Tournament Of Books: A Literary Sweet 16

Who Will Win The Rooster?

New novels are facing off in The Tournament of Books, a bracket-style showdown at themorningnews.org. Competition is based on readers' picks and reviewers' choices. The site's founding editors, Rosecrans Baldwin and Andrew Womack, discuss the contest.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

Will the rookie from New Orleans upset the literary lion from New York? Will the grande dame survive a match-up with the hot shot young Brit? It's time for literary March Madness, the annual Tournament of Books.

The smack down is going on right now at a Web site called themorningnews.org. Every weekday, a reviewer compares two books and selects one to move on to the next round.

The site's founding editors, Rosecrans Baldwin and Andrew Womack, are with me now. Hi to both of you.

Mr. ROSECRANS BALDWIN (Founding Editor, themorningnews.org): Hi.

Mr. ANDREW WOMACK (Founding Editor, themorningnews.org): Hi.

LYDEN: So, Rosecrans Baldwin, would you please break down for me exactly how the Tournament of Books works?

Mr. BALDWIN: What we do is, in December, we select our 16 sort of top books of the past year. That's books that have received a lot of hype; that is books that we've had recommended to us by readers, by friends, by family; books that have won awards; books that maybe got unrecognized or are coming from the independent publishing world.

We take those 16 books, we seed them into a NCAA March Madness type of brackets. So you have one seeds, you have four seeds in a big battle that takes place each March over four weeks.

LYDEN: And you use a bracketing system that the NCAA uses, but you have something that I haven't seen before. Andrew Womack, what's a zombie round?

Mr. WOMACK: Before we begin the tournament, we ask our readers at The Morning News to vote on their favorite books from the past year. And throughout tournament play, as novels are knocked out, we take those top picks, the ones that have been knocked out, and we bring back whatever the two top picks from the readers are, as zombies.

So, the two top picks from the reader poll are brought back at the end to face off with the novels that the judges have thus far chosen as the best novels of the year.

LYDEN: And what are this year's zombie picks?

Mr. WOMACK: This year's zombie picks are "2666" by Roberto Bolano.

Mr. BALDWIN: The other zombie pick is "The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks" by E. Lockhart, which is interesting because it's a young adult novel.

LYDEN: Now, I notice from your Web site that Toni Morrison is really destroying the competition even though most of the reviewers seem resistant to her work. So how do you explain that, Rosecrans?

Mr. BALDWIN: I think she had a very difficult first round, but I think more and more - I mean, that is a stupendous book.

LYDEN: This is, of course, for her novel, "A Mercy."

Mr. BALDWIN: That's right. I mean, the book is about 175 pages, but it is still the super powerful, you know, poetic prose of Toni Morrison. So once it got through Round 1, it has been barreling towards the championship.

LYDEN: Now, the NCAA basketball tournament is famous for Cinderella stories, and you've got one this year. It's a post-Katrina novel out of New Orleans by the writer Tom Piazza, and it's called "City of Refuge."

It seems to really be coming into its own. How did it get so far, Rosecrans?

Mr. BALDWIN: I think "City of Refuge" got so far because it's got a great story. Piazza has taken a national tragedy and put it into the novel form. So it's not exactly journalism. He's really trying to make art out of this horrible thing.

I think it's gotten so far because it takes an inside perspective. Successful or not, you're still getting a different version of Katrina and one that you're getting - you know, sitting there on your couch, you're really getting into his consciousness about what happened with the hurricane and afterwards.

LYDEN: Rosecrans Baldwin and Andrew Womack of the themorningnews.org. They joined me from the studios of WUNC in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and KUT in Austin, Texas.

Thank you both. We're looking forward to finding out who's the winner.

Mr. WOMACK: Thank you very much.

Mr. BALDWIN: Thank you.

LYDEN: You can witness a championship match in the 2009 Tournament of Books, but you'll have to wait until Tuesday. Find a link on our Web site, npr.org.

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