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How to Read a Novel: A User's Guide Paperback – 10 Aug 2006

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (10 Aug. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1861979460
  • ISBN-13: 978-1861979469
  • Product Dimensions: 13.8 x 2.8 x 20.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 779,534 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


a fascinating brief sociological history of the literary industry (New Statesman)

Entertaining (The Spectator)

an amiable stroll... there's much enjoyment to be had from the author's examination of everything... (Sunday Times)

enlightening stuff (Daily Mail)

About the Author

John Sutherland is Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London and a visiting professor at the California Institute of Technology. He has published twenty books (including Is Heathcliff a Murderer? Great Puzzles in 19th Century Fiction) and writes a weekly column for the Guardian. He was chairman of the 2005 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By 40something on 22 Aug. 2006
Format: Paperback
I eagerly pre-ordered this having seen it puffed in the national press, and read it in a day or so. I'd hoped it would give me a new perspective on the wide variety of novels (from Tolstoy and Austen to Sophie Kinsella) that I read, and some insights that I, as a science graduate, haven't gained from my education.

It was an enjoyable read and I liked Sutherland's illustration of his points with examples from a wide range of literature. I gained some useful insights and tips - such as the 'read page 69' test for bookshop browsers, and the need to consider the various timings of a novel's conception, writing, publication and setting. However, some of the content, such as the discussion of the economics of publishing and bookshops, was thin; perhaps because this is not Sutherland's real expertise. He's an academic and critic, not a publisher or bookseller, and it shows. Even the 'literary' content was diluted and too populist, I felt. I had read the vast majority of the books he name-checked and would have liked more pointers to lesser-known works.

It was a worthwhile read, but he could have assumed rather more knowledge and intelligence in his audience, and delivered a more satisfying book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Mr. M. J. Bowen on 7 Sept. 2006
Format: Paperback
I bought this on the strength of the first chapter which was all about "pseudo-choice" and the book avalanche we are now subjected to. I found this a reasonably spirited and even - shock! - impassioned attack on the flooding of the market with so much of a middling quality that reduces the literary experience to a uniform flatness. Perhaps. But I read on and nothing really matched this, although he has a nice jokey way I guess.
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Format: Paperback
NOT a 'have you read this' book, more of a 'why I like reading and what I get out of it' book - or what I call in my brief review a series of sparkling meditations on reading. What follows is mainly polemic

Anti-evolutionary rear-guard action, the literalist's last stand, gained new life as religion appeared to be on its last legs - in the West, that is - and likewise, as the habit of reading (of a serious nature) comes under ever-increasing threat, we're swamped by book-porn. Why read about it when you could be at it? Because there's room for both, dummy. Don't let this one's hectoring title put you off. Neither didactic nor simplistic but enthusiastic, sporadically informative and surprisingly wide-ranging ('The nineteenth-century novel is to the hegemonic middle classes what the romance was to feudal aristocrats and the ballad to the peasantry' but also 'most books look better after seventy years than their owners'), this is not a book you would expect to provoke ire. It pissed off Tom Shone in the NYT Book Review mightily, though; he thought it élitist. For a high-flying don Sutherland's range strikes me as uncommonly eclectic - Grisham, Clancy ('verve'), Uris ('workmanlike practitioner': not, I think, faint praise) - and in fact an Oxford Companion to Popular Fiction is apparently in the works, but in any case without élites to lead us we would still be scrabbling around on the ground. Not that I'm taking sides now (would I do such a thing?) but for that alone Sutherland deserves at least **** - though the list of books at the end is just that, a list *BY TITLE* of books mentioned in the text (not necessarily favourably, and at least thrice giving away the plot device); how much better a simple author index would have been!
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jason Parkes #1 HALL OF FAME on 4 Nov. 2006
Format: Paperback
I'm quite a fan of books on books, since reading a book about books can make you pick up or return to a book previously unread, or re-set the way you think about a certain novel or writer. John Sutherland's `How to Read a Novel: A User's Guide' is an addition to the Bloom-Bradbury style canon and more recent offerings like the BBC's `The Big Read' (which Sutherland was involved in) and my favourite book of this kind, the Faber-Waterstones millennial publication `The Test of Time: What Makes a Classic a Classic?.'

Sutherland's book is the ideal book to read between books, maybe it will get you picking up a certain title here - though elements of the book aren't that far away from several books for aspiring writers, e.g. elements such as sleeve-art, publishers, or editing. The chapter `Hardback or paperback?' ties in with an overall approach that nods to the way we have more choices than ever with the advent of Amazon and the net - which the first chapter `So many novels, so little time' alludes to.

This book is very up to date, touching on Zadie Smith's recent EM Forster-referencing `On Beauty' and the notion of the prize novel - I don't recall mention of Richard & Judy, who jumped on the Oprah-publishing bandwagon, but they are quite forgettable. There are many common debates here, which suggests that anyone studying literature or film may want to read this - I enjoyed the part that touched on adaptations and Sutherland's scathing estimation of the dire adaptation of Woolf's `Mrs Dalloway.' The recent adaptation of `Pride & Prejudice' is touched on, so the common book vs.
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