Every spring, the Alpha Beta Iota Chapter at Lee University in Cleveland, TN, hosts its own version of March Madness. Instead of rooting for college basketball teams, students can root for Milton or Shakespeare in the Tournament of Books and Tournament of Poets. According to Chapter Sponsor Kevin Brown, “we pit books versus one another and poets versus one another. Faculty members write anonymous evaluations of the matchups and select winners. Some are serious, while some are definitely not. We find this creates fun discussions about what makes a book or author ‘great,’ while also giving students ideas of other books/poets to read.”
The books are pitted against each other in one bracket, and the poets in another. One matchup of books was given a box score for several categories, ranging from canonicity and revenge themes to “Portrayal of Daddy Issues” and “Kenneth Branagh Adaptations.” The other matchups got a written defense by the judge of the chosen winner. Some contain valid and interesting (if unorthodox) criteria such as which respected anthologies a poet appears in or how many movie adaptations have been made of a particular book. Others are more personal, such as this very succinct argument about the matchup of Moby-Dick vs. White Teeth:
I have heard wonderful things about White Teeth, but I have not yet had a chance to read it. It doesn’t matter, though, as it’s not Moby-Dick. Then again, nothing is.
Students fill out brackets with their predictions at the beginning of the competition, and the student with the best predictions wins. The tournament sparked lots of discussion on Facebook about the merits of each decision and whether the judges favored American novels over British ones. And the winners? In the 2012 Tournament of Books, Toni Morrison’s Beloved narrowly beat out John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, and T.S. Eliot squeaked past Samuel Coleridge for the 2012 Tournament of Poets.
The Chapter Sponsors are constantly working on ways to make the tournament more interesting from year to year. They are tight-lipped about what changes are in the works for next year, but rumor has it zombies will be involved.
This article was written by staff member Lauren Brandeberry with input from Kevin Brown, Sponsor, Alpha Beta Iota Chapter, Lee University.