Brilliant book questions for your online pub quiz

Ideas to make your next round of Zoom questions with friends your best, pulled straight from the pages of The Penguin Book Quiz. How many questions can you answer correctly?

A pile of books in grayscale, with an orange question mark overlaid.
Photo: Stuart Simpson / Penguin

It's been a while now since we all moved indoors, but that great British tradition – the pub quiz – remains alive and well online. These days, we might be crowding around our laptops rather than into booths, but the idea remains the same: to vanquish your foes with your comprehensive knowledge of just about everything. Or, in our case, books.

Below, we’ve compiled a full set of questions and answers fromThe Penguin Book Quiz for your virtual quizzing purposes, whether it's to fill an entire quiz or just a book-themed round. Let the stumping begin.


Round 1


Six questions where the answers all contain the surname of a British prime minister . . .

1. The Diana Chronicles is a book about the former Princess of Wales by which former editor of The New Yorker and VanityFair?

2. In Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, what’s the name of the classmate that Tom falls in love with?

3. What’s John Steinbeck’s longest novel, which takes its title from a phrase in the Bible and became a film starring James Dean?

4. Barry Humphries’s autobiography More Please chronicles his childhood in which city?

5. What name follows The Miseducation of . . . in the title of a lesbian coming-of-age novel by Emily M. Danforth that became the basis of an indie film in 2018?

6. Which African-American author’s works include Giovanni’s Room, Notes of a Native Son and Go Tell It on the Mountain?

And six where the answers all contain the surname of an American president . . .

7. Which British author’s works include Wise Children, Nights at the Circus and The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories?

8. Who wrote A Confederacy of Dunces, published to great acclaim 11 years after he’d committed suicide – partly because he couldn’t find a publisher for the novel?

9. Who, in 1978, became the first woman to have a wholly self-penned number one single in Britain, with a song based on a novel of 1847?

10. Whose 1999 childcare guide The Contented Little Baby Book somewhat controversially advocates a strict feeding and sleeping routine for babies?

11. The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia was the only novel by which 18th-century critic, poet and lexicographer?

12. Who wrote the true-crime book In Cold Blood, often called the first non-fiction novel?

Mark Twain
Photo: Getty Images / Mark Twain

Round 1 Answers

1. Tina Brown

2. Becky Thatcher

3. East of Eden

4. Melbourne. (Like Humphries himself, the book does move on from there. The title More Please comes from the first words that Humphries apparently ever spoke.)

5. Cameron Post

6. James Baldwin

7. Angela Carter

8. John Kennedy Toole

9. Kate Bush (the single being ‘Wuthering Heights’)

10. Gina Ford

11. Samuel Johnson

12. Truman Capote


Round 2

Name the Author

Can you guess the writer from these clues (and, of course, the fewer you need the better)?


A. He was Britain’s biggest selling non-fiction writer of the 2000s.

B. He shares a catchphrase with the main character of a much-loved British sitcom.

C. His surname is a male first name.

D. His 5 Ingredients was Britain’s biggest selling book of 2017.


A. Now one of Britain’s most famous poets, he died in obscurity in London in 1827.

B. He had visions of angels from boyhood onwards.

C. He claimed that in 1788 his brother Robert taught him the technique of ‘illuminated printing’ that he used to produce many of his books – even though Robert had died the previous year.

D. One of his poems is sung at every Labour Party conference and on every day of English Test cricket – and is the unofficial anthem of the Women’s Institute.


A. A passionate opponent of slavery, she worked as a nurse in the American Civil War.

B. Her middle name is a month of the year.

C. She wrote a series of novels about the March family . . .

D. . . . which begins with Little Women.

4. A. He served as an artillery officer in the Crimean War.

B. In later life he became such a radical Christian that he was excommunicated by the Orthodox Church.

C. Parts of one of his novels first appeared in the magazine The Russian Messenger under the title The Year 1805.

D. Its final title was War and Peace.


A. His middle name was Hoyer.

B. His only play was Buchanan Dying, about James Buchanan, the only U.S. president from Pennsylvania.

C. His first big seller, in 1968, was Couples, which led to him appearing on the cover of Time magazine with the strapline ‘The Adulterous Society’.

D. He wrote four novels about a former high-school basketball star called Harry Angstrom, better known as ‘Rabbit’.


A. Before becoming a full-time writer in her forties, she was a TV executive.

B. Her real name is Erika Leonard.

C. The three bestselling novels in Britain of 2012 were all by her . . .

D. . . . and all featured two main characters whose first names are Anastasia and Christian.

Lousia May Alcott
Photo: Getty Images / Louisa May Alcott

Round 2 Answers

1. Jamie Oliver, and I’m willing to bet that almost everybody reading this now – and almost everybody they know – owns at least one of his books. The catchphrase is ‘lovely jubbly’, as also used by Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses.

2. William Blake, author of the much-sung ‘Jerusalem’ (aka ‘And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time’), whose funeral was attended by only five people. Robert’s teaching, it seems, came to Blake in a vision. He also seems to have spotted his first angels at the age of nine, in Peckham Rye.

3. Louisa May Alcott, whose family provided a safe house for runaway slaves when she was growing up, and who later campaigned for women’s suffrage. Even more unusually for a woman of the time, she was also a keen runner.

4. Leo Tolstoy, who in his radically Christian later life managed to turn himself, after an agonising series of personal struggles, into a non-smoking, non-drinking vegetarian admirer of peasants – although he didn’t always stay on the smoking wagon. Sex, meanwhile, remained a problem. In a diary entry of 1909, Tolstoy lamented its continuing temptation and wished that it ‘could be instilled into people in childhood and also when fully mature that the sexual act is a disgusting, animal act’. He was 80 at the time.

5. John Updike, whose middle name was Hoyer because that was his mother’s maiden name, and whose Rabbit books began with Rabbit, Run in 1960, continuing approximately every ten years from there. Rabbit is from Pennsylvania, like Updike ‒ hence that interest in James Buchanan. Couples, a book about suburban adultery (like many of his others), remained his biggest selling novel.

6. E. L. James. In fact, Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed were Britain’s bestselling novels of 2012 by some margin – and the same year Time magazine named her as one of the ‘World’s 100 Most Influential People’. The Fifty Shades trilogy, she later reflected, ‘was my midlife crisis, writ large’. She also wrote Britain’s best- selling book of 2015: Grey, which told the story from Christian’s point of view.


Round 3


Can you identify the four celebrated fictional characters making their first appearances here for a point?

1. From 1953:

[He] suddenly knew that he was tired. He always knew when his body or his mind had had enough and he always acted on the knowledge. This helped him to avoid staleness and the sensual bluntness that breeds mistakes.

He shifted himself unobtrusively away from the roulette he had been playing and went to stand for a moment at the brass rail which surrounded breast-high the top table in the ‘salle privée’.

2. From 1969:

[He] was a man to whom everybody came for help, and never were they disappointed. He made no empty promises, nor the craven excuse that his hands were tied by more powerful forces in the world than himself. It was not necessary that he be your friend, it was not even important that you had no means with which to repay him. Only one thing was required. That you, you yourself, proclaim your friendship. And then, no matter how poor or powerless the supplicant, he would take that man’s troubles to his heart . . . His reward? Friendship . . . And perhaps, to show respect only, never for profit, some humble gift – a gallon of homemade wine or a basket of peppered tarelles specially baked to grace his Christmas table. It was understood, it was mere good manners, to proclaim that you were in his debt and that he had the right to call upon you at any time to redeem your debt by some small service.

3. From 1925:

I was still with Jordan Baker. We were sitting at a table with a man of about my age and a rowdy little girl who gave way upon the slightest provocation to uncontrollable laughter. I was enjoying myself now. I had taken two finger bowls of champagne and the scene had changed before my eyes into something significant, elemental and profound.

At a lull in the entertainment the man looked at me and smiled.

‘Your face is familiar,’ he said politely. ‘Weren’t you in the Third Division during the war?’

4. From 1847 – where a stranger has just fallen off his horse:

His figure was enveloped in a riding cloak, fur collared and steel clasped; its details were not apparent, but I traced the general points of middle height, and considerable breadth of chest. He had a dark face, with stern features and a heavy brow; his eyes and gathered eyebrows looked ireful and thwarted just now; he was past youth, but had not reached middle-age; perhaps he might be thirty-five. I felt no fear of him, and but little shyness . . .

‘I cannot think of leaving you, sir, at so late an hour, in this solitary lane, till I see you are fit to mount your horse.’ . . .

‘I should think you ought to be at home yourself,’ said he, ‘if you have a home in this neighbourhood. Where do you come from?’

‘From just below; and I am not at all afraid of being out late when it is moonlight . . .’

‘You live just below – do you mean at that house with the battlements?’ pointing to Thornfield Hall, on which the moon cast a hoary gleam.

James Bond
Photo: Getty Images / James Bond

Round 3 Answers

1. James Bond in Casino Royale by Ian Fleming. And with that, Bond duly collects his winnings and retires, pausing only to notice the villainous Le Chiffre winning millions of francs at that top table. If, at the end of 1953, you’d asked almost anybody in Britain what had been the year’s most significant national events, it wouldn’t have been hard to predict their replies: the Queen’s Coronation and a British team conquering Everest. (Never mind that the two men who made it to the top were from New Zealand and Nepal.) Yet when it comes to Britain’s global reach since then, a better answer – unimaginable at the time, admittedly – might have been the publication of this novel written by a 43-year-old bachelor to take his mind off ‘the agony’ of getting married.

2. Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather by Mario Puzo – first seen on the wedding day of his daughter Connie. Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 film became the highest grossing of all time, until it was overtaken by 1976’s Jaws. And in 2005 the American Film Institute voted Vito’s ‘I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse’ the second greatest quote in 100 years of US movie history. It was beaten only by Rhett Butler’s ‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn’ from Gone with the Wind. (Another Marlon Brando character was at number three, thanks to On the Waterfront’s ‘You don’t understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could’ve been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.’)

3. After hearing plenty about his glamorous new neighbour, the narrator Nick Carraway finally meets (Jay) Gatsby in this passage, more than a quarter of the way through The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The meeting takes place at one of Gatsby’s celebrated parties – although only after they’ve talked about their shared experiences of the First World War does Nick discover who he’s just met.

4. Mr. Rochester in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. By this stage Jane is living in Mr R’s Thornfield Hall as a governess – but, while she’s heard plenty about him, she’s never seen the man himself, who’s been away since she arrived. Only after she’s helped him back on to his horse and walked back to Thornfield does Jane discover who she’s just met.


Round 4

Connect Three

Can you link the three items in each case?

1. G. K. Chesterton’s priest detective

The courageous Anna Fierling in a play by Bertolt Brecht

Ivan Petrovich Voynitsky in a play by Anton Chekhov

2. Graham Greene’s Scobie in Sierra Leone

Joseph Conrad’s Kurtz in the Congo

William Boyd’s Logan Montstuart in Uruguay, Britain, Spain, Portugal, the Bahamas, Switzerland, France, America and Nigeria

3. The literary character who grows up in a Victorian workhouse overseen by Mr Bumble the beadle

The Victorian socialist, poet and textile designer whose novels included News from Nowhere

The Puffin Classic by Noel Streatfeild subtitled A Story of Three Children on the Stage

4. ______ S. Buck, the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature

______ Wax, whose books on mental health include A Mind- fulness Guide for the Frazzled and How to be Human

The _____­_, the Wilkie Collins book that T. S. Eliot considered the first British detective novel (as have many other people)

5. A provincial lady (E. M. Delafield)

A nobody (George and Weedon Grossmith)

A wimpy kid (Jeff Kinney)

6. James Hilton’s horizon

John Milton’s paradise

Marcel Proust’s time

Marlon Brando Apocalyse Now Kurtz Heart of Darkness
Photo: CBS Photo Archive/Contributor / Marlon Brando as 'Heart of Darkness' character Kurtz in 'Apocalypse Now'

Round 4 Answers

1. Family relatives: Chesterton’s Father Brown; Brecht’s Mother Courage in Mother Courage and Her Children; Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya.

2. Main characters in novels with ‘Heart’ in the title: Greene’s The Heart of the Matter; Conrad’s Heart of Darkness; Boyd’s Any Human Heart.

3. Dances: Dickens’s Oliver Twist; William Morris; Ballet Shoes.

4. Gemstones: Pearl S. Buck; Ruby Wax; The Moonstone – according to Eliot, ‘the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels’. (And just in case you’re not up to speed on Pearl S. Buck, her work may be less read these days but back in the 1930s she achieved the writers’ dream of combining enormous sales with enormous critical acclaim. Her book The Good Earth – based on her experiences as the daughter of US missionaries in China – was America’s bestselling novel of both 1931 and 1932. It also won the 1932 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction – and she was awarded the Nobel Prize six years later.)

5. Fictional diarists: Delafield’s comic and heavily autobiographical The Diary of a Provincial Lady was a bestseller when it came out in 1930 and has never been out of print since. (Jilly Cooper is a particular fan.) The Grossmiths’ The Diary of a Nobody is the book that gave us Charles Pooter, a good-hearted suburbanite whose surname has now come to mean someone particularly conventional and unimaginative – which seems a bit harsh to me. Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series has been raking in the sales since the first book was published in 2007, with Kinney playing cameo roles in the film versions.

6. Lost things: Hilton’s Lost Horizon was the book that first brought us the utopian Himalayan kingdom of Shangri-la – not, as you may think, an ancient legend but something thought up by one British author in 1933. (Hilton’s other enduring work is the novella Goodbye, Mr Chips.) Milton’s Paradise Lost is an epic about the fall and redemption of humankind, of which Dr Johnson once said that no reader ‘ever wished it longer than it is’. And Proust’s In Search of Lost Time isn’t terribly short either. In fact, it’s named as the longest novel ever by Guinness World Records.


Round 5


Literature and learning . . .

1. Which journalist and newspaper interviewer wrote An Education, a 2009 memoir of her teenage love affair with a much older man?

2. Which fictional school, created by the cartoonist Ronald Searle, featured in seven films between 1954 and 2009?

3. In a play by Christopher Marlowe, which scholar at the University of Wittenberg pledges his body and soul to the Devil in return for 24 years of being able to do whatever he likes?

4. Who wrote the play The School for Scandal, first performed at the Drury Lane Theatre in 1777?

5. Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches features in the children’s classic The Worst Witch – by whom?
6.George, Martha, Honey and Nick are the four characters in which play by Edward Albee, where the action takes place in the drunken aftermath of a university faculty party?

7. Which 1959 novel by E. R. Braithwaite, based on his own experiences of being a black teacher in London, became a film of the same name starring Sidney Poitier and Lulu?

8. Who won the 2006 Man Booker Prize with The Inheritance of Loss, in which one of the main characters has a relationship with her maths tutor?

9. Which aristocratic detective, who graduated from Oxford with a first-class degree – while also becoming a cricket blue – was created by Dorothy L. Sayers?

10. Which Nigerian former teacher wrote the 1958 novel Things Fall Apart, one of the first African novels to receive global acclaim?

11. In a series of books by Rick Riordan that begins with The Lightning Thief, what’s the name of the eponymous main character whose teacher Mrs Dodds turns out to be a mythological Fury?

12. In 1965 a novel by John Williams about a university teacher in Missouri was published and sold fewer than 2,000 copies. It was republished in 2003, nine years after Williams’s death, and became a worldwide bestseller. What was the novel’s title – which was also the main character’s surname?

Chinua Achebe
Photo: Getty Images / Chinua Achebe

Round 5 Answers

1. Lynn Barber (the film version, written by Nick Hornby, was based on a shorter version of the same story that Barber had earlier published in Granta magazine)

2. St. Trinian’s

3. Dr. Faustus (in The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus)
4. Richard Brinsley Sheridan

5. Jill Murphy

6. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

7. To Sir, With Love

8. Kiran Desai

9. Lord Peter Wimsey

10. Chinua Achebe

11. Percy Jackson

12. Stoner


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