Thursday, September 20, 2012

Bartlett's Not-So-Familiar Quotations

Bartlett's Familiar Quotations : A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Proverbs Traced to Their Sources in Ancient and Modern LiteratureBartlett's Familiar Quotations : A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Proverbs Traced to Their Sources in Ancient and Modern Literature by John Bartlett

On Wednesday night, I showed up to my first Brooklyn Book Festival event: pub trivia focused on famous quotations.

You see, this year is the 175th anniversary of publisher Little, Brown & Company, and something like the 150th anniversary of their publication of Barlett's.  That is a lot of quotation publication.

Serious question, though: is there room for a hard-copy reference like this in the digital age? I understand they're developing a ten-dollar app, but how many people turn to an actual book when they want to look up a quotation?  For that matter, how many people are going to pay ten bucks for an app when Google is free?  Even though I retain some nostalgic affection for Bartlett's, I'm supremely uninterested in buying either the hard copy or the app.  At most, I'd pay some sort of subscription to be able to search it online, but even then, someone would have to make a pitch that it offers something more valuable than Google and the dozens of free sites I'll find there.

Back to the trivia.  I love trivia, but this was particularly great trivia because, let's face it, almost all famous quotations are book, film, or history-related, and bibliophiles like me have some advantage in those areas.

It looked for awhile like I was going to be a team of one, but an old law school classmate saved me from this ignominy.  He also contributed greatly to our third-place finish, which is more impressive than it sounds given that we were the smallest team.  He correctly identified Neil Young as the source of some quotable lyric, and for a bonus point, also named the song it was found in (Needle and the Damage Done, if you're curious).

The high point, by far, was winning one of the single-question lightning rounds, and thus earning a free drink.
Q. Who said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it"?
I can't believe my biggest triumph came from identifying a nonsense quotation by a sports icon.  However, I am not one to look a Blind Russian* in the mouth, so I celebrated my free drink even though it sadly was not earned by identifying an obscure but meaningful passage written by a literary giant.
*A Blind Russian is equal parts Bailey's, Kahlua, and vodka, served on the rocks. Basically, it's a White Russian with Bailey's instead of milk, and it is both astonishingly tasty and has magical powers. Just ask my law school roommate; that drink is responsible for our friendship.
I did have a quibble or two with the event, though.  I suppose in anything like this it's impossible not to overlook some extraordinarily quotable people, but I thought it was pretty absurd that there was not a single Mark Twain quotation.  (Fun fact:  our team name, Inspiring the Cabbages, came from a Mark Twain quotation.)  And, despite the fact that we were in the Franklin Park Beer Garden, Benjamin Franklin, -- the father of American proverbs -- was similarly snubbed.  Yet someone at Little, Brown clearly has a thing for Oscar Wilde, because he was the subject of three questions.

More on the Brooklyn Book Festival coming soon!  And, here's a bonus for those J.K. Rowling fans who read this far into the post -- Little, Brown is having a Pinterest-based contest to win:

The Casual VacancyThe Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

You can read the rules and enter the contest here before the book comes out on September 27.

Good luck, and don't forget to vote in the poll to help me decide what to read for Banned Books Week!

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