One of the occupational hazards of being a book reviewer and blogger is that all your friends assume that you are a literary expert, and you’ll be able to handle all the bookish questions at pub trivia. Don’t get me wrong: I normally do pretty well, but I’ll never forget the soul-crushing shame of totally blanking on the question “Who wrote the American classic Gone With The Wind?” (it was Margaret Mitchell, by the way – I’ll never forget again!). To save you all the same embarrassment, I thought I’d put together a list of some common and interesting trivia questions about books and literature, alongside the correct answers (although, as you’ll soon see, “correct” is a relative concept and it almost always depends who you ask…).
What was the first novel ever written?
The Tale of Genji is, as far as we know, the world’s first full-length novel. It was written in 1008 by Japanese noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu.
What was the first book published by movable type?
Johann Gutenberg, who invented movable type in 1440, printed the first book, a Latin Bible (now called the Gutenberg Bible) in 1445.
What was Stephen King’s first published novel?
Carrie. Although it wasn’t technically the first book he wrote, it was the first one picked up and published (by Doubleday, in 1974).
When was the New York Review Of Books first published?
1 February 1963. The Review, which begot the New York Times Best Seller List, sold out of its first print run (100,000 copies), and its editors received over 1,000 letters from readers asking that they continue.
When was the first Harry Potter book published?
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was first published by Bloomsbury in the U.K. on 26 June 1997.
Biggests and Bests
What is the most expensive book in the world?
This depends who you ask, what measure you use, and how you define… well, “book”.
Most recently, in 2017, the printer’s manuscript of Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon sold for $35 million. That’s a fair chunk of change, but purists will debate whether a printer’s manuscript counts as a “book”.
Likewise, in 1994, Bill Gates purchased the Codex Leicester, the notebook of Leonardo da Vinci (the original, and the only copy) for $30.8 million, which adjusted to today’s money comes to about $50.9 million – an even bigger chunk of change. But, once again, people will argue that a hand-written notebook doesn’t really count as a “book” by today’s standards.
There are a handful of other religious and hand-written texts that are “books” by some measure and have sold for similar amounts. However, the most widely accepted answer to this trivia question is The Birds Of America by John James Audubon. One of only 119 printed and bound copies known to exist sold at auction in 2010 for $11.5 million (which comes to about $12.9 million now).
What is the best-selling book of all time?
Once again, it depends on how you define “book”, how fastidious you are about the accuracy of calculations, and whether you want to take into account the time period over which the total number of books were sold (as most best-seller lists today do).
Typically, the Holy Bible is considered to be the best-selling book of all time, with an estimated 2.5 billion copies sold since 1815 (and 2,200 language and dialect translations to boot). However, as I’m sure you can imagine, the records of sales over that length of time are patchy at best, many copies of the Bible are distributed for free (as opposed to “sold” in the traditional sense), and as such the estimation of total sales is very rough.
The Lord Of The Rings is the next most common answer, though some people dispute its inclusion for consideration as it is a series (rather than an individual “book”). It’s estimated to have sold approximately 150 million copies since it was first published in 1954, and those figures are comparatively very accurate. The Hobbit, too, has sold some 100 million copies in its own right.
The biggest total sales figure I could find for an individual, stand-alone book (that no one could dispute), with the most accurate numbers possible, is that of Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince), first published in French in 1943. It has sold 140 million copies since then. However, the most recognisable answer (and the one your quizmaster would likely be looking for at pub trivia) is Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone, which has sold 120 million copies since 1997 (meaning it has sold far better over a much shorter period of time, which is usually a factor in the calculation of best-sellers).
Who is the best-selling fiction author of all time?
Are you sick of me saying “it depends” yet? 😉
The most commonly accepted answer is Agatha Christie; she personally authored 85 novels, and has sold well over 2 billion of them (and those figures are relatively reliable). However, William Shakespeare is estimated to have sold approximately the same number of copies across his 42 published plays and poems, though the figures are a little more sketchy and over a much longer time period – it’s up to you whether he “counts”.
J.K. Rowling is the worlds richest author (having claimed the title from James Patterson a few years ago), so she’s considered the “best selling” in terms of profit from her creation.
There are also a number of extremely popular authors (including Jane Austen, Miguel de Cervantes, and Arthur Conan Doyle) for whom no accurate figures on book sales can be found, so theoretically it could also be any of them.
In the end, this question is pretty much unanswerable, so you’ll just have to take a stab as to which answer you think the quizmaster is after, as opposed to which one is technically “correct”.
What is the best-selling children’s book of all time?
Ah, now we’re back on solid ground! Publisher’s Weekly ran a very helpful study of this topic back in 2000, and they determined that the best-selling hard-cover children’s book of all time is The Poky Little Puppy, and the best-selling paperback children’s book of all time is Charlotte’s Web.
Now, we could start to quibble about what counts as a “children’s book” and how PW reached their conclusions, but why make things harder on ourselves?
What is the biggest/longest book of all time?
There are two primary ways to determine the size or length of a book: word count, and page count. The latter is a bit controversial, because it’s so dependent on formatting, but it’s also a lot easier to calculate.
The winner on both fronts, technically, is Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus, published in the 17th century. It comes in at a whopping 13,095 pages (published over ten volumes, because obviously), or 1,954,300 words.
However, the “official” Guinness World Record holder (and thus the most commonly accepted answer) is À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time, or Remembrance of Things Past) by Marcel Proust. It boasts 3,031 pages over seven volumes, or 1,267,069 words.
Whichever answer you prefer, it’s clear that the French are the wordiest writers!
What year were the first Pulitzer Prizes awarded?
1917. The awards were established by provisions in the will of Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian-born American newspaper publisher, thus their focus on journalism.
Which British prime minister was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature?
Winston Churchill. He got the gong in 1953 “for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values”.
Which American science-fiction and fantasy writer has won the Hugo Award for best science-fiction novel three years running (2016, 2017, 2018)?
N.K. Jemisin. She won for The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, and The Stone Sky, respectively in each year.
When did the Booker Prize change its name to the Man Booker Prize, and why?
This award was called the Booker Prize from 1969 to 2001. In 2002, the Man Group PLC came on board as a sponsor, and that year the name was changed accordingly. But earlier this year, the Man Group announced they would no longer be providing sponsorship; a charitable foundation called Crankstart has taken the reins now, but the name will revert to simply the Booker Prize (which I think is a shame, because the Crankstart-Booker has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?).
Bonus points: Yann Martel was the first winner of the newly re-named Man Booker Prize in 2002, for his book Life Of Pi.
What is the main criterion for the Miles Franklin Award?
The Miles Franklin Award winner each year must be “a novel which is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases”.
Titles And Text
Opening lines make for really popular trivia questions, because they’re easy to write and score. Check out my list of great opening lines in literature here, and my list of even more great opening lines in literature here.
Where does the book Fahrenheit 451 get its name?
The book’s tagline explains its title: “Fahrenheit 451 – the temperature at which book paper catches fire, and burns”.
Bonus points: Bradbury chose the title after asking an expert regarding the temperature at which book paper will burn, but he may have been slightly misinformed. 451 degrees Fahrenheit is actually the auto-ignition point of paper, the temperature at which it will catch fire without being exposed to an external flame, and even that number varies depending on the experimental conditions under which it is tested.
Fill in the blanks of this Shakespeare quote: “All the world’s a stage, And all the ___ and _____ merely _______.”
“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.”
Bonus points: The line is taken from As You Like It (Act II, Scene VII).
True or false: Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes never actually used the now-famous line “Elementary, my dear Watson”.
True. Holmes would, now and then, refer to things as being “elementary”, and he did also call his sidekick “my dear Watson”, but he never once used the two together. He did, however, say “Exactly, my dear fellow” relatively often.
What title did Jane Austen originally give to the book that was eventually published as Pride and Prejudice?
Which American classic was published in Swedish with the translated title “A Man Without Scruples” (“En Man Utan Skrupler”)?
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
Bonus points: Fitzgerald actually considered multiple alternate titles for his most-famous work, his favourite reportedly being “Under The Red, White, and Blue” (which his wife, Zelda, hated).
What names did Charles Dickens consider for his character in A Christmas Carol before settling on “Tiny Tim”?
“Small Sam” and “Puny Pete” – they both sound ridiculous, but I swear I’m not making it up!
Which fictional book character has featured as a major character in more films than any other?
Sherlock Holmes – the fictional detective has featured in 223 movies.
Bonus points: second place goes to Dracula, who has featured in 217.
What is the shared birthday of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins from The Hobbit and Lord Of The Rings?
22 September. The two central characters were born on the same day, but in different years: Bilbo in the year of 2890, and Frodo in the year 2968, of the Third Age.
In Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, to which superstition does Huck attribute most of his bad luck?
Touching a rattlesnake skin. He was warned not to do so by his travelling companion, Jim the runaway slave, but disregarded his advice.
Daniel Cleaver and Mark Darcy formed a love triangle with the titular character of which 1996 British best-seller?
Bridget Jones of Bridget Jones’s Diary, by Helen Fielding.
Bonus points: the book is actually a loose adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, with Daniel Cleaver bearing some resemblance to Mr Wickham, Mark Darcy to Mr Darcy (duh), and Bridget Jones to Elizabeth Bennet.
Which classic book chronicles the history of the French invasion of Russia through the stories of five aristocratic families?
War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy).
Which book is set in Airstrip One, a province of the superstate Oceania in a world of perpetual war and government surveillance?
1984 (George Orwell).
Bonus points: Airstrip One is the new name given to Britain in Orwell’s dystopia.
In The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, what was the enchanted dessert that the White Witch gave to Edmund?
Early in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice shrinks down to a very small size and then has to swim through a river of what?
Her own tears.
What is the name of the virtual utopia that teenager Wade Watts explores in Ernest Cline’s novel futuristic novel, Ready Player One?
Jim Grant was born in England in 1954, and has published many popular crime thrillers. By which pen name is he better known?
Which author, best known for his books for children, is credited with popularising the words “gremlin” and “scrumdiddlyumptious”?
Name the four Jane Austen novels that were published during her lifetime.
Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1815).
Bonus points: Northanger Abbey, Persuasion and Lady Susan were all published posthumously. The Watsons and Sandition were unfinished manuscripts.
By which names are Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell now better known?
Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë. They chose androgynous pen names because they suspected (quite rightly, as it turns out) that books by women would not be given fair treatment by publishers and the public.
Who Am I? I was born in Australia in 1966. I worked in advertising and marketing at a legal publishing company, and published my first book in 2003. My fifth book, The Husband’s Secret, was published in 2013 and garnered worldwide attention. My next book debuted at #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List, making me the first Australian author to do so. It has since been adapted into a television series by HBO, starring Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman.
Of course, there are thousands of potential questions in each of these categories: bookish trivia is the gift that keeps on giving! What’s your favourite book trivia question? Ask us in the comments (or over at KUWTP on Facebook!).