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. movie/television adaptation features and the way people know certain books despite never having read the source texts (apparently Kate Bush's `Wuthering Heights' was informed by a BBC adaptation and not a primary reading of Bronte's novel).
The chapters are short and great to dip into, one to browse in a coffee shop, or transport you in your lunch hour - the section on `Saturday' and John Banville veered off into journalism and the scathing way writers are about writers - very Martin Amis, very `Ravelstein'! I enjoyed the excellent chapter setting book against film, particularly Sutherland's comparison of two key Hubert Selby Jr novels against their cinema versions - the reference to the `Tralala'-gang rape and the unpleasant conclusion that didn't feature in Uli Edel's adaptation reminds you how much more graphic a novel can be...
The only drawbacks were the obligatory reference to the over familiar post-modernity of `Pulp Fiction' and the fact the editor didn't notice that Philip K Dick's novel has a title that is `Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' - rather than the electronic brand alluded to on page 62. Sloppy stuff, especially when the book touches on the realm of publishing. `How to Read a Novel' is hugely readable stuff and would make a fine book to browse through in the initial months of your first year at university; then again, it would make an engaging read whoever you are. It made me want to read `Saturday', after I'd been confused by the critical reception and somewhat put off - obviously it's in the `to read' pile still!!