May the Best Book Win

An inside look at Battle of the Books, the school’s annual reading competition


Vanita Seed

Freshman AJ Kowalak reads The Tattooist of Auschwitz in the media center.

Whether it’s a story that transports the reader to an alternate universe or is set in a hometown, novels take individuals on journeys outside their own that they can enjoy and learn from, serving as a means of escape for many. Every year, readers can participate in the Battle of the Books, a contest to determine the best out of a specially-selected top ten books of the previous year. The voting for the best of the top ten takes place in May. Readers who have read at least three of the books are eligible to vote for their favorite.

Toni Isaac, the media center specialist, said that the Battle of the Books began a few years ago when students were asking why the school doesn’t have a “Troyberry—like” event, as the middle schools do.

“The first few years we did [Battle of the Books], it was really kind of lame,” Isaac said. “We would just take a list like ‘The Great Lakes Great Books’ list from the Michigan Reading Association. We would just do their list and call it a ‘Battle of the Books,’ and half the time we didn’t even read all of them ourselves, but some of the ones we did read, we were like, ‘Well that’s not a very good book. I wouldn’t recommend that to be on the list.’”

Isaac decided that it would be better if students themselves got to pick the books for the contest.

“I didn’t know how I was going to do it, so I approached my [book club] and asked them, ‘Would you guys be willing to read and pick books for next year’s Battle of the Books?’” Isaac said. “They were really excited about that.”

[During the event we will] have free food [and] Skype with the authors of the nominated titles. This year, we’re also planning on doing a game like Cards Against Humanity, but a literary version. Then [we’ll] have a trivia contest and give away prizes.”

— media center specialist Toni Isaac

Not only do readers get to pick the books, but they also get a raffle ticket for prizes, for each book they read. In addition, once the voting process is finished, readers who have read at least three of the books get to attend, for free, the Battle of the Books event on May 17, from 5:30 to 9:00p.m. at the Troy Public Library.

“[During the event we will] have free food [and] Skype with the authors of the nominated titles,” Isaac said. “This year, we’re also planning on doing a game like Cards Against Humanity, but a literary version. Then [we’ll] have a trivia contest and give away prizes.”

Readers at the event divide into teams for the trivia contest, one for each participating high school—Troy High, Athens and International Academy. Each person on a team is in charge of a book and becoming a sort of “trivia master” and focus on the questions about their book for their team.

“Every year, [the trivia competition] is really intense,” senior Hemanth Tadepalli said. “I’m the captain of it this year.”

Tadepalli, who has so far read two of the books—“Educated” and “Unearthed”—said he has really enjoyed them and plans to master them for the trivia game.

Freshman AJ Kowalak also plans to become the trivia master for one of the books, “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” by Heather Morris, which is based on the true story of two Auschwitz survivors. He has also read “The Dangerous Art of Blending In” by Angelo Surmelis.

“It was great [that “The Dangerous Art of Blending In” was] able to show that side of the LGBT community, how people aren’t always going to be accepted by their family, especially in a really religious culture, like Greek culture,” Kowalak said. “It’s so interesting, just to read and see that from a different perspective because usually we’re on the outside looking in, but seeing that from the inside, it’s just great.”

Olivia Perron
There are a variety of books for students to choose from if they choose to participate in Battle of the Books, ranging from fantasy to memoir.

Isaac, who takes part in the selection process for the books, has read all of this year’s contenders. She has particularly enjoyed “Educated” by Tara Westover.

“It reminded me of ‘The Glass Castle’ [by Jeannette Walls],” she said. “It’s [Westover’s] true memoir and I was really moved by where she came from and, through hard work and her perseverance, where she ended up today. It’s just a very inspiring story.”

Isaac said fantasy is her favorite genre, but Battle of the Books encourages her to consider books outside of her usual sphere, like memoirs such as “Educated.” Tadepalli agrees and notes that he learned a lot about his favorite novels through talking to different authors through Skype, learning about how they started off writing books and how they expanded their knowledge of characters.

“It’s really awesome to talk to the authors about their books and have them be able to see kids in the audience who have read their book and have questions to ask them based on what they read in their book,” Isaac said.

Kowalak said this is his first year participating in Battle of the Books and he’s had a lot of fun so far.

Tadepalli encourages other students to give Battle of the Books a try, too.

“It’s basically like Troyberry in middle school but at a higher level,” he said. “[In May,] we get to actually engage with the authors. There’s competition [and] trivia. It brings people together, for sure.”