The battle of the book tournaments

This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

In the beginning, there was The Morning News Tournament of Books. Beginning, here, meaning 2005. That was the year that The Morning News decided to take the month sports fans dedicate to watching college basketball playoffs, which has come to be known as March Madness, and turn it into something bookish. Basketball has brackets? Books can have brackets. Where teams faced off against each other, racing up and down the court, books would face off against each other and suffer the ruthless decision of judges charged with choosing one over the other. Me, I served as a judge in 2010. That was fun.

It’s clear that substituting books over basketball in brackets was an inspired choice. Books instead of basketball teams? In brackets? Who else would ever have thought of such a thing?


Lots of people, apparently, now that The Morning News has shown the way.

Debuting in 2012, it’s The Tournament of Villains from Half Price Books. The e-mail from its publicist says the company wanted to let me ‘know about a fun March Madness-inspired bracketology we at Half Price Books rolled out yesterday called ‘Tournament of Villains.’' Listen, I’m all for Half Price Books being a viable brick-and-mortar bookstore, and I’m all for them doing fun things online. And their tournament includes an ample smattering of characters from films and comic books as well as literature. And instead of judges, it’s open to a public vote. But ‘March-Madness-inspired’? Had they not encountered The Morning News’ Rooster in the last seven years?

But wait, there’s more.

Out of Print clothing makes T-shirts adorned with charming book covers of the ages; it launched its bracket-based book faceoff in 2011. ‘In keeping with its mission of celebrating the world’s great stories in new and unexpected ways, Out of Print is offering readers worldwide a chance to express their love of classic books in the form of a 64-book tournament,’ it announced. I wrote this before, but it bears repeating: Books in a bracket are ‘unexpected’ for those who’ve never heard of the Tournament of Books. Like the Battle of the Villains, Out of Print’s Book Madness is open to a public vote. This year, it pits contemporary novels against each other. Currently advancing are ‘Fortress of Solitude’ by Jonathan Lethem, ‘Water for Elephants’ by Sara Gruen, ‘Gilead’ by Marilynne Robinson, and Max Brooks’ zombie epic ‘World War Z.’

School Library Journal’s Battle of the Kids’ Books launched in 2008. It’s exactly what it says it is. And it has brackets, too.

There is also The Piglet: The Battle of the Cookbooks. In the most recent finale, Alice Waters selected ‘The Art of Living According to Joe Beef: A Cookbook of Sorts’ as the winner over the cookbook ‘Momofuku Milk Bar.’ The Piglet is never in sync with these other book faceoffs, but it does have a really cute name.

OK, that’s five book bracket tournaments -- not quite enough for a bracket matchup of their own. But I’m tempted to lay odds that there will be next year.


The crazy proliferation of March Madness book contests

Jennifer Egan wins 2011 Tournament of Books

The Morning News announced 2011 Tournament of Books contenders

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Images: Screenshots of the respective websites.