Yes, it is Tournament of Books time once again, pandemic friends, and we are very glad you're here so we can announce the books (culled from this year's long list) that will be contending for the 18th edition of the Tournament of Books!
Before we do that, we have so much love for our presenting sponsor Field Notes. We use their gear personally (Rosecrans uses an annual subscription because he burns through their pocket notebooks so fast), so it's a treat to have their support for the ToB. Maybe the Santa in your life should grab their new “Ignition” edition for a little splurge?
We're also really excited to welcome back Bookshop.org as this year's book sponsor. When you order through Bookshop, you can support a specific bookstore in your town or elsewhere, or contribute to a pool that's distributed among independent bookstores. Yay, Bookshop.org!
Our biggest thanks go to our Sustaining Members. Without their support, no tournament (for real). And if you aren't a Sustainer yet, please consider joining the crew today to keep this event running for years to come. (Also: Sustaining Members get 50 percent off everything at the TMN Store, including our Winter 2021 collection, perfect for holiday shopping, which brings back our sought-after 2016 design by Janet Hansen.)
So, here's how the ToB works. Each weekday in March, starting March 8, two books from the shortlist are read and evaluated by one of our judges. One of the books is chosen to advance to the next round, and the judge explains at length how they came to their decision, then the commentariat—people like you—express their feelings and thoughts, and the next day we do it all over again. This goes on, round after round, until one book wins the Rooster—an award that entails threatening the winning's book author with a real live bird.
Finally, a few housekeeping items:
First, we like to change things up once in a while. And considering the high quality of assessment and thought that takes place these days in the comments section, we decided that rather than feature a Reader Judge for one match, we'd feature readers in the commentary booth throughout the Tournament. If you're interested, throw your name in the hat in the form below and let us know!
Second, we have opened a Tournament of Books Discord server, and we would love it if you joined us over there prior to the Tournament start, so you're ready to go once March rolls around! We know Disqus has traditionally been where the Commentariat convenes during the Tournament—however, we're also aware it gave many of you headaches during this year's Camp ToB, as well as the 2021 Tournament. (As we recall, one commenter in the past couple of years said something about how March is the time of year when they have to remember their Disqus password.) So there's a chance we'll be moving Tournament comments over to Discord in the future, and rather than catch you by surprise if that happens, we want to let you know now, so you can join us there, download the apps if you're into that, and say hi!
Finally, as always, we need your Zombie vote today, or before midnight (Eastern) Friday, Dec. 10. That's because from the play-in round to the eight opening round matches to the four quarterfinal matches through the two semifinal matches, the field gets whittled down to two finalists. But before those books can enter the championship, they must endure a “Zombie Round,” which restores two books that were eliminated previously during gameplay. As to which books return, it's determined by a popular vote, right here, right now, using the form below.
And yes, we are doing a play-in round again. The theme this year is tumult. Because you know.
We'll have more news soon, so make sure you're signed up for the Rooster newsletter to stay in the know. Finally, a note to any small or large businesses who love the Rooster and its hardcore readers: We have several sponsorships still available, email us to find out more! See you in March!
The Shortlist for the 2022 Tournament of Books
Book descriptions are excerpted from publishers' summaries and edited for length. Any purchases you make through the book links help support the Tournament of Books. Here is a spreadsheet of the full list. You can find all the shortlist titles on a Bookshop list.
All's Well by Mona Awad
Miranda Fitch's life is a waking nightmare. The accident that ended her burgeoning acting career left her with excruciating chronic back pain, a failed marriage, and a deepening dependence on painkillers. And now, she's on the verge of losing her job as a college theater director. Determined to put on Shakespeare's All's Well That Ends Well, the play that promised and cost her everything, she faces a mutinous cast hellbent on staging Macbeth instead. Miranda sees her chance at redemption slip through her fingers. That's when she meets three strange benefactors who have an eerie knowledge of Miranda's past and a tantalizing promise for her future: one where the show goes on, her rebellious students get what's coming to them, and the invisible doubted pain that's kept her from the spotlight is made known.
Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he'd like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend, Eileen, is getting over a breakup, and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood. Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon are still young—but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They have sex, they worry about sex, they worry about their friendships and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?
The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki
One year after the death of his beloved musician father, 13-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices. The voices belong to the things in his house—a sneaker, a broken Christmas ornament, a piece of wilted lettuce. Although Benny doesn't understand what these things are saying, he can sense their emotional tone; some are pleasant, a gentle hum or coo, but others are snide, angry and full of pain. When his mother, Annabelle, develops a hoarding problem, the voices grow more clamorous. At first, Benny tries to ignore them, but soon the voices follow him outside the house, onto the street and at school, driving him at last to seek refuge in the silence of a large public library, where objects are well-behaved and know to speak in whispers.
The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey
Evelyn Caldwell's husband Nathan has been having an affair—with Evelyn Caldwell. Or, to be exact, with a genetically cloned replica. After a morning that begins with a confrontation and ends with Nathan's body bleeding out on the kitchen floor, the two Caldwell wives will have to think fast—before sharing everything includes sharing a jail cell.
In Concrete by Anne Garréta, translated by Emma Ramadan
Here we follow the mania that descends upon a family when the father finds himself in possession of a concrete mixer. As he seeks to modernize every aspect of their lives, disaster strikes when the younger sister is subsumed by concrete.
Intimacies by Katie Kitamura
An interpreter has come to the Hague to escape New York and work at the International Court. A woman of many languages and identities, she is looking for a place to finally call home. She's drawn into simmering personal dramas: her lover, Adriaan, is separated from his wife but still entangled in his marriage. Her friend Jana witnesses a seemingly random act of violence, a crime the interpreter becomes increasingly obsessed with as she befriends the victim's sister. And she's pulled into an explosive political controversy when she's asked to interpret for a former president accused of war crimes. She is soon pushed to the precipice, where betrayal and heartbreak threaten to overwhelm her, forcing her to decide what she wants from her life.
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
This is the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her. (As the winner of Camp ToB 2021, Klara and the Sun receives an automatic berth in the 2022 Tournament of Books.)
Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge
Coming of age in a free Black community in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn, Libertie Sampson is all too aware that her purposeful mother, a practicing physician, has a vision for their future together: Libertie is to go to medical school and practice alongside her. But Libertie, drawn more to music than science, feels stifled by her mother's choices and is hungry for something else. And she is constantly reminded that, unlike her light-skinned mother, Libertie will not be able to pass for white. When a young man from Haiti proposes to Libertie and promises she will be his equal on the island, she accepts, only to discover that she is still subordinate to him and all men. As she tries to parse what freedom actually means for a Black woman, Libertie struggles with where she might find it.
Matrix by Lauren Groff
Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, deemed too coarse and rough-hewn for marriage or courtly life, 17-year-old Marie de France is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey. At first taken aback by the severity of her new life, Marie steadily supplants her desire for family, for her homeland, for the passions of her youth with something new to her: devotion to her sisters, and a conviction in her own divine visions. Marie, born the last in a long line of women warriors and crusaders, is determined to chart a bold new course for the women she now leads and protects. But in a world that is shifting and corroding in frightening ways, one that can never reconcile itself with her existence, will the sheer force of Marie's vision be bulwark enough?
Nervous System by Lina Meruane, translated by Megan McDowell
Ella is an astrophysicist struggling with her doctoral thesis in the “country of the present” but she is from the “country of the past,” a place burdened in her memory by both personal and political tragedies. Consumed by writer's block, she finds herself wishing she would become ill, which would provide time for writing and perhaps an excuse for her lack of progress. Then she begins to experience mysterious symptoms that doctors find undiagnosable. As Ella's anxiety grows, the past begins to exert a strong gravitational pull, and other members of her family come into focus: the widowed Father, the Stepmother, the Twins, and the Firstborn. Each of them has their own experience of illness and violence, and eventually the systems that both hold them together and atomize them are exposed.
No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood
A woman who has recently been elevated to prominence for her social media posts travels around the world to meet her adoring fans. She is overwhelmed by navigating the new language and etiquette of what she terms “the portal,” where she grapples with an unshakable conviction that a vast chorus of voices is now dictating her thoughts. “Are we in hell?” the people of the portal ask themselves. “Are we all just going to keep doing this until we die?” Suddenly, two texts from her mother pierce the fray: “Something has gone wrong,” and “How soon can you get here?” As real life and its stakes collide with the increasingly absurd antics of the portal, the woman confronts a world that seems to contain both an abundance of proof that there is goodness, empathy, and justice in the universe, and a deluge of evidence to the contrary.
Field Notes® limited release for the fall is the “Harvest” Edition. Noted American artist John Burgoyne's illustrations grace the covers of the six Memo Books in this series.
The illustrations are embossed into a sturdy, hemp-based cover stock and the pages are perforated for sharing recipes and grocery lists. “Harvest” makes a great holiday gift for the chef or gardener in your life.
Field Notes is proud to present the 2022 Morning News Tournament of Books. Now get reading!
Several People Are Typing by Calvin Kasulke
Gerald, a mid-level employee of a New York–based public relations firm has been uploaded into the company's internal Slack channels—at least his consciousness has. His colleagues assume it's an elaborate gag to exploit the new work-from home policy, but now that Gerald's productivity is through the roof, his bosses are only too happy to let him work from…wherever he says he is. Faced with the looming abyss of a disembodied life online, Gerald enlists his co-worker Pradeep to help him escape, and to find out what happened to his body. But the longer Gerald stays in the void, the more alluring and absurd his reality becomes.
Subdivision by J. Robert Lennon
An unnamed woman checks into a guesthouse in a mysterious district known only as the Subdivision. With little more than a hand-drawn map and vague memories of her troubled past, the narrator ventures out in search of a job, an apartment, and a fresh start in life. Accompanied by an unusually assertive digital assistant named Cylvia, the narrator is drawn deeper into an increasingly strange, surreal, and threatening world, which reveals itself to her through a series of darkly comic encounters. A lovelorn truck driver…a mysterious child…a watchful crow. A cryptic birthday party. A baffling physics experiment in a defunct office tower where some calamity once happened. Through it all, the narrator is tempted and manipulated by the bakemono, a shape-shifting demon who poses a distinctly terrifying danger.
The Trees by Percival Everett
When a pair of detectives arrive in the rural town of Money, Miss., to investigate a series of brutal murders, they meet expected resistance from the local sheriff, his deputy, the coroner, and a string of racist white townsfolk. The murders present a puzzle, for at each crime scene there is a second dead body: that of a man who resembles Emmett Till. The detectives suspect that these are killings of retribution, but soon discover that eerily similar murders are taking place all over the country. Something truly strange is afoot. As the bodies pile up, the detectives seek answers from a local root doctor who has been documenting every lynching in the country for years, uncovering a history that refuses to be buried.
When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut, translated by Adrian Nathan West
A fictional examination of the lives of real-life scientists and thinkers whose discoveries resulted in moral consequences beyond their imagining. Fritz Haber, Alexander Grothendieck, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger—these are some of luminaries whose troubled lives we enter, seeing how they grappled with the most profound questions of existence. They have strokes of unparalleled genius, alienate friends and lovers, descend into isolation and insanity. Some of their discoveries reshape human life for the better; others pave the way to chaos and unimaginable suffering. The lines are never clear.
Play-in round books
The Confession of Copeland Cane by Keenan Norris
A slightly eccentric, flip-phone loving kid with analog tendencies and a sideline hustling sneakers, the boundaries of Copeland Cane V's life are demarcated from the jump by urban toxicity, an educational apparatus with confounding intentions, and a police state that has merged with media conglomerates—the highly-rated Insurgency Alert Desk that surveils and harasses his neighborhood in the name of anti-terrorism. Recruited by the nearby private school even as he and his folks face eviction, Copeland is doing his damnedest to do right by himself, for himself. And yet the forces at play entrap him in a reality that chews up his past and obscures his future.
Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart
It's March 2020 and a calamity is unfolding. A group of friends and friends-of-friends gathers in a country house to wait out the pandemic. Over the next six months new friendships and romances will take hold, while old betrayals will emerge, forcing each character to reevaulate whom they love and what matters most. The unlikely cast of characters include: a Russian-born novelist; his Russian-born psychiatrist wife; their precocious child obsessed with K-pop; a struggling Indian American writer; a wildly successful Korean American app developer; a global dandy with three passports; a young flame-thrower of an essayist, originally from the Carolinas; and a movie star, the Actor, whose arrival upsets the equilibrium of this chosen family.
The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
A small independent bookstore in Minneapolis is haunted from November 2019 to November 2020 by the store's most annoying customer. Flora dies on All Soul's Day, but she simply won't leave the store. Tookie, who has landed a job selling books after years of incarceration that she survived by reading “with murderous attention,” must solve the mystery of this haunting while at the same time trying to understand all that occurs in Minneapolis during a year of grief, astonishment, isolation, and furious reckoning.
Atom Atkinson is the Director of Writing Programs at Catapult and 1/6 of the poetry collective Line Assembly. Previously, they were the inaugural Director of Literary Arts at Chautauqua Institution.
Alex Barasch is an editor at the New Yorker. His writing has appeared in the New Yorker, Slate, and elsewhere.
Carole V. Bell is a book critic and communication scholar with an unquenchable love of politics and popular culture. A former professor, her writing and research explore the intersection of social identity, media, and politics. She has been interviewed on these topics by NPR, WGBH, WCVB, FiveThirtyEight and the Atlantic, and has written for radio, print, and online media, including the New York Times, NPR, BookPage, Book Riot, Publishers Weekly, Shondaland, and theGrio.
Jenny Bhatt is a writer, literary translator, and book critic. She is the founder of Desi Books and teaches creative writing at Writing Workshops Dallas. Her debut story collection, Each of Us Killers, won a 2020 Foreword INDIES award in the Short Stories category and was a finalist in the Multicultural Adult Fiction category. Her literary translation, Ratno Dholi: The Best Stories of Dhumketu has been shortlisted for the 2021 PFC-VoW Book Awards for English Translation from Regional Languages. Her writing has appeared in various venues including NPR, the Washington Post, Los Angeles Review of Books, Dallas Morning News, Literary Hub, the Atlantic, BBC Culture, Poets & Writers, and more. Having lived and worked her way around India, England, Germany, Scotland, and various parts of the US, she now lives in a suburb of Dallas.
Olivia Craighead is a writer based in Brooklyn. She's currently a staff writer at Gawker, where she writes mostly about celebrities and occasionally about soup. She has been published in the New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal Magazine, The Fader, and more.
Fiona Dourif is an actress and producer living in Los Angeles. She was educated in Ireland and began her career producing History Channel documentaries. Recently, she is best known for her work in Tenet, the Child's Play franchise, Stephen King's The Stand, and various other television series. She loves old cars and good books.
Anita Felicelli is the author of the short-story collection Love Songs for a Lost Continent and Chimerica: A Novel. Anita is the editor of Alta Journal's California Book Club. She is on the board of the National Book Critics Circle and currently serves as its VP of Fundraising.
Megan Giddings is an assistant professor at Michigan State University and a mentor in Antioch University's (Los Angeles) low-residency MFA program. Megan's first novel, Lakewood, was a finalist for two NAACP Image Awards and a Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Lakewood was an NPR Book of the Year, one of New York Magazine's 10 Best Books of 2020, and a Michigan Notable Book for 2021. Megan's second novel, The Women Could Fly, will be published by Amistad in August 2022. You can learn more about her at megangiddings.com.
Maria Dahvana Headley is the New York Times-bestselling author of eight books, across a variety of genres, most recently Beowulf: A New Translation, and The Mere Wife, both from McD x FSG. She is the winner of the 2021 Harold Morton Landon Translation Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and the World Fantasy Award, and her work has been shortlisted for the Hugo, Nebula, and Shirley Jackson Awards, among others. She grew up in rural Idaho, plucking the winter coat from her father's wolf.
Crystal Hana Kim is the author of If You Leave Me, which was a Booklist Editor's Choice title and named a best book of 2018 by over a dozen publications. Her work has been published in the Paris Review, Elle Magazine, Glamour Magazine, Guernica, and elsewhere. A 2021 Jerome Hill Artist Finalist and a 2017 PEN America Dau Short Story Prize winner, Crystal teaches at Columbia University and at Randolph College's MFA Program.
Cari Luna is the author of The Revolution of Every Day, which won the Ken Kesey Award for Fiction. A fellow of Yaddo and Ragdale, her writing has appeared in the Nation, Guernica, Salon, Jacobin, Electric Literature, Catapult, PANK, and elsewhere. She lives in Portland, Ore.
Rosa Lyster is working on a book about the global water crisis.
Blair McClendon is an editor, filmmaker, and writer. His film work has screened at festivals around the world. His writing has been published in n+1, the New Republic, the New York Times Magazine, and elsewhere. Like many others he lives in New York.
Jennifer Murphy is the author of the memoir First Responder, a Time Magazine pick for best new books of April 2021. Her writing has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies, as well as the New York Times, Salon, the New York Daily News, and other media outlets. She lives in Brooklyn.
Matthew Schneier is a features writer at New York Magazine and The Cut. Previously, he was a reporter for the New York Times, and his writing has also appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the Wall Street Journal, and Slate, among other publications.
Now available for Winter 2021: ToB reading apparel for the months ahead with our classic 2016 Rooster design from book designer Janet Hansen, including mugs, sweatshirts, a blanket, and more.