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Two Besties & Our Bookish Brackets


Because I'm almost six feet tall, I can't tell you how many times I was asked if I played basketball while growing up. Y'all, one season in sixth grade was enough to teach me that athleticism is not my gift. If a sport didn't involve horses, I wasn't interested. Not much has changed, honestly. I don't care about sports at all not even enough to tune in to major events like the Olympics, the Super Bowl, the World Series, or March Madness.

Kelly, on the other hand, loves to watch sporting events. And she adores March Madness. She fills out a bracket, competes within her family, and avidly watches the games. The complete opposite of me. A few years ago, she wanted me to fill out a bracket. It'll be fun, she said. But I wasn't convinced until she suggested a little wager. We'd both fill out brackets and whoever got the most right would win a prize. It was going to be a planner accessory of the winner's choice courtesy of the loser. Then, I had the idea to add some bookishness to our bet: the winner could choose any book for the loser to read. And just like that, I was caught in her web.

Our first year competing was 2018. I lost – BY ONE GAME! – but had fun checking scores during the tournament. What did Kelly choose for me? The Virgin's Daughter by Laura Andersen, the first book in an alternate history trilogy that imagines Queen Elizabeth I married and had a daughter. I ended up loving it so much that I read the entire Tudor Legacy series! In 2019, I won and got to gloat because I correctly chose Virginia as the championship winner. I have zero methodology to my picks, but fate knew I needed a win. I chose A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn, the first book in the Veronica Speedwell historical mystery series, for her to read. 

We'd planned to continue the tradition this year before the tournament was canceled. Rather than scrap the bet completely, I had another idea. What if we did a bookish version? We came up with four divisions: Fantasy, Historical, Contemporary, and Wild Card. Then, we each picked our sixteen favorite books from each division. Our brackets didn't match, obviously, since they featured our personal favorite books. So, what came next? We each printed out our own bracket and the other person's and filled both out. If I thought it was hard to chose my own winners when they went head-to-head, multiply that difficulty when trying to guess how I thought Kelly would fill out her own bracket. In some cases, I knew what book she loved most. In others, it was all gut feeling. 

Once we'd filled out both, we had a FaceTime call to discuss the results. We celebrated the things we'd gotten right, especially when the answer felt like it had been the "risky" choice. We argued about a few of the things we'd gotten wrong and how, for both of us, there was at least one book that the other person loved significantly more than we'd expected. We were both convinced that we'd lose in the end, especially before we tallied the wins. And then... we compared results. I won by HALF A POINT and owe it all to correctly guessing her overall winner, which we'd decided beforehand was worth three points. She was behind a full point but argued that she deserved a half point because of one particular match-up she'd gotten "wrong" should have been right.


Want to see my completed bracket? Click the image above to enlarge it! My winner was Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center. I knew it would make it to the Final Four, at least, but was a little surprised when my heart crowned it the champion. There are a million reasons I love it, but I think it won because it's had the biggest impact on me of all the books included. It also has the privilege of being the book that caused the biggest upset with Kelly's predictions. She had it falling to Mhairi McFarlane's Who's That Girl? earlier on. As for the book that Kelly got "wrong" but should have been right, I wrote that Code Name Verity beat Lovely War. Kelly correctly pointed out that Lovely War is my favorite of the two, by far. She's right, and I have no idea why I had it the opposite way.


What about Kell'y bracket? You can enlarge hers, too. One of my biggest errors was the reverse of Kelly's: I had Happiness for Beginners going much farther on her bracket than it actually went. The other was that I didn't have Mariana by Susanna Kearsley going far enough. It's a real struggle when two of your Final Four picks are incorrect. Haha! My saving grace was correctly guessing that Lover Awakened by J.R. Ward was her champion. 

Since we came within a half point of each other, we're both choosing something for the other to read. Kelly is forcing Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas on me, which I've had zero interest in from the first moment she mentioned it to me. I'm really looking forward to it, as you can probably tell. Haha! In return, I picked If I'm Being Honest by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broke for her. She isn't a fan of YA contemporary, in general, but I think she'll like the 10 Things I Hate About You vibe of this one and know she won't pick it up without a push from me.

All in all, this was such a fun activity! I made the brackets in March, and then we filled them out and discussed our results in the first week of April. We laughed so much and loved proving how well we did (and didn't) know each other's taste in books. And I can't lie: I'm pretty tickled that there was only a one-point difference between us in the end. Would I do it again? Absolutely! I'm already planning future versions. 

Have you ever filled out a bookish March Madness-inspired bracket?

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