taken from the New York Times
written by DWIGHT GARNER
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. If you don’t have well-thumbed mass-market paperbacks in your house, you can usually buy a pile from your library, or from a used-book store, for roughly 50 cents a pop.
Many people flee from games they fear will be public I.Q. tests or will expose gaps in their literary knowledge — their inability to differentiate between, say, Lily Bart and Isabel Archer, or between John Barth, Roland Barthes and Donald Barthelme. This is not that kind of game. A little learning helps. But I’ve seen precocious preteenagers wipe the floor with fairly elite published writers. Which is another way of saying that even nonmandarins can play the paperback game and sometimes win.
Once you’ve gathered your loved ones at the table — 4 to 10 is optimal — and opened fresh bottles of wine and perhaps put on an old Ry Cooder record, 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. read more...