What’s All This?

A Primer to the Tournament of Books

John: A dozen years, Kevin. The Tournament of Books is in its final moments as a preteen. Things are already pretty raucous, so I almost shudder to think what the ToB will be like when it hits its teen years.

Kevin: I expect monosyllabic judgements, a lot of dystopian romance, and a secret porn bracket that we won’t know about until the Rooster goes to camp.

John: We should talk about what’s the same this year, starting with our presenting sponsor, Field Notes, and our official bookseller, Powell’s. We have whittled the approximately 100,000 book-length works of fiction published each year down to our long list of 86, and now to our final 17 competitors. Starting with the play-in match, two books will be pitted against each other each weekday, judged by one member (or three of them, in the case of tomorrow’s play-in) of our distinguished panel.

Following the judgment, you and I don our blood-red ToB blazers and pop into the commentary booth, offering our personal, idiosyncratic, and entirely brilliant takes on the day’s events. The commentariat then gets to tell us how brilliant or un-brilliant everyone involved in that day’s matchup has been.

Kevin: Alliances will be formed. Friendships will be made, torn asunder, then patched back together. Rash statements will be regretted and forgiven. Trolls will be ignored. You and I will pretend we are younger than we are. Sensitivities will be unintentionally dismissed. Bolaño and DFW will be cited. Rants will cross lines. Crossed lines will be retweeted. Retweets will be disavowed. Everyone will pretend they finished books they really didn’t. New podcasts will be launched—

John: Speaking of which, here’s one of this year’s exciting twists. Each round, you and I will leave the booth for a match and we’ll all instead be treated to the insights of some of bookdom’s top literary podcasters: Slate’s Audio Book Club, Books on the Nightstand, The Book Report, and So Many Damn Books.

Kevin: As always, once we narrow the field to just two novels it’ll be time for the Zombie Round, when we bring back the pair of previously eliminated books that received the most votes from our readers in a pre-tournament poll. Our presumptive semifinalists will have to battle past these revenant fictions in order to make it to the final match, where a jury of all our judges will render a verdict.

John: And of course, at the end, we’ll see if the winner will let us actually buy them a live rooster.

Kevin: It is worth mentioning that in 11 seasons of the ToB, only one victorious author, Adam Johnson, has ever tried to claim his he-hen. Unfortunately local zoning laws prevented us from actually delivering a live chicken to Johnson’s home (In fact, Johnson and his family decided it would annoy the neighbors, and ultimately declined. —ed.), so if the winner of this year’s ToB resides in more rural environs and wants a rooster for either pet or meat, in the words of a commentating legend, American Ninja Warrior’s Matt Iseman, “History will be made!”

John: Printable brackets suitable for display are found here.

For daily updates during the tournament, check out the Facebook page and follow @TheMorningNews on Twitter. Use #ToB16, like all the other cool kids.

And you can also order your official 2016 Rooster tee by book designer Janet Hansen. It’s available in two styles and four colors, and a proven way to strike up conversation with other book and/or poultry lovers.

The Official 2016 Tournament of Books T-Shirt

Field Notes created yet another limited-edition memo book for this year’s ToB, and they’re doing something great: Buy one for $2 and Field Notes will match your $2 and donate $4 to 826 National, which provides free educational programs to under-resourced youth.

The Official 2016 Tournament of Books Field Notes Memo Book

Also, Powell’s is hosting a Tournament of Books sweepstakes that’s closing at midnight tonight, where you’ve got a shot at winning all of this year’s books; get in your entry now!

Update: And for you history buffs and ToB insider types we’ve added a brief-but-not-so-brief history of the Tournament of Books, written by our own Angela Chen.

Finally, if you want to double your ToB pleasure, check out the shadow, “Alt-ToB” that took place this winter over at GoodReads before our shortlist was announced. They also conducted a lovely “Ask Me Anything”-style interview with our producer, Nozlee Samadzadeh, with lots of backstage dish.

Kevin: When I was 12 years old, same as the ToB, my family moved to a new town in the middle of winter. I had no friends and there were about 20 inches of snow on the ground, so I sat in my room and read books and listened to the radio. Do you know what song dominated American radio that year, John, a song which might as well be the Rooster theme?

Just ask yourself: How long can you stand the heat?

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