"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Book Lover's Trivial Pursuit

Back in February, a friend talked me into joining Goodreads.com. Goodreads is a social networking site dedicated to books and book enthusiasts. On Goodreads.com, book lovers can track which books they’ve read. They can also post reviews, participate in polls, and make new book-loving friends.

One of the features on Goodreads I most enjoy is the Never-ending Book Quiz, or "NEBQ". At over 60,000 questions and counting, it is a vast collection of user-created book trivia. By way of confession, it's a bit addicting. Recently, I passed the mark of 5,500 questions answered correctly. Would you believe that answering 5,500 questions correctly on the NEBQ only ranks me 278 among all participants?

I thought it would be fun to share some insights gained by taking the NEBQ. Even if you haven't participated in this quiz, you might learn a thing or two about what happens when thousands of booklovers try to stump each other.

With that said, here is everything I’ve learned from taking the Never-ending Book Quiz. Keep in mind that all NEBQ questions are formatted in multiple choice:

On the NEBQ, if there is an option to choose “All of the Above,” that is the correct answer.

If an NEBQ question asks you to identify the setting of a novel you haven't read, guess New Orleans. (serious, it works more often than not)

If a question asks you to identify the underlying theme in a book you don't know, guess "incest." If incest isn't an option, choose C...unless "All of the above" is an option.

On the NEBQ, duplicate questions often occur. Case in point, all Harry Potter fans are apparently required to add questions about Dumbledore’s sock fetish.

Knowing Harry Potter's eye color, birthday, and right-handed dexterity will get you three questions correct out of about every hundred you take on the NEBQ.

Every Goodreads member who thinks the Bible is absurd because of its patriarchs' extreme old age has posted at least one trivia question.

In contrast, NEBQ participants who believe the Bible is God's innerant word add questions about C.S. Lewis.

Getting back to Harry Potter--as you often do on the NEBQ--simply reading the saga isn't enough. If you can't recall the first line and last word of each novel, you will answer at least 14 trivia questions wrong.

Moving on to classics--Okay!! I get it!! The first friggin' line of the book is “Call me Ishmael.” Now does anyone know any other trivia about Moby Dick?!?!

On the NEBQ, trivia about the founding fathers always has an agenda, usually aimed at tarnishing images. (For example, did you know that George Washington liked to frighten toddlers by shaking their cribs and yelling, "We don't need any more freakin' immigrants!" -- Okay, that's not exactly what GW said, or who he said it to, but you get the idea. People posting political questions on the NEBQ have an agenda.

The ability to correctly answer three random questions in a row on the NEBQ is determined by if you’ve read the Twilight Saga.

Twilight fans eager to show they also read other books tend to post questions that begin like this: “Okay, let's take a break from Twilight trivia. Now, in which book did Anne Rice…”

Wanna be super-clever? Post a trivia question with a wrong choice that looks like the right choice, but has one letter misspelled. (Haha! HugoStud24601 got 66% of respondants to mistakenly answer that the main character in Les Miserables is Jean Valjear.)

In the subgenre of political literature, Glenn Beck is never the right answer.

(Hey I'm only making an observation about NEBQ trivia. Why would you think I had a duel agenda with that last observation?)

When it comes to trivia about poets, Emily Dickinson’s fans are too busy pretending her poems make perfect sense to post trivia about them. So if you don’t know the answer to a question about a poem's authorship, guess Percy Shelley...y'know, unless it’s a question about that 'hog butcher' poem by Carl Sandburg (apparently the only poem he ever wrote.)

Please note: The above advice about how to answer poetry trivia does not apply when the question pertains to chicks with dudes' names.

On the NEBQ, if John Updike is a choice, John Updike is the answer (unless the question is about which author Bella likes to read while waiting for Edward to appear in her bedroom window).

Lastly, if you really want to excel at the Goodreads Never-ending Book Quiz, remember this: It’s not about knowing which authors committed suicide; it’s about knowing “Which of the following four authors did not?”

Monday, November 9, 2009

You Shouldn't Swear Little Boy...and you know why?

If I said I was sitting quietly in a public place, and someone nearby suddenly cried out, “Fuck!”, you might not assume I was at the library. Yet, that is where I was--the Chelsea District Library to be specific.

Now, I accept that today's public libraries are essentially Internet cafes decorated with bookshelves. That is my main purpose for going to the library. It's also where I borrow DVDs, do my taxes, and plan my career. Put simply, the library does for my brain what the laundromat does for my clothes. It gives me access to routine services I cannot afford to supply myself at home. I say all that to acknowledge that today's libraries, in contrast to those of my childhood, are not places dedicated to the act of reading quietly.

Still, let it be said with a sigh of relief that a person belching out an F-bomb in the library still has a hint of stigma to it. The stigma is even greater when the vocalist in question is a young boy. Best guess? The cusser was maybe in the 4th grade, but probably younger.

I sat two computers away when he yelped, "Fuck!" With only the blurry input of my peripheral vision, I had assumed I was sitting near a speed typist in the act of transcribing a long document. Not so. This young boy was stroking the keys with incredible velocity, but he was only hitting the arrow keys. The profanity came as a result of not getting the high score on a free Yahoo Games download.

When he said the F-word, I wanted to scold him. No parent was nearby. I could have pulled it off (and have in the past). But I did not correct him. It was a one-time outburst, so I let it slide.

Still, in the seconds following his expletive release, I imagined myself scolding him. And to my surprise, this is what I envisioned saying:, “Hey kid, don’t use that word. You haven’t earned the right.” My disapproval wasn't coming from a traditional moral high ground. At that moment, I realized what really bothered me about the child swearing. At a glance I could tell that prepubescent Cyber squatter had not earned the right.

Grow another foot taller, little boy. Get your heart broken. Lose at some life quest that doesn't come with a Do Over button. Then you can use the great token of catharsis: "Fuck!"

This episode makes me think about my niece--a high school senior counting the weeks to graduation. Recently, she muscled her way through The Great Gatsby for English class. It was a book she didn’t like but still completed. It was a delight to read her e-mail to me after finishing. She accepted The Great Gatsby as a great work of literature, but told me straight out how lame the characters treated each other. A fun and cool read, the book isn't. Nevertheless, she now goes into adulthood with a literary sampling of how adults mistreat, manipulate, and survive each other. My niece earned something by finishing that book.

To be clear, I don’t ever want to hear her drop the F-bomb. But should it slip out during a stressful conversation about finishing high school, she’ll receive my forgiveness. Depending on the context, she might even witness a sympathetic chuckle. She is earning the right to cuss now and then, as all adults do.

But to that free computer-mooching suburban cherub who dropped the F-Bomb over nothing special, the only rebuke that came to mind was, “Hey kid, don’t use that word. You haven’t earned the right.”