Literary Games for Bored Book Nerds


In the New York Times this week, Dwight Garner writes about literary games one can play with friends that aren’t anxiety-inducing. He writes, “Many people flee from games they fear will be public I.Q. tests or will expose gaps in their literary knowledge.” So true. Which is why we at Flavorpill would like to introduce a few games into your summer repertoire, so you have something to do if you’re bored at your beach house (or more likely, during the long train ride to a beach). Like Prince says, you don’t have to be rich to be our girl… or well-read to play our literary games.

Garner mentions Christopher Hitchens’ description of a game he played with Salman Rushdie in his book, Hitch-22. All you have to do is replace “love” with “hysterical sex.” (The example given is “Hysterical Sex in the Time of Cholera.”) See? Fun!

Depending on the amount of alcohol consumed, a group could play this game for minutes or hours, but we’re thinking you’ll want something a little more challenging, so why not try the Bartlett’s Quotations game? One player chooses a memorable quote from Bartlett’s and provides the author’s name and a brief bio; then each player has to make up a believable quote which could be attributed to the writer. What would Gertrude Stein say, hmmm?

If you’re in the mood for something more nerdy, Gryphon Games just funded a Chaucer-inspired board game via Kickstarter. In The Road to Canterbury, players sell indulgences to pilgrims traveling to the famous cathedral city, so get ready to geek out with friends and family members who vaguely remember reading the novel in high school English class. (NB: We hope there will be some serious division of farts in this version, or else we will be incredibly disappointed.)

Another game is to write out the first line of a novel and see who is the first to guess the author and title. Try it now:

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.”

1. Edith Wharton, House of Mirth

2. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

3. Truman Capote, In Cold Blood

4. Paul Auster, Sunset Park

5. James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

Answer: F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Another try:

“The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there.'”

1. Edith Wharton, House of Mirth

2. Willa Cather, My Antonia

3. Truman Capote, In Cold Blood

4. Paul Auster, Sunset Park

5. William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

Answer: Truman Capote, In Cold Blood

You can test your knowledge more online here. For a proper board game version, we suggest checking out It Was a Dark and Stormy Night, which asks you to identify the author or title of 8 books after hearing only their first lines.

If you haven’t heard of Ex Libris, that is another good game to play when you’re stuck indoors and knocking back a few cocktails. Players read the back jacket of a book and try to imagine what the first sentence of the novel might be. The most fun are romance novels, obviously, but noir or westerns will do just fine, too.

As an example, we suggest that you take a crack at some copy for Nora Roberts’ latest romantic thriller:

“There’s little as thrilling as firefighting-at least to Rowan Tripp. The Missoula smoke jumpers are in Rowan’s blood: her father is a legend. She’s been fighting fires since her eighteenth birthday. At this point, returning to the wilds of Montana for the season feels like coming home – even with reminders of the partner she lost last season still lingering. Fortunately, this year’s rookie crop is one of the strongest ever – and Gulliver Curry’s one of the best. He’s also a walking contradiction, a hotshot firefighter with a big vocabulary and a winter job at a kids’ arcade.

Everything is thrown off balance when a dark presence lashes out against Rowan, looking to blame someone for last year’s tragedy. Rowan knows she can’t complicate things with Gull-any distractions in the air or on the ground could mean the end-but if she doesn’t find someone she can lean on, she may not make it through the summer…”

Firefighting? Tragedy? A dark nemesis? What’s your first line, kids?

The first reader to nail it will get a gold star from your humble editor.

Of course, we couldn’t do a roundup of literary games without mentioning a few of the modern classics: Trivial Pursuit Book Lovers’ Edition; Bookchase, Booktastic!, and of course, Scrabble. So have fun in the sun this summer, but don’t forget your literary heroes when you’re bored and looking for a game to play.