Later I vaguely recalled his name from an OUP hardcover in its omnibus edition I decided to buy in 2005 at the Chulalongkorn University Book Center and read some topics I liked. The book in question entitled, The Literary Detective: 100 Puzzles in Classic Fiction (Oxford University Press 2000) has since allowed me to know him more as a renowned scholar in the name of Professor John Sutherland. From its twenty-eight chapters, it seemed to me the readers would find reading them arguably entertaining and informational from his inspirational writing style, direct quotes, black-and-white illustrations as well as his step-by-step narratives on how to literally tackle any novel one's going to read as we can see, for instance, from the first five chapters: 1. And, at the highest pitch of achievement, novels can indeed be the one bright book of light.
:-( When I told my wife and oldest daughter that I'd bought a remaindered copy of this book for a dollar, they were both skeptical; they felt that since I've been reading novels for over 50 years, I don't need any instruction in that area. But even with a chapter organization that's very logically ordered, in terms of a reader's physical experience of a book, the problem is that Sutherland's opinions and factual information here don't constitute a "user's manual" for novel owners, nor live up to the advertised goal of really giving any significant practical instruction in how to read one. Nor does he give any very systematic practical guidance on how to choose novels to read in the first place, though he gives that topic more rhetorical attention than the advertised one gets. (For instance, yes, knowing something of the history of the novel is useful background for reading one; but "Fiction --a four-minute history" is too sketchy to help anybody!) As he noted, modern publishers do use sex as a blatant advertising tool, but though he didn't put a bikini-clad beauty on the cover, he tends to resort to something similar; in choosing examples to illustrate his various points, he has a marked tendency to go for the most salacious ones he can find, and that gets old quickly. More importantly, he makes some significant factual errors that I could catch in his discussion of some novels --which makes me wonder how many there are I didn't catch because I wasn't familiar with the book in question. In summary, reading this book for me was something like kicking back and talking about novels with an opinionated friend (except that I get the distinct impression that I'm not the sort of person he'd enjoy kicking back with!) or reading the reviews and comments of a fellow Goodreader whom you know is very smart and well-spoken, but who doesn't have very similar tastes.
The author lards each essay with such a variety of current-event and historical factoids that beg to be read aloud at the luch table (causing my husband, more than once, to shout "how is this book organized?").
You may think Im being a bit dramatic, considering the books only 250 pages, and I spent two days reading it (not even two full days, just free minutes within them), so its not like it took me a long time. If youre intelligent enough to vary your reading, think for yourself whether you want to read a book instead of being pushed into it by prize-winning novels or bestsellers, or if youve been reading consistently longer than five years, dont bother.
Did you know that you should take reviews of books with a grain of salt? Instead, this is a book about everything but the content of a novel.
If you are interested in an overview of the novel and reading along with wry and witty comments on the publishing trade this book is for you.
John Andrew Sutherland is an English lecturer, emeritus professor, newspaper columnist and author. Now Emeritus Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London, John Sutherland began his academic career after graduating from the University of Leicester as an assistant lecturer in Edinburgh in 1964. Apart from writing a regular column in the The Guardian newspaper, Sutherland has published seventeen (as of 2004) books and is editing the forthcoming Oxford Companion to Popular Fiction.