Have you heard about ‘Author Cards’?

A little while back I picked up a deck of Authors cards. Are members of the Reading Room familiar with these? They’ve been around for decades. These are playing cards decorated with the faces of famous writers. For instance, Mark Twain appears on all the aces and Charles Dickens on the deuces.

Terry Belanger, the now retired head of the Rare Book School in Charlottesville, Va., once made a little study of authors. He traced the decline and fall of various literary reputations as reflected in the cards. For instance, I myself own an old deck featuring Cornelia Meigs. Needless to say, the author of “Invincible Louisa” isn’t represented in the bright new pack I just acquired.

But Walter Scott is still here and Washington Irving, neither of whom is particularly in vogue any more. (Irving, however, is an excellent prose stylist.) Shakespeare, Poe, Tennyson, Louisa May Alcott make the cut, as well

Still, I can’t say that these notables are precisely those I would choose if I were picking candidates for more up-to-date Authors cards. Think of the living American and English authors who might adorn such a deck. Perhaps Philip Roth could be the Ace — though he might prefer the sexual suggestiveness of 3. Joyce Carol Oates would make a fine Queen. The Jack should probably go to Christopher Moore. Seven belongs to J.K. Rowling — unless fans of George R.R. Martin make a convincing case for him (A Song of Ice and Fire is supposed to be seven books — but who knows?). The quartet of Aegypt novels leads me to suggest John Crowley for 4, in which case 5 falls to Gene Wolfe (for the four-part Book of the New Sun, plus its coda-volume The Urth of the New Sun). I think a wild card like Gore Vidal would make the ideal joker in the pack, though I suspect he might prefer to be King.

It gets harder, of course, for numbers like 8.

But perhaps other members of the Reading Room could be persuaded to suggest some other Authors for our deck. Who would you pick for the various number and face cards? Share your suggestions and tell us why you chose that particular writer and why he or she was allocated to that particular card. Do play.

— Michael Dirda

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