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The Rooster

Announcing The Morning News Tournament of Books X

The rooster is back, and the rooster is famished. Introducing the finalists and judges for The Morning News 10th Annual Tournament of Books, presented by Field Notes.

Perhaps it’s wrong for an event that considers itself a celebration of arbitrariness to recognize an anniversary. Or maybe it’s perfectly appropriate—we’re not sure where we’re supposed to stand on irony these days. Regardless, pride compels us to note that the Tournament of Books turns 10 this year.

Ten! If the ToB were a child, we’d call him ToBy, and little ToBy would be obsessed with Minecraft, soccer, Adventure Time, and learning to play guitar. And reading books. ToBy reads a lot.

That would seem to make him an odd little kid in 2014. Over the last decade it has become typical for adults to say, “I never read books,” which disturbs and saddens us. The peculiar and cocky Charons of pop culture have proclaimed the novel dead many times over the last century, but perhaps never more gleefully than in the last few years.

The legacy media virtually ignores literature. Not too long ago, daily newspapers considered it an important part of their public trust to review books as part of their arts coverage. With a few exceptions—and let us note some of the truly excellent criticism and features provided by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Chicago Tribune Printer’s Row Journal—that is no longer the case. Commercial magazines rarely print fiction, or discuss it. For years, Oprah carried the torch in front of the television masses, and her devotion was noble and sincere, but even Oprah is doing something else now.

And yet.

People who still read fiction that doesn’t necessarily feature Jack Ryan have observed something. With no attention paid to the number of book readers and retailers, the novel itself seems to hold as much power as ever. Twenty-thirteen was a wonderful year for fiction. We feel compelled to disclaim as loudly as ever that today’s announcement of the Tournament of Books shortlist is not an attempt to formalize the best 17 books of 2013. There are dozens of novels that could have made the cut, and hundreds that probably belonged on our long list but didn’t because of deficiencies that are all our own. Any outrage over omissions here is welcomed, embraced, and even shared by us.

Today we are merely pulling the tarp off a group of books that we hope are representative of the outstanding fiction that was published in 2013, and we hope it is a mix interesting enough to provoke a discussion about why we still read—why it is necessary for us to read—even when we are constantly being told that no one does.

We feel compelled to disclaim as loudly as ever that today’s announcement of the Tournament of Books shortlist is not an attempt to formalize the best 17 books of 2013.

In case you’re new to all this, the ToB is an annual springtime event here at The Morning News, where a group of the best works of fiction from last year enter a March Madness-style battle royale.

In March, these novels will be seeded and paired off in an NCAA Tournament-like bracket. For each pairing, one of our esteemed judges will read both novels and advance one, with a transparent explanation of how they made their decision. Along the way, our ToB Chairmen, authors Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner, will weigh in with commentary, and you, the readers, will add your own.

Eventually, only two books will remain, to be judged by our entire panel, and one will be crowned the Rooster of 2014.

(If all of this is still confusing, check out the previous tournaments, or listen to NPR’s “All Things Considered” explain it more simply.)

We would like to shower huge thanks on this year’s title sponsor, the wonderful Field Notes, purveyors of the finest notebooks (and space pens, and carpenter pencils) we know. Keep an eye on TMN and Field Notes for a special Rooster collaboration product coming soon.

We’d also like to welcome back our beloved book sponsor, Powell’s Books, as well as our new media partner, Tumblr. We’ll be announcing a party soon, too, in New York City, and you’re all invited.

Because, most of all, we want to thank all of you in advance for participating in the tournament, and for spreading the word about it, as well. The ToB has grown from a little goof into a much, much bigger goof thanks to everyone who has Tweeted and Facebooked and blogged about it (even before there were Twoots and Faceblargs) and we are grateful.

As for our 10-year-old, now that our metaphor has run its course, we probably can’t still call him ToBy anymore, that name being loaded with gender-bias. How about instead we assign him/her the chromosome possessed by all human readers as we officially announce the entrants for The Morning News 10th Annual Tournament of Books, to be known this year only as ToBX.

Let the literary blood sport commence.

Finalists for the 2014 Tournament of Books

Pre-Tournament Playoff Round

Judges for the 2014 Tournament of Books

Jami Attenberg is the author of four books of fiction. Her latest, The Middlesteins, was a New York Times bestseller and will be published in 10 countries. She has a Tumblr, too.

Geraldine Brooks writes historical fiction about the bubonic plague and the Civil War because she finds the present too depressing. Her 2006 novel, March, got the Pullet Surprise, which is almost as good as winning the Rooster.

John Darnielle is the lead singer of the Mountain Goats. His first book, Black Sabbath: Master of Reality, was published in April 2008, and he is currently working on a novel for Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Rachel Fershleiser heads publishing outreach at Tumblr. Previously she was the Community Manager at Bookish and the Director of Public Programs at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, where she now serves on the board of directors. She is also the co-creator of Six-Word Memoirs and the co-editor of four books, including the New York Times bestseller Not Quite What I Was Planning.

John Freeman is the author of The Tyranny of E-mail and How to Read a Novelist. He teaches at Columbia University.

Roxane Gay is the author of two forthcoming books: An Untamed State and Bad Feminist.

John Green is the author of four novels, including the #1 New York Times bestseller The Fault in Our Stars, which Time magazine named the best novel of 2012. He’s also the co-creator with his brother Hank of the popular YouTube channels vlogbrothers and Crash Course, which have been viewed more than 400 million times.

Roger D. Hodge is the editor of the Oxford American and the author of The Mendacity of Hope: Presidential Power, Corporate Money, and the Politics of Corrupt Influence. Hodge’s essays have appeared in many publications, including Texas Monthly, the London Review of Books, Popular Science, Men’s Journal, and Harper’s Magazine, where he was editor-in-chief. He is writing a book about life in the West Texas borderlands.

Jane Hu is a writer, grad student, and Canadian. She has published at The Awl, Slate, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and The New Republic. Currently, she lives in Montreal.

Mat Johnson is the author of the novels Pym, Drop, and Hunting in Harlem, the nonfiction novella The Great Negro Plot, and the comic books Incognegro and Dark Rain. He is a faculty member at the University of Houston Creative Writing Program.

Lydia Kiesling is a staff writer at The Millions, where she writes criticism, essays, and the semi-regular column “Modern Library Revue.” She lives in San Francisco.

Jeff Martin’s books include The Customer is Always Wrong: The Retail Chronicles and The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books. He has written for GOOD, The Millions, Salon, Poets & Writers, and Publishers Weekly. Jeff is the founder and executive director of the literary organization Booksmart Tulsa in his hometown of Tulsa, Okla.

John McElwee works in the fiction department for The New Yorker and is a former literary agent at the London- and New York-based Aitken Alexander Associates. He contributes to special projects for The New Inquiry.

Sarah Schulman is the author of novels, nonfiction books, plays, and films. Her most recent works are Israel/Palestine and the Queer International and the novel The Mere Future.

Lizzie Skurnick talks about books for All Things Considered, The New Republic, Bookforum, and many other places. She is the author of Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading, and the editor-in-chief of Lizzie Skurnick Books, an imprint reissuing YA classics. A collection based on her “That Should Be a Word” column for The New York Times Magazine is forthcoming in 2014.

Héctor Tobar is a Los Angeles-based writer and the author of three books, including the novels The Barbarian Nurseries and The Tattooed Soldier. He is currently writing an account of the 2010 Chilean mining disaster for Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He is a book critic for the Los Angeles Times.

ToB 2014 Reader Judge Greg Walklin is an Assistant Attorney General at the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, where he practices in the consumer protection and antitrust division. He and his wife, Tiffany, live in Lincoln, Neb.

Tournament commissioner Kevin Guilfoile is the author most recently of A Drive Into the Gap. Tournament color commentator John Warner’s debut novel The Funny Man was published by Soho Press in 2011. Tournament chairs Andrew Womack and Rosecrans Baldwin are TMN’s co-founders. Baldwin’s most recent book Paris, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down was named GQ’s 18th best thing of 2012, nine pegs short of Maroon 5’s Adam Levine. Nozlee Samadzadeh is the ToB’s producer. More by The Tournament of Books Staff