11-3 | Slantwise Moves: Games, Literature, and Social Invention in Nineteenth-Century America

Book Review

Slantwise Moves: Games, Literature, and Social Invention in Nineteenth-Century America

Douglas A. Guerra
Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018. Introduction, notes, index, and acknowledgments. 253pp. $69.95 cloth. ISBN: 9780812250619

by Chris Dingwall

First Paragraph:

“Games are about invention itself.” Douglas A. Guerra puts this proposition to a rigorous test in Slantwise Moves: Games, Literature, and Social Invention in Nineteenth-Century America. By drawing from the careers of preeminent game designers such as Milton Bradley, William Simmons, and Anne W. Abbot, Guerra reconsiders several landmarks of midcentury American literature as archives of social performance—Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1855), Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man (1857), The Autobiography of P. T. Barnum (1855), and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Blithedale Romance (1852). In many ways, this is a book less about games than about how games can illuminate the social meaning of literary works. Readers expecting a detailed survey of nineteenth-century board games and parlor games will likely be frustrated; at times, the author is more engaged with critical theory than with the relevant historiography and material culture. Yet Guerra’s approach not only enriches our understanding of the cultural history of nineteenth-century games, it yields a productive—if unwieldy—framework for extending the field of game studies beyond the material culture of formal game play.