The Books

Our Super Rooster Contenders

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


Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

In 1850, American notary Adam Ewing is voyaging from the Chatham Isles to his home in California. Along the way, he is befriended by a physician who begins to treat him for a rare species of brain parasite. Abruptly, we jump to Belgium in 1931, where composer Robert Frobisher contrives his way into the household of an infirm maestro who has a beguiling wife and a nubile daughter. From there we head to the West Coast in the 1970s, when reporter Luisa Rey stumbles upon a web of corporate greed and murder. And onward, to an inglorious present-day England; to a Korean superstate of the near future where neocapitalism has run amok; and, finally, to a postapocalyptic Iron Age Hawaii in the last days of history.

Potential Zombie: In 2005, Cloud Atlas won 10-5 over The Plot Against America by Philip Roth


The Accidental by Ali Smith

A mysterious stranger suddenly appears during a family’s summer holiday, transforming four variously unhappy people. Each of the Smarts—parents Eve and Michael, son Magnus, and the youngest, daughter Astrid—encounter Amber in his or her own solipsistic way, but somehow her presence allows them to see their lives (and their life together) in a new light.

Potential Zombie: In 2006, The Accidental won 9-7 over Home Land by Sam Lipsyte


The Road by Cormac McCarthy

A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other.

Potential Zombie: In 2007, The Road won 15-2 over Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart


The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

Oscar is a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd who—from the New Jersey home he shares with his old world mother and rebellious sister—dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, finding love. But Oscar may never get what he wants. Blame the fukú—a curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, following them on their epic journey from Santo Domingo to the USA.

Potential Zombie: In 2008, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao won 12-4 over Remainder by Tom McCarthy


A Mercy by Toni Morrison

In the 1680s the slave trade in the Americas is still in its infancy. Jacob Vaark is an Anglo-Dutch trader and adventurer, with a small holding in the harsh North. Despite his distaste for dealing in "flesh," he takes a small slave girl in part payment for a bad debt from a plantation owner in Catholic Maryland. This is Florens, who can read and write and might be useful on his farm. Rejected by her mother, Florens looks for love, first from Lina, an older servant woman at her new master’s house, and later from the handsome blacksmith, an African, never enslaved, who comes riding into their lives.

Potential Zombie: In 2009, A Mercy won 11-6 over City of Refuge by Tom Piazza


Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of 20 years and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell: a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people, and implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?

Potential Zombie: In 2010, Wolf Hall won 9-8 over The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver


A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Bennie Salazar, a punk rocker in his teenage years, is facing middle age as a divorced and disheartened record producer. His cool, competent assistant, Sasha, keeps everything under control—except for her unconquerable compulsion to steal. Their diverse and diverting memories of the past and musings about the present set the stage for a cycle of tales about their friends, families, business associates, and lovers.

Potential Zombie: In 2011, A Visit From the Goon Squad won 9-8 over Freedom by Jonathan Franzen


The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die. The enigmatic and powerful man known only as the Commodore has ordered it, and his henchmen, Eli and Charlie Sisters, will make sure of it. Though Eli doesn’t share his brother’s appetite for whiskey and killing, he’s never known anything else. But their prey isn’t an easy mark, and on the road from Oregon City to Warm’s gold-mining claim outside Sacramento, Eli begins to question what he does for a living-and whom he does it for.

Potential Zombie: In 2012, The Sisters Brothers won 10-6 over Open City by Teju Cole


The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother—a singer "stolen" to Pyongyang—and an influential father who runs a work camp for orphans. Superiors in the North Korean state soon recognize the boy’s loyalty and keen instincts. Considering himself "a humble citizen of the greatest nation in the world," Jun Do rises in the ranks. Driven to the absolute limit of what any human being could endure, he boldly takes on the treacherous role of rival to Kim Jong Il in an attempt to save the woman he loves, Sun Moon, a legendary actress "so pure, she didn’t know what starving people looked like."

Potential Zombie: In 2013, The Orphan Master’s Son won 14-3 over The Fault in Our Stars by John Green


The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

Henry Shackleford is a young slave living in the Kansas Territory in 1856—a battleground between anti- and pro-slavery forces—when legendary abolitionist John Brown arrives. When an argument between Brown and Henry’s master turns violent, Henry is forced to leave town—along with Brown, who believes Henry to be a girl and his good luck charm. Over the ensuing months, Henry, whom Brown nicknames Little Onion, conceals his true identity to stay alive. Eventually Brown sweeps him into the historic raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859—one of the great catalysts for the Civil War.

Potential Zombie: In 2014, The Good Lord Bird won 11-6 over Life After Life by Kate Atkinson


Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Twenty years after a devastating flu pandemic ended civilization as we know it, Kirsten Raymonde moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence.

Potential Zombie: In 2015, Station Eleven won 15-2 over All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr


The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Born in the “agrarian ghetto” of Dickens—on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles—the narrator resigns himself to the fate of lower-middle-class Californians: “I’d die in the same bedroom I’d grown up in, looking up at the cracks in the stucco ceiling that’ve been there since ’68 quake.”

Potential Zombie: In 2016, The Sellout won 12-7 over The Turner House by Angela Flournoy


The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Cora is a slave in Georgia. When Caesar, a recent arrival, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they take a terrifying risk and escape. Here, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city whose placid surface masks an insidious scheme. Cora again flees, state by state, seeking true freedom.

Potential Zombie: In 2017, The Underground Railroad won 14-3 over Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi


Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

A young woman named Amanda lies dying in a rural hospital clinic. A boy named David sits beside her. She’s not his mother. He’s not her child. Together, they tell a haunting story of broken souls, toxins, and the power and desperation of family.

Potential Zombie: In 2018, Fever Dream won 10-7 over Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders


My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Ayoola’s third boyfriend in a row is dead. Thankfully her sister, Korede, knows the best solutions for cleaning blood, has a car with a trunk enough for a body, and keeps Ayoola from posting pictures to Instagram when she should be mourning her boyfriend. Korede has long been in love with a doctor at the hospital where she works. But when he asks Korede for Ayoola’s phone number, she must reckon with what her sister has become and how far she’s willing to go to protect her.

Potential Zombie: In 2019, My Sister, the Serial Killer won 12-5 over Warlight by Michael Ondaatje


Normal People by Sally Rooney

At school, Connell is popular and well-adjusted, while Marianne is intensely private. But later, when they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin, Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. Throughout their years at university, Marianne and Connell circle one another, always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. And as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.

Potential Zombie: In 2020, Normal People won 10-7 over Optic Nerve by María Gainza