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Secret Stuff: Trivia on Trivia

Trivia for the ladies' room

Did you know that Oprah Winfrey was Miss Fire Prevention 1971?

Leslie Gilbert Elman does. That's just one of 1000 fun facts in the Manhattan writer's first book, The Ladies' Room Reader Quiz Book.

“I didn’t pick the name,” she jokes. In fact, the book is part of a series of Ladies' Room Reader books from Conari Press, a Boston publishing company. Whereas the first two books, by Alicia Alvrez, show the clear influence of Uncle John's Bathroom Reader, Gilbert Elman's sequel takes the series in a slightly different direction: 100 quizzes of 10 questions each.

“I took things you may know and put them in different contexts,” she says. “If Jeopardy had been designed exclusively for women, this is what it would look like.”

Gilbert Elman, who passed the Jeopardy test in the 1990s, has always had an appetite for information. "When people are trying to remember something's name, they'll ask me. Now that the book has come out, the pressure has ratcheted up!"

For Gilbert Elman, the book is less an exercise in hard-core trivia self-examination than it is a fun way to learn about women and all things feminine. "If you're really good, you'll get 7 out of 10, but there are always some obscure ones. Each answer, though, has a little explanation, so you come away learning something fun."

The book combines the great women of history with subjects of interest to women, such as shopping and flowers. It took six months of research, which even included interviews with the Fragrance Foundation and the Society of American Florists.

“I was looking up things I knew, and things I thought I knew but didn’t. A lot of the information I found was wrong or contradictory, so I often had to find definitive sources.”

The book itself came out this past March. The Chicago Tribune said, "If you want your history in fun, bite-size pieces, this quiz book is the way to go." And Gilbert Elman has done a flurry of radio interviews, in many of which she quizzes the hosts. "Many of these shows have male/female co-hosts, so that's a lot of fun."

A particular thrill for Gilbert Elman is that the first foreign-language edition has come out. In Estonian. As it happens, much of Gilbert Elman's work is in travel writing, and she specializing in Finland and Scandinavia. "I've been to Helsinki, so who knows? Maybe someday I'll do a book signing in Tallinn."

To order the book, visit Gilbert Elman's site.

November 2004