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Does anyone read novels anymore?

One of Brian Demeter's gorgeous book sculturesThe 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)

___ poems

___ plays

___ novels

___ 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?

A) Shakespeare

B) Milton

C) Homer

D) Chaucer


Who wrote the Canterbury Tales?

A) Shakespeare

B) Chaucer

C) King James

D) Mark Twain


Fictional characters or real people (in space write fic or real)

________ Robinson Crusoe

________ Sherlock Holmes

________ Tarzan

________ Edgar Allan Poe

________ James Bond

________ Ebenezer Scrooge

________ Mark Twain

________ Tom Sawyer

________ Casanova

________ Don Quixote

________ Hamlet

________ 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

E) Never


In 2011 how many of each did you read?

____ novel

____ play

____ collection of short stories

____ collection of poems

____ biography

____ other non-fiction


If yes to reading any of above, how many of each were NOT required (i.e. assigned by school or work)

_____ novel

_____ play

_____ collection of short stories

_____ collection of poems

_____ biography

_____ 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.


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Reader Comments (2)

I took your little quiz only to be disappointed that there were no answers provided!

March 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMS

I'm 19 years old, haven't read a book in about five years, and I got every question right. No joke.

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJack

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