IKE | Middlemarch Madness
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Middlemarch Madness

Middlemarch Madness

Tournament of Books

The Seventh Annual Tournament of Books begins one month from now. Presented by the Field Notes and sponsored by Powell’s Books, it has become a worthy competitor to that other tournament that occurs every March. The competition is fierce and the cream usually rises to the top.

Here’s how it works:

Each spring we take 16 of the most celebrated novels of the previous calendar year (30 percent off from Powells.com) and seed them into a competitive bracket—the kind you see in the N.C.A.A. basketball championship. Seventeen judges are enlisted throughout several rounds of competition, with each arbiter considering two books and advancing one. In this way, a pool of 16 books becomes eight, eight becomes four, four becomes two, and two becomes one, The Rooster, Champion Book of the Year.

Well, almost. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Each weekday in March, two books go head to head, with a judge explaining in detail how he or she has chosen one of them to advance to the next round. Unlike other book awards, we ask our judges to come clean about how they made their decision, their literary biases and reading preferences, their personal and professional conflicts and affiliations.

We also gave you, the readers and fans, two chances to determine the outcome. In the fall, we held a contest for one of you to become a judge, and from a large pool, Reader Judge Catherine George was chosen. We also asked you to tell us which book from the group of 16 was your favorite. During competition, once the judges have winnowed the field to two books, we enter what we call the Zombie Round. This is where the top two most popular books among you readers that were earlier eliminated in the competition rise from the dead and get another chance to trip up the semi-finalists on their march to victory.

Finally, one book wins The Rooster, the Champion Book of the Year, and we award/threaten its author with the presentation of a live rooster, the official Tournament of Books mascot, named after our favorite character in contemporary literature, David Sedaris’s brother.

At the end of this intense competition, the victor will join this list of previous winners:

Get the office pool started…and let the betting begin.

David Isaacson
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