Welcome to the Super Rooster

A Prize 16 Years in the Making

Rosecrans Baldwin: Andrew, we started publishing TMN in 1999 when we were fellow copy editors at a web design agency. We launched the Tournament of Books in 2005, based on a silly idea our friend Kevin Guilfoile suggested one night over drinks. Is it safe to say we didn’t see this day coming?

Andrew Womack: It would be safe to say I didn’t even picture the first Tournament happening. At the time, we were publishing what we do now, along with a new longform piece every day. And so that week we hung out with Kevin, talked about this thing, then a couple of days later you, me, and Kate (Ortega, former TMN Managing Editor) were talking about it at Cedar Tavern, like hey, this will fill out the publishing schedule nicely. So, it turns out doing a weird thing for all the wrong reasons sometimes works out. And now, here we are, still doing a weird thing—but for the right reasons—after 16 years of Tournaments.

Rosecrans: The Rooster is old enough for a driver’s license! For anyone new, here’s what’s happening. Each March for the last 16 years, we’ve conducted a month-long event where 16 or so works of fiction from the previous year go head-to-head in a “tournament” arranged similarly to basketball’s March Madness. In our case, an expert judge decides each weekday between two works of fiction, going solely on their own criteria, then explains in public view why they picked one book over another, with all their biases and industry connections laid bare.

That said, ToB is barely a contest. It is definitively not a “best of the year” list or some crap. (I mean, we threaten our champions with live roosters.) Each year we say this and we’ll repeat it always: The value of the Tournament of Books lies in people working out how they value art and what role literature plays in their lives. And celebrating books!

Andrew: This is true. And it’s something I know I’ve mentioned around here before: how judges approach the dilemma as to why this and not that never fails, to this day, to fascinate me. And I’m not the only one. For many of you, this isn’t your first Tournament of Books. I know some of you have been watching from the very beginning. And along the way, we’ve all enjoyed not only watching our judges grapple with art versus art, but also how our passionate reader community, the Commentariat, grapples with those same questions—and frequently, with our judges’ decisions!

Rosecrans: Which brings us to The Super Rooster: this month’s tournament of champions, featuring each year’s winner from 2020 to 2005. First off, major thanks to our tremendous Super Rooster presenting sponsor, Bookshop, the online bookstore that’s on a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores. That’s exactly the mojo we love to see associated with the ToB—thank you, Bookshop! And hey, if you haven’t already, grab your reading materials by heading over to our Bookshop Super Rooster list right now.



Andrew: Along with that, we’re very excited to also have Field Notes joining us again! Make sure to check out their limited edition Fall 2020 notebooks, the “United States of Letterpress.” (And while you’re at it, read Jason Kottke’s post about what it’s like to have your arm almost torn off by a pedal-powered letterpress machine.)

We also want to extend our deep gratitude to all our Sustaining Members. Anyone who’s joined us for the Tournament of Books knows we always say our supporters are the reason the Tournament happens every year, not to mention all its extensions. And the Super Rooster is no exception. If you haven’t already, please find out why we need your support, and consider becoming a Sustaining Member or making a one-time donation during the Super Rooster.

You should also know that all Sustaining Members get 50 percent off their purchases at the TMN Store, which has been freshly stocked with all-new Super Rooster merchandise suitable for hanging, wearing, sipping, and cozying (there are sweatshirts).

Rosecrans: Starting tomorrow, a pair of books will face off each weekday, judged by an esteemed panel of ToB alumni. We’ll have veteran ToB commentators Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner looking over many matches, and also some ToB fans joining us in the booth. There’s our traditional “Zombie Round” before the championship match, of course, though customized for the Super Rooster: The two books that make it to the semifinal round will meet the novels they trounced in their original championship matches. That means if The Road reaches the semifinals, it’ll face Absurdistan, the book it beat in 2007. If A Visit From the Good Squad gets there, then it’s up against Freedom, over which it squeaked out a win, 9-8, in 2011. Folks, it’s 2020—let chaos reign!

Andrew: I have no doubt it’s going to be wild. And you know, last year—when we first started talking about maybe doing this ToB of ToBs—I had nearly the same feeling I did 16 years ago, when I wasn’t sure whether that first one would happen. But here we are again. A bizarre idea on top of a weird idea, and why not?

And now that it’s here—actually here—I’m excited to see what happens. How about you, Rosecrans, what are you looking forward to in our first-ever Super Rooster?

Rosecrans: I’m most excited for the conversations in the comments. There’s a lot to think about! How has popular fiction changed since 2005, when Dan Brown and Nicholas Sparks were all the rage? How about literary fiction? Anthony Lane had a great article in the New Yorker in 1994 about how hit books, never mind bestsellers, rarely age well. Does the same still apply? And so on and so on.

Andrew: We’re going to find out—and we’ll see you tomorrow!

The Rooster needs your help


New Super Rooster merch is now available at the TMN Store. As a reminder, Sustaining Members receive 50 percent off everything in our store. To find out why we’re asking for your support and how you can become a Sustaining Member, please visit our Membership page. Thank you.

Super Rooster Merch


Welcome to the Commentariat

Population: You

To keep our comments section as inclusive as possible for the book-loving public, please follow the guidelines below. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate or abusive comments, such as ad hominem attacks. We ban users who repeatedly post inappropriate comments.

  • Criticize ideas, not people. Divisiveness can be a result of debates over things we truly care about; err on the side of being generous. Let’s talk and debate and gnash our book-chewing teeth with love and respect for the Rooster community, judges, authors, commentators, and commenters alike.
  • If you’re uninterested in a line of discussion from an individual user, you can privately block them within Disqus to hide their comments (though they’ll still see your posts).
  • While it’s not required, you can use the Disqus tag to hide book details that may spoil the reading experience for others, e.g., “Dumbledore dies.”
  • We all feel passionately about fiction, but “you’re an idiot if you loved/hated this book that I hated/loved” isn't an argument—it’s just rude. Take a breath.
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