The Paperback Game - The New York Times

The Paperback Game – The New York Times

The Paperback Game – The New York Times

The Paperback Game – The New York Times

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Credit…Nadia Hafid

All you need is some pulp fiction and a good imagination.


My family didn’t invent the paperback game (I don’t know who did), but we’ve played it for years. It’s for four to 10 people and perfect for lockdown. You can play at the table after dinner, after the dishes have been cleared and everyone is loosened up. An Earl Hines record on in the background sets the mood perfectly. Here’s how to play:

1. Assemble a stack of 10 or so paperbacks. Almost any will do, but genre fiction is preferable — the pulpier the better.

2. Gather some small, blank slips of paper — index cards torn in half are ideal — and a pencil or pen for each player.

3. The players take turns being the reader. The reader for each turn stands, selects a book, shows the cover to the other players and reads the copy on the back cover aloud. (Fictitious example: “Jake is a gambler down on his luck. Lulu is a fire-eater in a stranded circus. After they lock eyes on one another in a Vegas pawnshop …”)

4. Each player writes down a plausible first sentence for this novel on their slip of paper. The idea is to fool the other players with your sentence.

5. The reader writes down the book’s actual first sentence. The reader can briefly escape to another room to do this, so the players can’t get a sense of how long the real first sentence is.

6. The reader gathers the slips and shuffles them, then reads each “first sentence” aloud. The players each choose the sentence they think is the real one. The reader, who does not vote in this round, keeps track of the selections.

7. Here’s how points are awarded: You get one point if your “first sentence” is chosen. If you identify the actual first sentence, you get two points.

8. A new reader selects a book, and the game proceeds around the table. The first person to 10 wins.

If you have sensitive “literary” friends who can never seem to win, remind them that Iris Murdoch always lost at Scrabble.


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