As the book-club craze shows, reading can be a group exercise. And now, in classic American fashion, it can be a competitive one as well. Two new board games about literature promise to pit bookworms against one another for parlor-table fun.
Booktastic is a cross between Trivial Pursuit and Monopoly. Players move around a board that shows a town made up only of bookstores, reading rooms, and cafes. (I must find this place before retirement.) Each question card contains three categories of increasing difficulty, from the purely subjective to the downright arcane. It's a wonderful design that allows people of all different abilities to play together. The object is to buy and sell books in order to amass the most valuable collection. But at my house, we found that fussing over the money, prices, and various discounts grew too tedious. Soon, we were just happily going through the questions. (Booster card sets are available on 19th-century, early-20th-century, and children's lit.)
In the tradition of its popular board games, Trivial Pursuit has released a book-related edition that promises "as much fun as reading, and maybe more!" But that would depend on what you're reading. Everything about this game looks colorful and fun, from the day-glo board to the metal play pieces. Questions appear in six categories of books: children's, classics, nonfiction, book club, authors, and book bag. Players (alone or in groups) must successfully answer one from each. Get your No. 2 pencil ready because this is not a game for the casual reader. We found it considerably more difficult than Booktastic. No subjective responses are allowed, and many of the questions struck our group - which contained two English teachers, two librarians from Harvard, and a Ph.D. in comparative literature - as very, very tough. Still, if you spend enough time studying the cards before company arrives, you'll look like a genius. (Shhhh)