The short answer to that question is yes. In America, at least half of adults still read novels (or claim to), but readers have greatly decreased in the last few decades. Times change. Cultures change. And I acknowledge that novels aren't the most important things to most people anymore. But I wanted to check with my new students (a small sampling, only 11 this semester) to see if they knew what I thought were some basic literary trivia questions, the kinds of things that I think used to be common cultural knowledge, meaning if you participated in popular culture, you probably knew the answers to these questions. Here's the questionnaire I had them complete:
Literary Literacy Quiz
Shakespeare lived during
A) the Medieval era (600-1450)
B) the Early Modern era (1450-1650)
C) the Age of Enlightenment (1650-1800)
D) the 19th Century (1800s)
Shakespeare wrote (check all that apply)
___ short stories
___ political manifestos
___ religious tracts
Who was Robinson Crusoe?
Who was Rip Van Winkle?
Name three short stories by Edgar Allan Poe.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe is
A) An anti-slavery novel set in the American South in the mid 19th Century
B) A pro-slavery novel set in England during the 18th Century
C) A non-fiction study about the effects of the Civil War
What is the first line of Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick?
A) “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
B) “Call me Ishmael.”
C) “To be or not to be, that is the question.”
D) “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
E) “It was a dark and stormy night.”
Name three Charles Dickens novels.
Who is Holden Caulfield?
Ulysses by James Joyce is
A) an medieval romance.
B) a modernist novel of the 20th century.
C) a melodramatic play of the 19th century.
Who wrote the Iliad?
Who wrote the Canterbury Tales?
C) King James
D) Mark Twain
Fictional characters or real people (in space write fic or real)
________ Robinson Crusoe
________ Sherlock Holmes
________ Edgar Allan Poe
________ James Bond
________ Ebenezer Scrooge
________ Mark Twain
________ Tom Sawyer
________ Don Quixote
________ Romeo Montague
________ Victor Frankenstein
________ Oliver Twist
________ Vito Corleone
________ Lawrence of Arabia
How often do you consult a dictionary (online or paper)
A) Every day
B) Every week
C) Every month
D) Every year
In 2011 how many of each did you read?
____ collection of short stories
____ collection of poems
____ other non-fiction
If yes to reading any of above, how many of each were NOT required (i.e. assigned by school or work)
_____ collection of short stories
_____ collection of poems
_____ other non-fiction
Do you have a favorite book? If yes, name it.
Do you have a favorite novel? If yes, name it.
Did you ever read a book that changed the way you thought about yourself, life, the universe, etc? If yes, name it.