Each year for the past 15 years The Morning News has run the Tournament of Books — a March Madness like competition for books published during the previous year. It’s fun and light-hearted and super interesting because unlike other literary prizes, you get to see the judges’ thought process as they decided which book progresses and which doesn’t.
I first learned about it a few years ago through Field Notes, who sponsors the competition and issues a special, limited edition notebook to accompany it. At first I just bought the notebook, because I was a budding Field Nut and that’s what Field Nuts did. A year later I read and enjoyed some of the books that were in the competition, and I started to really look forward to reading the judges’ debates on each round.
Which brings us to this year, which is the year that I’ve decided to finally challenge myself to read every book on the Tournament of Books 2019 shortlist. That’s 18 books total, and as the tournament starts in March, there’s very little chance that I’ll be able to finish reading all of the books in time for their round. That just means that I’ll be following along a little later than usual, but I don’t think that it matters much.
What’s challenging isn’t just the sheer volume of books, but also their topics. There are no “light read” books on this list. There are books about death, prison, war, bigotry, racism and all the other “wonderful” sides of humanity. It would be a tough challenge on a regular year, but as I’m struggling with death and sickness in my family, this will be extra tough.
So why am I doing this? To challenge myself. To make myself a better, more empathetic human being, and hopefully a better writer. And because I can.