; she is the daughter of eccentric aristocrats. Together, they have risen to the very top of a world of seemingly endless wealth—all as a decade of excess and speculation draws to an end. But at what cost have they acquired their immense fortune? This is the mystery at the center of Bonds, a successful 1937 novel that all of New York seems to have read. Yet there are other versions of this tale of privilege and deceit.

 

A Very Nice Girl by Imogen Crimp

Anna doesn't fit in. Not with her wealthy classmates at the selective London Conservatory where she unexpectedly wins a place after university, not with the family she left behind, and definitely not with Max, a man she meets in the bar where she sings for cash. He's everything she's not—rich, tailored to precision, impossible to read—and before long Anna is hooked, desperate to hold his attention, and determined to ignore the warning signs that this might be a toxic relationship. As Anna shuttles from grueling rehearsals to brutal auditions, she finds herself torn between two conflicting desires: the drive to nurture her fledgling singing career, which requires her undivided attention, and the longing for human connection. When the stakes increase, and the roles she's playing—both on stage and off—begin to feel all-consuming, Anna must reckon with the fact that, in carefully performing what's expected of her as a woman, she risks losing sight of herself completely.

 

The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb

Growing up Black in rural North Carolina, Ray McMillian's life is already mapped out. If he's lucky, he'll get a job at the hospital cafeteria. If he's extra lucky, he'll earn more than minimum wage. But Ray has a gift and a dream—he's determined to become a world-class professional violinist, and nothing will stand in his way. When he discovers that his great-great-grandfather's beat-up old fiddle is actually a priceless Stradivarius, all his dreams suddenly seem within reach. Together, Ray and his violin take the world by storm. But on the eve of the renowned and cutthroat Tchaikovsky Competition—the Olympics of classical music—the violin is stolen, a ransom note for five million dollars left in its place. Ray will have to piece together the clues to recover his treasured Strad… before it's too late. With the descendants of the man who once enslaved Ray's great-great-grandfather asserting that the instrument is rightfully theirs, and with his family staking their own claim, Ray doesn't know who he can trust—or whether he will ever see his beloved violin again.

 

Wahala by Nikki May

Ronke wants happily ever after and 2.2. kids. She's dating Kayode and wants him to be "the one" (perfect, like her dead father). Her friends think he's just another in a long line of dodgy Nigerian boyfriends. Boo has everything Ronke wants—a kind husband, gorgeous child. But she's frustrated, unfulfilled, plagued by guilt, and desperate to remember who she used to be. Simi is the golden one with the perfect lifestyle. No one knows she's crippled by impostor syndrome and tempted to pack it all in each time her boss mentions her "urban vibe." Her husband thinks they're trying for a baby. She's not. When the high-flying, charismatic Isobel explodes into the group, it seems at first she's bringing out the best in each woman. (She gets Simi an interview in Hong Kong! Goes jogging with Boo!) But the more Isobel intervenes, the more chaos she sows, and Ronke, Simi, and Boo's close friendship begins to crack.

 

We Won't Be Here Tomorrow: And Other Stories by Margaret Killjoy

Ranging in theme and tone, these short stories introduce us to a hacker who programs drones to troll CEOs into quitting; a group of LARPers who decide to live as orcs in the burned forests of Oregon; queer, teen love in a death cult; the terraforming of a climate-changed Earth; polyamorous love on an anarchist tea farm during the apocalypse; and much more.

 

Which Side Are You On by Ryan Lee Wong

Twenty-one-year-old Reed is fed up. Angry about the killing of a Black man by an Asian American NYPD officer, he wants to drop out of college and devote himself to the Black Lives Matter movement. But would that truly bring him closer to the moral life he seeks? In a series of intimate, charged conversations, his mother—once the leader of a Korean-Black coalition—demands that he rethink his outrage, and along with it, what it means to be an organizer, a student, an ally, an American, and a son. As Reed zips around his hometown of Los Angeles with his mother, searching and questioning, he faces a revelation that will change everything.

 

You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi

Feyi Adekola wants to learn how to be alive again. It's been five years since the accident that killed the love of her life and she's almost a new person now—an artist with her own studio and sharing a brownstone apartment with her ride-or-die best friend, Joy, who insists it's time for Feyi to ease back into the dating scene. Feyi isn't ready for anything serious, but a steamy encounter at a rooftop party cascades into a whirlwind summer she could have never imagined: a luxury trip to a tropical island, decadent meals in the glamorous home of a celebrity chef, and a major curator who wants to launch her art career. She's even started dating the perfect guy, but their new relationship might be sabotaged before it has a chance by the overwhelming desire Feyi feels every time she locks eyes with the one person in the house who is most definitely off-limits—his father.

 

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart

Growing up in a housing estate in Glasgow, Mungo and James are born under different stars—Mungo a Protestant and James a Catholic—and they should be sworn enemies if they're to be seen as men at all. Yet against all odds, they become best friends as they find a sanctuary in the pigeon dovecote that James has built for his prize racing birds. As they fall in love, they dream of finding somewhere they belong, while Mungo works hard to hide his true self from all those around him, especially from his big brother Hamish, a local gang leader with a brutal reputation to uphold. And when several months later Mungo's mother sends him on a fishing trip to a loch in Western Scotland with two strange men whose drunken banter belies murky pasts, he will need to summon all his inner strength and courage to try to get back to a place of safety, a place where he and James might still have a future.

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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 rosecransbaldwin.com. More by The Tournament of Books Staff