This is less a commentary on Americans’ illiteracy than a demonstration of how nervous people get when you stick a camera in their faces and ask a suspiciously simple question that seems designed to embarrass them. If you pulled this on me, my thought process would go like this:

“Wait, who is this?”
“Name a book? Is this a trick question?”
“Am I on television?
“They’re serious. They’re putting me on the spot.”
“At least three seconds have passed as I orient myself to this and I haven’t named one yet. I look like an idiot.”
*Nervous laughter*

Suddenly you’re a deer in the headlights, caught in a feedback loop in which you’re increasingly paralyzed by your deepening awareness of your own stupefied paralysis. I’d probably end up blurting out “The Bible” after the crew had already given up on getting an answer and walked away.

In my case, though, blanking on camera would be a fair-ish representation. Embarrassing but true: I read maybe one book a year, sometimes none. After putting in a 12-hour shift at the ol’ blog factory and sifting through endless piles of news detritus, my mind can’t handle sustained narrative, complex arguments, or, ah, paragraphs consisting of more than four sentences.

Plus, this is “the golden age of TV.” Every hour I carve out for Dostoyevsky is an hour I’m not spending being disappointed in “The Walking Dead.”

Exit question: Isn’t the most surprising thing here the fact that people don’t instinctively say “Harry Potter” when asked this question? It’s the frame of reference for every dumb analogy on the Internet. Everyone’s read it! (Except me.)