Tournament of Books 2019: The Challenge

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.

Quick Update

Here’s what’s going on in a nutshell:

  • Back to writing while I figure out what to do with my first novel (beta readers, synopsis, etc).
  • I’ve deleted Tweetbot from my phone again. I’ve really cut down on my social media lately, and it’s time to once again take a step back from Twitter for a while. It just makes me so angry and frustrated lately, to no good end.
  • Listening to Serial season 3 (talk about angry and frustrated), MBMBaM, Do By Friday, Roderick on the Line, Felicitations and the Pen Addict. I’ve really cut down on my technology podcasts for the past few weeks, because there’s only so many times you can hear a bunch of dudes talk about their iPhones or watches.
  • I’ve managed to return to journaling, and my running is back on track. I’m still spending a lot of time in the hospital, on the phone with the hospital or researching health things on the internet for my mom, but I’ve managed to eek some sort of balance into the craziness of it all. Keeping my head above the water at this point, which isn’t bad.
  • Drawing and reading like crazy, instead of watching TV or playing video games, which is a net positive for me.


My 2017 – an utterly positive roundup


2017 was the year I ran a race in my underwear.

I also read 42 books, almost twice as many as I originally planned on reading.

I finally finished the first draft of my novel and started working on the second draft.

I went on the Big Thunder Mountain Ride in Disneyland Paris, despite being afraid of heights, and I ran a 5k and a 10k mere hours apart in the Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Weekend.

I translated and heavily adapted a Parsley game for a friend’s wedding, arranged a Tabletop Day gathering, played  and I started playing Pandemic Legacy 2. So far Matt Leacock is killing it with the story on this one.

I saw and enjoyed Wonder Woman, and I saw and loved Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I planned on going to more movies (I can’t believe I missed Coco, but travel plans will do that to you), but I’ll make up for it in 2018 I’m pretty sure.

I ran three 10K races, two 5K races (and 3 virtual 5Ks), more kilometres than I have ever run in a year (over 700), and I broke my 10K PR. I ran like through downtown Washington to the Mall and Lincoln Memorial, and through Greenwich Park all the way up to the Greenwich Observatory. I learned to appreciate yoga.

I joined Tel Aviv’s Urban Sketchers and went to sketchcrawls in Jaffa, Neve Zedek, the Carmel Market, Rothschild, and Florentine. I drew 100 people in a week as part of Liz Steel‘s challenge, and I sketched more frequently than I ever have. Learning to let myself experiment with my drawings, let my lines be looser and fortunate mistakes to happen has been a revelation that I plan on exploring more in 2018.

I journaled each day for most of the year, and finally started filling all those notebooks I bought. 2017 was also the year I fell in love again with Moleskines, but more on that perhaps later.

I challenged myself to take a photo a day, and succeeded, and I plan on continuing with that challenge in 2018. It makes me stop, look around, think about composition, lighting, atmosphere — all things that are valuable to me both as an artist and a writer.

2017 wasn’t without it’s challenges, fears, troubles — but it was also full of triumph and hope, good things that I plan on carrying on with me to 2018 and beyond.

Happy new year!


Playing with a broken thing

I accidentally broke a clothing pin today, and instead of immediately chucking it to the trash, I decided to play with it for a while.

Moleskine blank Star Wars notebook, Zebra brush pen, and half a clothing pin from IKEA.

This week’s recommendations 

Podcast: Do by Friday. A weekly challenge show by Merlin Mann, Alex Cox, and Max Temkin. It’s funny, it’s insightful, it’s well worth your time. 

Book: A Month in the Country, by J L Carr. This is a 104 page lyrical masterpiece about a WWI veteran hired to restore a medieval mural in a Yorkshire church. A real gem- one of those books that you judge other people by.

Tea: Feng Qing Premium Black Gold Pearls – a “chocolate and malt” Yunnan black tea rolled into large marbles. Sweet, mellow, smooth and a feast for the eyes. Almost too good to share.

And also: if your New Year’s Resolutions aren’t SMART, you are wasting your time, attention, and effort.

Gratuitous photo of Jaffa on a clear winter’s day.

Bluetooth Headphones 

The only reason to buy Apple AirPods is if you feel like regularly fishing them out of dog poop when they drop out while picking after Fluffy. 


I couldn’t sleep last night for no good reason other than the noise from the neighbouring synagogue and my terrible late night iPhone Twitter habits. The iPhone addiction is on me, but what can you do about French tourists being obnoxiously loud obnoxiously late when they stand outside a synagogue long after closing time, far past midnight? I considered throwing a bucket of water or hefting a shoe at them, but I couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed. Meanwhile, they outshouted the closed windows and air conditioning. Only American tourists get any louder.

I saw an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine tonight that hit close to home regarding to my spending habits. Unlike Jake Peralta I am saving money, and I have never even considered buying one massage chair, let alone six, but I can get carried away sometimes buying junk that I don’t need and will never use. There is a collector’s bug that runs in the family that doesn’t help, and FOMO is a real thing when it comes to limited editions of things that I like (mostly pens and stationery), but mostly I just need to learn that buying stuff online is not a good coping mechanism for a bad day at work or a sleepless night. Money spent on experiences, like races and trips and escape rooms with friends, is better spent, period. And maybe more than me needing to learn to just enjoy using what I have, I need to accept that whether it’s headphones or pens or mechanical keyboards, there is no true perfection out there — there is only what there is.