Craig Brown's fiendish Christmas books quiz

What does Rod Stewart share with George V – and who ordered himself a Chinese takeaway for 14? Find out in this fiendish – and funny – literary quiz compiled by Britain’s finest book critic

1. The author Wilbur Smith died in November, having lived a colourful life. Which one of these statements about him is untrue?

a) He liked to dress up as a pirate before having sex

b) He shot his first lion at the age of 13

c) His preferred aftershave was Brut For Men

d) Two of his children once threatened him with legal action after he called them ‘biological freaks’

The author Wilbur Smith died in November, having lived a colourful life. Which one of these statements about him is untrue?

The author Wilbur Smith died in November, having lived a colourful life. Which one of these statements about him is untrue?

 

2. The latest book by Oliver Burkeman takes its title from the span of an average human life. Is it:

a) 4,000 weeks

b) 40,000 weeks

c) 400,000 weeks

d) 4,000,000 weeks

 

3. ‘We rather fancied her. She was a good-looking woman, like a Hollywood star.’ Who was Paul McCartney referring to in this passage from his autobiographical book, The Lyrics?

a) Jackie Kennedy

b) Barbara Castle

c) HM the Queen

d) Margaret, Duchess of Argyll

 

4. ‘IF YOU HAVE NOT TELEPHONED, YOU ARE TRESPASSING.’ According to a 2021 biography, who erected this sign on his property at the age of 24?

a) J. D. Salinger

b) Bob Dylan

c) Donald Trump

d) Woody Allen

 

5. A new biography of King George V by Jane Ridley shares its title with an old album by Rod Stewart. What is that title?

a) The Tears Of Hercules

b) Another Country

c) Never A Dull Moment

d) Every Picture Tells A Story

A new biography of King George V by Jane Ridley shares its title with an old album by Rod Stewart (above). What is that title?

A new biography of King George V by Jane Ridley shares its title with an old album by Rod Stewart (above). What is that title?

 

6. The hero of John le Carré’s posthumously published novel Silverview is:

a) A diplomat in Washington called Jackson

b) An arms dealer in Beirut called Mehmet

c) A professional poker player in Cairo called Darius

d) A bookseller in East Anglia called Julian

 

7. Which of these 2021 novels did its author originally intend to be a children’s book, until their daughter told them it would leave any child traumatised?

a) Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

b) The Judge’s List by John Grisham

c) Billy Summers by Stephen King

d) Klara And The Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

 

8. In My Unapologetic Diaries, Joan Collins is rude about a number of her fellow stars. Pair the star with the insult:

a) Glenn Close

b) Pamela Anderson

c) Catherine Deneuve

d) Sharon Stone 

i) ‘Such a bitch’

ii) ‘Perfectly awful… the yawn of the year’

iii) ‘Terribly pleased with herself’

iv) ‘All the taste and refinement of a hooker on holiday’

In My Unapologetic Diaries, Joan Collins (above) is rude about a number of her fellow stars. Pair the star with the insult

In My Unapologetic Diaries, Joan Collins (above) is rude about a number of her fellow stars. Pair the star with the insult

 

9. After Nick Cave’s keyboard player, Warren Ellis, attended a concert at the Royal Festival Hall in 1999, he nipped on stage to rescue a chewed comestible the performer had left behind. 

He kept it as a relic for the next 22 years, and this year published an entire book about it. Was it:

a) Kylie Minogue’s Liquorice Allsort

b) Nina Simone’s gum

c) Tina Turner’s Fruit Pastille

d) Kiri Te Kanawa’s toffee

 

10. In his autobiography, what did Bob Mortimer describe as ‘the worst decision of my life’?

a) Wearing ordinary wellington boots while fishing the River Ouse, falling over and nearly drowning

b) Accepting the role of Elyot Chase in the 2016 West End production of Noël Coward’s Private Lives

c) Studying to become a dental technician

d) Taking LSD at university

 

11. Volumes one and two of Chips Channon’s unexpurgated diaries were published this year. 

The party-going millionaire MP seemed to rub shoulders with everyone of note in the 1930s and 1940s, but he could be a poor judge of character. 

Pair the description with the person described:

a) The Queen Mother

b) Adolf Hitler 

c) Winston Churchill

d) Neville Chamberlain

e) Hermann Göring

 

i) ‘A bully, an irritating tyrant, unfair, unkind, wrong’

ii) ‘Amiable’

iii) ‘The greatest man of all time’

iv) ‘Lovably disarming’

v) ‘At heart snobbish and insincere’

Chips Channon seemed to rub shoulders with everyone of note in the 1930s and 1940s, but he could be a poor judge of character. What did he say about Winston Churchill (above)?

Chips Channon seemed to rub shoulders with everyone of note in the 1930s and 1940s, but he could be a poor judge of character. What did he say about Winston Churchill (above)?

 

12. In his On The Cusp survey of Britain in 1962, the historian David Kynaston quotes this diary entry from the gloomy poet Philip Larkin: 

‘God, I must NEVER do such a MAD thing again: it was a boring, irritating HELL.’ What was Larkin complaining about?

a) Attending a carol service at Holy Trinity Church, Hull

b) Taking his mother on a bus excursion to the Peak District

c) Watching a BBC Play For Today by John Osborne

d) Spending a November afternoon playing Scrabble with his girlfriend Monica Jones

 

13. The Duchess of York wrote a romantic novel published by Mills & Boon. What was its title?

a) Her Heart For A Compass

b) Her Legs For A Barometer

c) Her Back To The Wall

d) Her Face For A Fortune

 

14. In the same novel, the Duchess of York describes various kisses undergone by her heroine. Three of these descriptions are written by her and the other by me. Which is the odd one out?

a) ‘They kissed. Deep, starving kisses, adult kisses, their tongues tangling, hands clutching and clinging’

b) ‘His tongue touched hers and she broke away, breathless and confused’

c) ‘Their tongues met and clenched, finding a warm spot towards the back of her mouth where they might huddle together like two babes in a wood’

d) ‘The giddy feeling, the rush of blood to her head, the soft pressure of Sebastian’s lips on hers made her want to swoon’

 

15. Still on the subject of kissing, which novelist, the subject of a 2021 biography, expressed a dislike of French kissing, declaring: 

‘To go searching around the cavern of a woman’s mouth with a jutting insinuating tongue was never my idea of fun’?

a) Charles Dickens

b) Philip Roth

c) Patricia Highsmith

d) W. Somerset Maugham

Still on the subject of kissing, which novelist, the subject of a 2021 biography, expressed a dislike of French kissing?

Still on the subject of kissing, which novelist, the subject of a 2021 biography, expressed a dislike of French kissing?

 

16. A book about Watergate revealed that President Nixon praised his mother for having ‘never indulged in the present-day custom, which I find nauseating’. To what custom was he referring?

a) Wearing short skirts

b) Hugging and kissing her children

c) Slow dancing

d) Swearing

 

17. Pair the celebrity with the title of their 2021 autobiography:

a) This Much Is True

b) A Funny Life

c) Windswept & Interesting

d) Before & Laughter

e) Fight!

 

i) Jimmy Carr

ii) Harry Hill

iii) Miriam Margolyes

iv) Michael McIntyre

v) Billy Connolly

Can you pair Michael McIntyre (above) and the other four  celebrities with the titles of their 2021 autobiographies?

Can you pair Michael McIntyre (above) and the other four  celebrities with the titles of their 2021 autobiographies?

 

18. ‘He gave the impression that, along with Arthur Daley in Minder, he might have an unpaid tab at the Winchester Club.’

Who did historian Alwyn Turner describe in this way in All In It Together: England In The Early 21st Century?

a) Boris Johnson

b) Nigel Farage

c) Kenneth Clarke

d) Neil Hamilton

Was Boris Johnson (above), Nigel Farage, Kenneth Clarke or Neil Hamilton described as having 'an unpaid tab at the Winchester Club'?

Was Boris Johnson (above), Nigel Farage, Kenneth Clarke or Neil Hamilton described as having ‘an unpaid tab at the Winchester Club’?

 

19. Marcus Berkmann’s Pop Miscellany revealed that Leonard Cohen made a cameo appearance in the 17th episode of the second series of which TV show?

a) Miami Vice

b) Sex And The City

c) Mad Men

d) Buffy The Vampire Slayer

 

20. ‘Ambitious’, ‘bully’, ‘callous’, ‘capricious’, ‘childlike’, ‘competitive’, ‘controlling nature’, ‘cruelty’. These descriptions appear in the index of whose 2021 biography?

a) Meghan Markle

b) Sir Terence Conran

c) David Cameron

d) Adolf Hitler

 

21. In 2021, which comedian published a serious book about prayer?

a) Frank Skinner

b) Jimmy Carr

c) David Baddiel

d) Sara Pascoe

 

22. The former Tory MP Alan Duncan’s diaries were full of insults directed at his former colleagues. Match the insult with the colleague:

a) A cardboard cut-out

b) Wacky weirdo

c) Self-important, humourless bore

d) A nothing person

e) Angst-ridden oddball

f) A selfish, ill-disciplined, shambolic, shameless clot

 

i) Theresa May

ii) Boris Johnson

iii) Priti Patel

iv) John Bercow

v) Dominic Raab

vi) Michael Gove

 

23. Which roly-poly figure, the subject of a 2021 biography, once ordered a Chinese takeaway for 14 even though it was only for him and one other person?

a) Robert Maxwell

b) Sir Cyril Smith

c) Meat Loaf

d) Demis Roussos

 

24. Team the 2021 Desert Island Discs castaway with his or her favourite book:

a) Deborah Meaden, businesswoman

b) Tracey Ullman, comedian

c) Alexei Sayle, comedian

d) Billie Piper, actress

e) Tim Peake, astronaut

 

i) The Sword Of Honour Trilogy by Evelyn Waugh

ii) A History Of The World In 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor

iii) The Cost Of Living by Deborah Levy

iv) The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ by Sue Townsend

v) An atlas

Can you match Billie Piper (above) and the other 2021 Desert Island Discs castaways with his or her favourite book?

Can you match Billie Piper (above) and the other 2021 Desert Island Discs castaways with his or her favourite book?

 

25. The can-do Canadian intellectual Jordan B. Peterson followed up his best-selling 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote To Chaos with Beyond Order: 12 More Rules For Life. 

Three of these are rules from his new book, and one is not. Name the odd one out:

a) Discipline yourself. Or suffer the consequence

b) Do not hide unwanted things in the fog

c) Do not do what you hate

d) See It. Say it. Sorted

ANSWERS

1) c. 2) a. 3) c. 4) b. 5) c. 6) d. 7) d. 8) a,ii; b,iv; c,i; d,iii. 9) b. 10) d. 11) a,v; b,ii; c,i; d,iii; e,iv. 12) b. 13) a. 14) c. 15) b. 16) b. 17) a,iii; b,iv; c,v; d,i; e,ii. 18) b. 19) a. 20) b. 21) a. 22) a,i; b,vi; c,v; d,iii; e,iv; f,ii. 23) a. 24) a,ii; b,iv; c,i; d,iii; e,v. 25) d.

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