03 July 2011

The Book Game

Dwight Garner writes:

Here’s what you’ll need to play: slips of paper (index cards work well), a handful of pencils or pens and a pile of paperback books. Any sort of book will do, from a Dostoyevsky to a Jennifer Egan, and from diet guides to the Kama Sutra. But we’ve found it’s especially rewarding to use genre books: mysteries, romance novels, science fiction, pulp thrillers, westerns, the cheesier the better. ...

Once you’ve gathered your loved ones at the table — 4 to 10 is optimal — ... here is how the game unfolds. One player, the “picker” for this turn, selects a book from the pile and shows its cover around. Then he or she flips it over and reads aloud the often overwrought publisher-supplied copy on the back cover.

Hearing these descriptions read aloud is among the game’s distinct joys. Here is one example, from the back cover of a paperback titled “Paradise Wild” (1981), by Johanna Lindsey. Try to imagine the following recited in the voice of the fellow who does the husky voice-overs for coming attractions in theaters, or by your slightly tipsy best friend:

“A well-born Boston beauty, Corinne Barrows has traveled halfway around the world in search of Jared Burkett — a dashing rouge and a devil; a honey-tongued charmer who seduced and despoiled her ... and then abandoned the impetuous lady after awakening a need that only he could satisfy. She has found him on the lush and lovely island of Hawaii.” This goes on, but you get the idea.

One reason it’s less fun to play with serious rather than genre novels is that their back covers tend to contain phrases like “sweeping meditation on mortality and loss” rather than “a need that only he could satisfy.”

The other players absorb these words, and then write on their slips of paper what they imagine to be a credible first sentence for Ms. Lindsey’s novel. Essentially, they need to come up with something good — or bad — enough to fool the other players into thinking that this might be the book’s actual first sentence. Players initial their slips of paper and place them upside down in a pile at the center of the table.

Meanwhile the picker — the person who read the back cover aloud — writes the book’s actual first sentence on another slip of paper. He or she collects all the slips, mixing the real first sentence with the fakes, and commences to read each one aloud. Each person votes on what he or she thinks is the real first sentence.

Here’s how score is kept: If someone votes for your bogus sentence, you get a point. If you pick the real first sentence, you get two points. (The picker doesn’t vote in this round.) Now go around the table clockwise. Someone else picks a book, and you repeat the process until a round ends – that is, until each person has had a turn at being the picker. ...

Another excellent variant of the paperback game involves obtaining a poetry anthology and reading, say, the first three lines of a rhyming quatrain out loud. Players then compete to write a fake fourth line. ...

What, by the way, is the actual first sentence of Johanna Lindsey’s “Paradise Wild”? Here goes: “The tall, slender, golden-haired young woman fidgeting by the hall table fastened her startling green eyes on the closed door at the left of the hall.”

via Marius Comper