While the multiple sexual harassment lawsuits make him a somewhat problematic figure now, Bob Barker was a hugely iconic figure in my childhood. I was really only allowed to watch daytime television when I was home sick from school, so I associate him—and The Price is Right—with lying on the couch with the flu. A weird treat for a kid when she’s feeling rotten, but these are the things that stick with us, right?
He was born on December 12, 1923, which makes him 93 years old today—so let’s look at a few books that feature game shows!
Kissing in America, by Margo Rabb
This book. It got so much critical love when it came out, but I’m not sure if it ever got the traction that I still believe it deserved. I read it and wrote about it over a year ago, and even just thinking about it now results in me waving my arms around and shrieking passionately about how great it is. If I’m being entirely honest, making this list was more about giving people a little reminder about it than it was about Bob Barker’s birthday.
It’s about a whole lot of things—friendship and family and grief and romance and reading and poetry and feminism and the different forms that love takes—but the overarching plot is about two girls who take a cross-country trip to enter an academic quiz show. IT’S SUCH A GREAT BOOK. If you still haven’t read it yet, give yourself an early end-of-year/Christmas present: buy it and read it.
Life in a Fishbowl, by Len Vlahos
This one is more reality show than game show, but I’m giving it a pass because A) most reality shows are a subset of game show, and B) I want to read it.
It’s about a girl named Jackie, whose father is dying of a brain tumor. In an attempt to provide for his family—and due to confusion caused by the tumor—Jackie’s father, Jared, puts the rest of his life up for auction on eBay. The entire family ends up on a reality show that chronicles his last few months, and Jackie, horrified by the behind-the-scenes actions of the production company, starts working to sabotage it. That aspect—trying to game the system of a reality show from within the reality show—makes me think of Kate Hattemer’s The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy, which I adored. Fingers crossed!
The Vault of Dreamers, by Caragh M. O'Brien
I’m a sucker for books set at arts magnet schools—see my love for Susan Juby’s The Truth Commission for proof of that—so this one’s been on my radar since it came out in 2014.
It’s about an arts-focused high school that is also the setting for a reality show—and the students who are unpopular or uninteresting get expelled. It also sounds like—the Kirkus review is somewhat cagey, which might be due to spoiler-avoidance, but also might be due to murky world-building?—the reality television angle might be masking something more NEFARIOUS on the part of the school’s administration. Either way, I’m here for it.
And, while it’s geared towards a younger audience, it would be wrong to talk about game show books without at least mentioning E. L. Konigsburg’s classic—it turned 20 years old this year, can you believe it?—academic bowl story, The View from Saturday.
Actually, I might have to re-read that one before I pick up anything else.
In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom and The Backlist, is currently serving on the Amelia Bloomer Project committee, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.