March Madness: Book Tournament at Athens County Public Libraries

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There was “shock in the staff room” on Friday when J.R.R. Tolkien made it into the third bracket, and J.K. Rowling didn’t.

The Hobbit beat out Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets at the conclusion of the second week of Athens County Public Libraries’ March Madness Tournament, said James Hill.

Hill, assistant director of the Nelsonville Library, told the Messenger that he and Heather Johnson of the Athens branch put their heads together to create this year’s event, beginning in the first week of March with 32 titles. Some are considered classics; some are newer on the scene, but they’re all from the realm of alternate reality.

“They’re all science fiction or fantasy titles,” Hill said, “But across age groups and eras.”

Brackets are divided into four rough categories, he added: dystopia; magic and fantasy, time; space. The tournament has pitted such heavy-hitters as Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale) and George Orwell (Animal Farm) against each other, and the lesser-known Ernest Cline (Ready Player One) against perennial favorite Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451). Orwell and Bradbury prevailed in the first round, and Orwell beat Bradbury in the second round and now faces Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games).

It’s the second year for this event, said Hill, and its popularity has grown.

“The Athens Library had an in-house March Madness display last year that got a lot of attention, so this year we thought it’d be fun to spread to the whole county.”

Putting together the brackets was a challenge, Hill added; he and Johnson thought it would be interesting to give some newcomers and less well-known authors a chance against some of the classics.

Still in the running this week: George Orwell; Suzanne Collins; J.R.R. Tolkien; William Goldman; H.G. Wells; Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; Douglas Adams; Madeleine L’Engle.

Patrons can vote in person at any of the seven libraries or online at

“Every time you vote you’re entered into a drawing,” Hill said. “On April 4 we’ll announce the grand champion and randomly select three voters who can win a copy of their favorite book from the bracket.”

“Ultimately, we hope patrons will use the bracket to discover some titles that they haven’t previously read,” said Hill, “It’s a fun way to share great books with our users.”

As a side note, Hill added, a handful of the titles have been reviewed by the staff on the libraries’ Tumblr page: