#LitBeat: Game Recognize Game at the Goodreads LitQuiz
By Lydia Kiesling
On a drizzly evening last week, I attended the Goodreads LitQuiz, one of 180 events constituting last week’s San Francisco LitQuake, a multi-day, multi-talent logistical marvel. Even contemplating the vast program filled me with anxiety, but the quiz, hosted by Millions staff writer Patrick Brown (also Goodreads Community Manager, also husband of Edan Lepucki), seemed like a safe place to bring my crew (and my neuroses) on a Thursday night.
True to the adage about best-laid plans, I found myself at the Make-out Room alone. But standing alone at LitQuiz felt pretty okay. The space was cozy; there were drink-tickets. Patrick, who exhibited great verve and panache as a Quiz Master, greeted the bar and the invited team-less to unite. A clarinetist named Sophie told me that her friends had bailed, and we shook hands. We were soon joined by David, an aspiring librarian. On the question of names, my new teammates allowed me to impose my will upon them; we became Widmerpool, which seemed to me like a prestige pick. This wasn’t some crappy lowbrow trivia where the questions are about Lady Gaga or baseball: this was LitQuiz.
Unlike many of the LitQuake events, which are meant to showcase great writers (or tell writers how to write better or earn more), LitQuiz was about the readers. And if almost zero people get paid for their writing, even fewer people get paid for their reading. It’s a solitary and unremunerated passion, but readers form a proud, quiet fraternity online. David and Sophie, like many of those present, were avid users of Goodreads; they had heard of the event thus. They were also amazing readers. Every trivia team needs a Ringer, and I discovered quickly that I was not she. And that was really great. Game recognize game.
120 people formed around 25 teams, among them The Virginia Woolfpack, Greater Expectations, Illiterate Basterds, George Eliot was a Chick, the (immodest) Patrick Brown Fan Club, and the (topical) Go A’s. Team Widmerpool got off to a slow start in the first round, Heartthrobs and Leading Men, despite David immediately recognizing The Count of Monte Cristo in a question about Sinbad and German luxury cars. We shat the bed on a question about Outlander (James Frazer: wounded hand, seasick, horse-whisperer); likewise threw away 15 points on Sebastian when we should have said Orsino. Fortunately, Sophie spared us the humiliation of not knowing Daisy was the third in a love triangle between Jay and Tom. Things picked up in the next round, Dystopias, and we breezed through round three, Adaptations. My original teammates showed up during the author photo bonus round and provided crucial support (Alan Moore).
Over seven rounds, Widmerpool hummed along like a friendly, well-oiled machine, free of the recriminations and passive aggression that usually beset trivia participants. We did awkward high-fives and talked about books, and Sophie didn’t bat an eyelash when I flung beer on her during my enthusiastic flailing.
As the A’s met defeat in the jaws of the Tigers, we were in a respectable fourth place, with 220 points. The last, final Jeopardy-style category was Banned Books. Deciding, a la Joyce, that it is better to burn than to wither dismally, we wagered all. The question: “What book was banned in France, Argentina, and New Zealand, but spent two years on the U.S. best-seller list in 1958?” We were flummoxed by the countries. Mein Kampf, hazarded David. Kiss of the Spiderwoman, I said, twenty years premature. A trick, we decided, and agreed that Lolita was the right vintage.
We roared as the dulcet tones rolled off of Patrick’s tongue. Stalwart Widmerpool had risked all and triumphed. In the bathroom later, I commiserated about the injustice of Jeopardy style with a member of Greater Expectations, who had been leading the race until the end. “It does suck,” I said, with the generosity of the victor. It was not a meritocracy, but a Quizocracy, Team Widmerpool parted friends, with gift cards from Goodreads, and ideas of what to buy. It was a banner evening.
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