Sonnets, Bonnets and Bennetts: A Literary Quiz Book by James Walton

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Sonnets, Bonnets and Bennetts: A Literary Quiz Book by James Walton

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Category: Trivia
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Q: Which book has a richness of detail in its questioning look at literature, but comes across as a little too smug with it, and is as a result a very acquired taste? A: This one.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: November 2008
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571239375

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I have never been an avid listener of the Radio 4 literary quiz from this same author, The Write Stuff. I haven't had that much exposure to it, but I didn't like it much. It seemed to be a club of, dare I say it, clubbable people, sitting in smug appreciation of their own classical education and not giving the listener a chance to get in with the answer for their thinking aloud and, dammit, their erudition.

I do like a quiz book, however, and I do like a book quiz book. Having a quiz at home of a Christmas is a long-standing family tradition, and a volume of book quizzes from the Past Times shop has been turned to before. It struck a very nice balance between the known and unknown (or, if you like, the easy and the hard) and while having only as much of a personality as a list of questions and a list of answers could have, did the job perfectly.

Now, in redress of that comes this volume. To recite the basics, there are ten rounds, all the same structure – a rash of ten questions, linked by some theme, some extracts to recite and identify and thus react to, a rash of ten questions linked to the same author (and generally not an author I would like to be quizzed about, but there you go), a few stinkers where four esoteric subjects have to be linked in some odd fashion, and a further rash of ten thematic questions.

While the formula is decent enough, this book has been road-tested and was found lacking. The extracts are too long sometimes to be willingly read out by the home-appointed question-master. The other special round, of the quartets and their links, need staring at for too long, and so demand everyone jot their thinking down as well as any possible answer.

However the book does a lot more than just ask a few questions, and here to some regard we must hold James Walton in esteem, for his trivial addenda to his answers. Thus we get extra info on Booker Winners, and their writers' various backgrounds, and a lot more. This also however verges on the arch, and we get back to thinking of the radio version of this product, where detail is offered as much as out of a sense of pride and ego as much as friendly sharing of the jovial detail.

And of course asking the quiz-setter to go through all the extra, knowing too well how little of it will be retained by his loyal subjects, is again too much. Which might well let us suggest this book is best used actually as a diversion by the inquisitive, who can dip into it from time to time, and see what comes up, both from Walton and from her or his own memory. Further proof of that is the very broad choice of questions – some are obvious and over very quickly, and some take a lot of thinking on.

I am a fan of trivia and literary bumpf in general, and I count myself as one of the sad people who would be quite willing to sit for a long time thinking what the biggest selling novel of the 19th century might have been. But making that a shared experience among friendly quiz-fans doesn't exactly allow for a riveting evening – heck, even having my guinea-pig work out which is the only Shakespeare play with an animal in the title was painful enough to sit through. And when we finally find out which is that self-same big seller, we'd be so much better off were it something we might actually have read.

So the book does come from a broad church – from the Jeffrey Archers and the bodice-rippers, past Louise Rennison to the fourth century religious autobiography – and does have an erudition about it that some will relish. It does contain enough questions and resultant data for the bookish to be diverted by. But certainly when it comes to sitting down and having a light test, there are better books on the market.

For putting the poseur into the posers, this book is given a slightly grudging recommendation from The Bookbag. It will be enjoyed by a certain few bookworms, and loathed by the rest as smug, pompous and cloyingly arch. The answer here is three and a half stars only.

We are grateful for Faber and Faber for the Bookbag's review copy.

Oh, and The Taming of the Shrew, but you'd worked that out, hadn't you?

Buy Sonnets, Bonnets and Bennetts: A Literary Quiz Book by James Walton at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Sonnets, Bonnets and Bennetts: A Literary Quiz Book by James Walton at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Sonnets, Bonnets and Bennetts: A Literary Quiz Book by James Walton at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Sonnets, Bonnets and Bennetts: A Literary Quiz Book by James Walton at Amazon.com.

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