I took part in the CBC Books Trivia Night at the International Festival of Authors on Saturday, October 26. It was my third time doing it. The set up is pretty straightforward. A Canadian author is placed at a table of book lovers with the assumption that the author, being a Canadian author, knows a thing or two about Canadian literature.
Which would be fine, if the questions were “Spell Atwood” or “In which year did Alice Munro win the Nobel Prize?” But the questions are, like, hard. As in how-many-freckles-are-on-Anne-of-Green-Gables’-nose hard.
(By the way, there’s always one table that gets every answer right. I don’t know who these people are, but I suspect they have battery packs.)
If there’s one thing an author knows how to do, it’s fake being smart. So here are some tips I’ve learned over the years to help you leave trivia night without your tablemates saying, “Boy, that guy was stupid. What does he write? Ikea instructions?”
1) Bring food. Doesn’t matter what. You’ll look generous and have a much-needed deflection. “Hmm. Let me think. What book, written in 1902, centred around a prairie doctor dealing with an outbreak of dyptheria? You guys! I’m so not bringing home that last marshmallow!”
2) Nod when your team seems confident they have the right answer. A condescending half-smile will convey you knew the answer all along but wanted them to have this moment.
3) Look doubtful every now and then. Say, “That’s a tough one.” Frown, raise your eyebrows and exhale dramatically. Always go with whatever the smartest person at the table says.
4) If your teams starts to suspect you don’t know anything (which won’t take long) and presses you to answer a goddamn question for once, blurt out “The English Patient!” Then throw your head back and laugh as though you can’t even take the question seriously, that’s how pedestrian it is.
5) When they’re leaving it up to you to make the deciding call, point towards a distant corner and say, “Is that Margaret Laurence?”
6) If you guess incorrectly (which in my case is every time), raise an indignant stink when the correct answer is called out. As though host Garvia Bailey is making up the answers. I mean, how can she get away with this?
7) Pretend to be preoccupied by the conversations your fictional characters are having in your head.
8) Look intently at each person at your table, then write furiously into a notebook. Appear shocked when they move to a new table.
9) Try honesty. Tell your teammates the last time you were in an English class, you had a typewriter and dreams. Start to cry. Sympathy trumps stupidity every time.
10) When all else fails, go with either Carol Shields or Fifth Business.