Do you remember when ED Hirsch came out with the book Cultural Literacy in the late 80's? There was a quiz, and other quizzes developed in imitation. I nailed those things, every one of them except the protest ones or parodies.
I have also always been a strong advocate for reading primary sources, and the original works of the author, as CS Lewis encouraged in "On the Reading of Old Books." Don't read about Paradise Lost or the Inferno, fellow, read them yourself! You get a much better feel for Puritans if you read a diary or three. Even more modern works are buried in commentary, and people know some excerpts, or what is said by folks who seem to know what they are talking about.
So, how many of these works have I actually read, fully, start to finish? Very few. I am the King of Secondary Sources, having overheard, or seen references to, or read excerpts from way more material than just about anyone you know. The others spend so much of their time reading the whole thing. It seems wasteful. The complete work is just boring, you know? If you have to read slowly, noticing that TS Eliot is echoing Chaucer's Canterbury Tales' "Whan that Aprille..." when he begins "The Waste Land" with "April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land," then I'm never getting past the first ten lines. I would make an effort on those ten lines, just so I could have some tag for the poem that I might use to connect the ideas to something else (or to have something to say to give the appearance of having read the work), but then I'm out. Boring. Not enough happening. I read that Tyler Cowan reads only as far into a book until he thinks he has got enough of the idea, then just drops the book wherever he is standing - in an airport, at a restaurant, in the kitchen - never picking it up again. That man is my hero.
I have read the Bible. Once straight through, all of the NT books multiple times, and I think the OT as well. Everything of CS Lewis I ever got my hands on. GK Chesterton, with a recent exception I found uninteresting, I read all the way through. Absurdist playwrights. I look at my shelves and see that there actually is a lot of nonfiction that I have read and reread. But fiction, or The Great Books, or The Classics? Not so much. One picks up things over the years and tries to assemble them and connect them. I mentioned to a friend today that I am listening to 30 minute interviews about Great Books, and he nodded agreement that it must give me a good idea which one's I wanted to take out of the library or buy, then read all the way through. Yeah, that would be a good idea, wouldn't it? Of the hundred episodes so far, I have bought or borrowed one. Admittedly, there were some things on the list I actually had read at some point in the last 60 years, perhaps even thirty of them. I could comment knowledgeably on about 80% before I started (and have!), and am now up to 90%, though even some episodes I just listened to have already begun to fade.
I will have to look up the Wikipedia article on those, so that I have learned with two senses.
I can name the countries of Europe and their capitals, even the debatable countries like Azerbaijan. It comes in handy the one time in your life you run into a guy from there.
I wrote about Pierre Bayard's wonderful book How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read about five years ago.