March 2005

Ian Daffern


The Bookslut Guide to Book Lovers Trivial Pursuit

Click on the links in the story to see images from the Trivial Pursuit game.

Okay, so you’re caught in the grip of winter, and you can’t afford cable, and all of your spare change gets turned into either booze or books. Why not spend your time hiding out with your friends playing Trivial Pursuit? But if you don’t want to play a game where every fifth answer is either Richard Nixon or the Dallas Cowboys, where are you going to turn?

Book Lover’s Trivial Pursuit proposes to fill that void for literary drunks everywhere. I’ve played a few book-themed quiz games since my family discovered I have an interest in reading, and frankly they never cut it. It’s rare to find any quiz game that can balance playability with difficulty, especially with such a vast subject as books. Their playing fields tend to narrow to Stephen King and John Grisham film adaptations quicker than you can fire off a Pelican Brief.

But the first time I played the Book Lover’s edition at a friend’s house, it was so hard that the non-bibliophiles went scurrying back to the safety of the Nintendo Donkey Kong Bongos. This time I would be ready for a real test. I searched out the most rabid book-loving professionals I could find, those who eat plots for breakfast and dream ISBN numbers. I didn’t anticipate that when we divided up teams according to our respective factions of the publishing world, the trivial would become deadly serious. Booksellers, publishers, academics, and the dreaded media; who would claim the title as top book bad-ass?

When it unfolds out of the brightly-coloured box, we’re struck by the board’s weird pastel designs and the clever and cute characters representing each category. Liz from Team Publishing dubs it evocative of "the cover design of all those chick-lit books," and we all quickly murmur agreement. Chris the comic-book retailer, who will act as the night’s quizmaster, draws attention to the lettering: “It’s all late 90’s sans serif fonts… this is very different from the plain times new Romans of regular Trivial Pursuit.” Uh, yeah. We take this to mean books are now more pop-culture and friendly, and less for the crack and groan of masterpiece-theatre set.

We get a little more critical when checking out the individual categories, which are all a little too twee and precious. The “Authors” category is signified by a man with a bow-tie, typewriter and Ikea style furniture in the background, while “Non-Fiction” is Amelia Earhart, representing the age-old story: "the chick-dies." And perhaps in homage to Oprah’s influence, the only character of colour on the board is in the “Book-club” section. The academics note how the "Classics," which should be their forte, is a drawing of Romeo and Juliet in a pink triangle, implying at the very least a degree of effeminacy in their field.

The plastic hubs of the Genus edition have now been replaced by substantial faux-pewter figurines. Sally and Andrew take the book-bag to represent retail; Liz and Scott go for the pile of books representing publishers’ slush piles; Rebecca and I, team media, take up the typewriter because according to Rebecca “allegedly we type things out, instead of just ripping them off from the New York Times." This was preceded by squabbling over who got to be the cup, and debate over whether it was a coffee mug or a beer stein. It was eventually won by the academics, after they convincingly argue for their reputation for both caffeine and alcohol addiction.

“What red-headed songbird tells folks how to ‘keep it country’ in Comfort from a Country Quilt?” At 8:30 the game is kicked off and Team Publishers nail the first non-fiction question with "Reba McEntire."

“What Dublin author sets Ashling Kennedy in the cutthroat world of fashion magazines, in Sushi for Beginners?” Yes it’s Marion Keyes. I know this, but Team Publishing flubs it. The game proves to be very easy... on other peoples’ turns. Trivial Pursuit’s website claims that journalists are supposed to be the best Trivial Pursuit players, but my hopes for Team Media to romper-stomp through this have yet to be realized.

Chris: "What Hardy novel features a doomed title heroine who names her daughter Sorrow?"
Publishers: “Tess of the D’Urbervilles?”
Chris: “I’m telling you. That’s the weirdest Hardy Boys I’ve ever heard of.”

This is just the start of string of Hardy questions that crop up, leading us to believe that perhaps he is the only English author in the game.

“What mystery novelist’s biography of her surrogate mom, evangelist Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth, sparked an eight year spat between them?” Um, what? This is the kind of convoluted wording that pops up on a regular basis, and my head still hurts trying to untangle it. Try and read it aloud and you’ll see what I mean. (It’s Patricia Cornwall by the way.)

After an hour of play, and two bottles of wine, not a single pie has been collected. Sophie claims the game must have been written by Oprah for her book-club, but she is crowed down when reminded the last answer she missed was Far From the Madding Crowd. It’s not until 9:45 that the first puzzle piece is awarded to Team Booksellers, for knowing Augsutyn Burroughs was the author of Running with Scissors, “but seriously, who didn’t know that?”

Half an hour later everyone has at least one pie piece. My tape recording of the night gets a little bit Blair Witch Project after this point, with considerably more cursing and screaming. Either the game has become harder or we’re getting drunker. I start flailing. Media is tied with academia for last place. I need a slur and "nerds" just isn’t cutting it: “Ivory Tower? Stay in your Tower!”

Two hours into play, we collectively decide that our trouble must stem from some sort of bias in the questions. Our lone American representative from Team Academe confirms this:

Nathan: “It’s mostly been about Americans, but I wouldn’t call it a bias!”
Sally: “We’ve been playing for two hours and there has not been one Canadian question!”
Scott: “And the game was made by Canadians.”
Liz: “Upton Sinclair! Upton Sinclair!”
Rebecca: “He’s not Canadian. You’re thinking of Sinclair Lewis.”

The first Canuck question does pop up a few minutes later (something about Carol Shields, A: The Stone Diaries -- can you name any other Shields book?) it causes a ruckus amongst all camps. Team Publishing gets personal with the Ph.D. camp, crying out: “I’m sure somebody cares about your thesis!”

Now it’s 10:30 and while each team has at least two slices, we’re all in agreement: this game is hard. But, as Sally from the Booksellers points out, "When you actually get one right, you get that elation of feeling -- I’m the best." Nathan points out that unlike the original editions of the game where you reason something out, this one, you either know it or you don’t. How else would you know the name of the child in the David Pelzer’s first bestseller about his abused childhood? (A: “It”) Team Media wonders if the other teams are hearing our thoughts and try to think more quietly.

The other teams race ahead with at least 3 slices a piece, while Team Media fall back with one measly pie, caught in perpetual orbit around the dreaded green Authors square. It is hard to tell which category is the most difficult. Chris suggests that Book Club, which covers mostly mass-market paperback, may be the best for anyone like his Mom who enjoys contemporary reading, but killer for Academics who have their heads in the libraries. The Publishers side with the Media, agreeing that the Authors category, which should be easier, is still trying to fuck you up; while Media and the Academics concur that "Non-Fiction is bullshit."

While none of us knew which university Blue attends while spying on Black and White in Paul Auster’s Ghost (A: Brown), we all agree that Smoke was a great movie. It’s reminiscences like this (in addition to slagging the competition) that make the game work. Overall, I feel vexed, but I enjoy feeling vexed. I think the game has a fine balance of contemporary and classic, at least for English grads who still read the review section. Scott from Publishers swears that non-bibliophiles would lose their minds: “I’m fine with that! Regular people have regular Trivial Pursuit and Star Wars Trivial Pursuit. For me, this is challenging.”

At 11:30, three hours and four massive bottles in, things get ugly. “What was the first book in author Patrick O’Brian’s bestselling series about naval officer Jack Aubry?”
When the Booksellers answer correctly, Team Publishing has to be restrained from throwing furniture, screaming: “Of course it’s Master and Commander!”

At 12:30, 4 hours in, Chris starts dumbing down the questions: “Who wrote Seabiscuit?”

At 1 AM, half of team publishing is sleeping, Sally from the Booksellers has said that my article is lame, and violence continues. When we take the final tally, academics have come out on top with 5 pies, Publishers, academics have scored 4 a piece, and Media making a comeback, end off with 3 slices. It’s only now that we realize that despite choosing the cup, both members of Academe have abstained from the booze all night, an unfair advantage that surely demands a rematch.

Our players:
Andrew – Team Booksellers
Sally –Team Booksellers
Liz –Team publishing
Scott—Team Publishing
Rebecca—Team Media
Ian—Team Media
Nathan--Team Academe
Sophie—Team Academe
Chris--Team Comics and defacto Quizmaster.