We Make Our Own Fun: Booklist vs. Notable Novelists of the 20th Century
Posted by: Ilene Cooper
It has been an ongoing quest to bring book-themed board games to the attention of our readers. First came It Was a Dark and Stormy Night. That was followed by Bookchase, deemed “soul crushing” by participant/editor Ian Chipman. Now, by e-mail, we were alerted by beloved Daniel “the Dungeon Master” Kraus, that a new offering had appeared in the office, with the rather prim name, Notable Novelists of the 20th Century. Let the games begin.
A sextet of editors repaired to the Blue Frog Bar & Grill to try it out. They included Bill Ott, curmudgeonly editor-in-chief and publisher; Booklist Online editor Keir Graff, who was mainly interested in the game as a potential Likely Stories blog post; Gillian Engberg, editorial director for the youth department, eager to test her knowledge of adult books; Dan Kraus, the diabolical gamer, always on the lookout for a way to embarrass his colleagues; Ian Chipman, who just needed a diversion from waiting for his baby to be born; and, your humble reporter, Ilene Cooper, who, her Jepoardy appearance now many decades in the past, simply wondered what she might have for lunch.
Though it was rather a long walk, the beauty of Notable Authors (heretofore known as NA20) was that it was only a deck of cards, so it was easy to carry. After we were settled, we agreed, however, it was a handsome deck indeed, the pièce de résistance, the jaunty author cards, each with a caricature of a dead writer.
Before playing—but after ordering lunch—Dan explained the rule of the game, and it was here that hearts sank and smiles turned upside down: it seemed NA20 was simply a highbrow version of Go Fish. The object of the game, to collect the highest number of literary sets (18 sets in a deck, each set comprised of three cards) was accomplished by asking one of the other players if they had either an author card (said caricature), a bio card (offering some information about the person) or a library card (listing three of his/her titles). “For instance, you might say, ‘Sara, do you have a Virginia Woolf Library Card?’” explained the directions helpfully.
Well, you might say that, but:
1. We had no Sara playing with us, and
2. This was clearly for the age range of 12 and up.
What to do? In short order, it was decided that we would devise a more difficult game using our prepackaged cards. Dungeon Master Dan would pick a card and go around the table. Each contestant would have to identify the author by picture, bio, or one of the three titles listed on the library card. If successful, the card would be his/hers.
This, like so many trivia games, combined the agony of the impossible question with the ecstasy of questions so easy, everyone at the table knows except Ilene. The playing got a bit rote, yet there was a certain gleefulness about getting the right answer, especially when it had been missed by several previous contestants, who sometimes displayed alarming weakness in the their knowledge of literature.
Here is what we learned. Bill’s master’s degree in literature was well deserved. He was the afternoon’s big winner with 17 cards.
Keir came in a respectable second with 13 cards. He knew that William Faulkner wrote The Reivers. Ilene thought it was written by Harold Robbins.
Gillian was excellent with the women writers and finished with 10 cards. She answered several questions about Zora Neal Hurston, helped no doubt by the fact that there’s a new kids’ book about ZNH every season.
Ian trailed with six cards. He claimed to have never have studied American Literature, focusing on writers from other parts of the world. In fact, he knew so much about Vladimir Nabokov that, had this been the 1950s, Joe McCarthy would have been interested in Ian. Ian also managed to miss a question about Ernest Hemingway, even though he and wife plan to name their baby Hemingway.
Ilene, who always claims she only reads nonfiction, proved it by ending with only three cards. Of course, she parried the hardest questions: “—–, known for his keen sense of psychological observations, kept a thought book as a teenager, where he wrote his perceptions of his classmates.” Who didn’t? Only we called it a diary. (The answer, by the way, is F. Scott Fitzgerald. But you all knew that, didn’t you?)
Ian realized (too late) that the cards were color-coded to the author. Thus, those who wanted to count colors could more easily figure out the answers. Next time.
Of course, there probably won’t be a next time, because once you’ve learned that Flannery O’Connor was so shy at the Writers’ Workshop at the University Iowa, you won’t likely mix her up with John Cheever. Still lunch was good, Tootsie Rolls were offered by the waitress at meal’s end, and only one or two people heard Ilene say, “This is why I hate literature.”