The Rooster

Welcome to the 2018 Rooster Summer Reading Challenge

Meet your judges and hosts, check out the summer book list, and get reading.

We had so much fun last year, we’re doing it all over again.

Welcome to the 2018 Rooster Summer Reading Challenge. We’ve selected six Rooster-worthy works of fiction from 2018 to read over the next three months—two per month—and once a week we’ll meet back here to discuss our reading progress.

Each month we’ll be joined by a new judge, who will discuss the books with us and then select which of the two books that month heads to our summer finale at the end of August—where you, our readers, decide which novel wins the 2018 Rooster Summer Reading Challenge, and an automatic berth in the 2019 Tournament of Books. (And that counts for a lot, considering our 2017 summer winner, Fever Dream, stampeded through this year’s ToB, eventually taking home the Rooster.)

To select our summer books, each of our judges chose a work of fiction they’re particularly excited about this year. The other three books were selected by the ToB Committee according to our normal criteria—novels first published in English in the calendar year that we feel are excellent and interesting. (To avoid conflicts, none of the judges are assigned the books they select.)

A special thanks to our Sustaining Members for making another year of the Rooster Summer Reading Challenge possible. Find out why The Morning News and the Tournament of Books depend on your support, and please consider becoming a Sustaining Member or making a one-time donation.

Now: Here are your books, judges, and schedule for the 2018 Rooster Summer Reading Challenge!

Book descriptions are excerpted from publishers’ summaries and edited for length. We get a cut from purchases made through the book links.



An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Roy is a young executive, and Celestial is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. As the newlyweds settle into the routine of their life together, Roy is arrested and sentenced to 12 years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit, and Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)


Tomb Song by Julián Herbert

Sitting at the bedside of his mother as she is dying from leukemia in a hospital in northern Mexico, Julián is immersed in memories of his unstable boyhood and youth. As he wanders the hospital, he tells fevered stories of his life, from a trip with his pregnant wife to a poetry festival in Berlin to a drug-fueled and possibly completely imagined trip to another festival in Cuba. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)


Our June judge, Laura van den Berg, is the author of the novel Find Me and two story collections, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us and The Isle of Youth. Her next novel, The Third Hotel, will be published by FSG in August. Laura lives in Cambridge, Mass., with her husband and dog. She will be in conversation with Rosecrans Baldwin, a founding editor of The Morning News. He is the author of You Lost Me There and Paris, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down. His latest novel, The Last Kid Left, was one of NPR’s Best Books of the Year.



Census by Jesse Ball

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)


Circe by Madeline Miller

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father Helois, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft. Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)


In July we’ll be joined by a pair of judges, Kelly McEvers, the host of NPR’s Embedded, and Nathan Deuel, the author of Friday Was the Bomb: Five Years in the Middle East. They will be in conversation with Andrew Womack, a founding editor of The Morning News.



The Friend by Sigrid Nunez

When a woman unexpectedly loses her lifelong best friend and mentor, she finds herself burdened with the unwanted dog he has left behind: a huge Great Dane traumatized by the inexplicable disappearance of its master. While others worry that grief has made her a victim of magical thinking, the woman refuses to be separated from the dog. Isolated from the rest of the world, she becomes increasingly obsessed with its care, and determined to fathom its heart. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)


Kudos by Rachel Cusk

Within the rituals of Europe’s literary culture, Faye finds the human story in disarray amid differing attitudes toward the public enactment of the creative persona, and she begins to identify among the people she meets a tension between truth and representation that causes her to consider questions of acclaim, justice, and the ultimate value of suffering. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)


Our August judge is Emma Straub, a bestselling novelist whose books have been published in 20 countries, and the co-owner of Books Are Magic, an independent bookstore in Brooklyn, NY. She will be in conversation with Nozlee Samadzadeh, our ToB producer and a developer at Vox Media.


The Summer 2018 Reading Schedule

June 6: Tomb Song, through page 109
June 13: Tomb Song to end
June 20: An American Marriage, through page 145
June 27: An American Marriage to end
July 3: Circe, through chapter 15
July 11: Circe to end
July 18: Census through “G”
July 25: Census to end
Aug. 1: The Friend through Part Six (page 112) Kudos to page 122
Aug. 8: The Friend to end Kudos to end
Aug. 15: Kudos to page 120 The Friend through Part Six (page 112)
Aug. 22: Kudos to end The Friend to end—voting begins
Aug. 29: Winner announced


Good luck with your reading! We’ll see you next week for the first half of Tomb Song. To be notified of when each discussion goes live, follow us on Twitter or Facebook, or sign up for the Rooster Newsletter:

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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 More by The Tournament of Books Staff

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