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The Boy Who Loved Books: A Memoir [Paperback]

John Sutherland
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

28 Jun 2008

A memoir in the tradition of Lorna Sage's Bad Blood and Blake Morrison's When Did You Last See your Father?

John Sutherland's childhood ended abruptly the day his father was killed at the beginning of World War Two - happily before he could kill any Germans. John's widowed mother fell in love with a new man and decamped to Argentina, leaving John to be looked after by various relatives - some more suited to raising children than others. It was an odd, unsettled childhood and John took refuge in books. He quickly learned how to fit in without disturbing people, and, in doing so, began to store up resentments as a child. These resentments, with the trigger of alcohol in later life, would one day explode - serially and for many years.

The Boy Who Loved Books is an account of a disrupted childhood, but it is also an account of one man's often desperate love affair with reading matter. Books in many ways changed his life, propelling him to university, and sustaining him in the dark times that were to come. It is also a record of the shifting twentieth century and the profound changes that shook society and its ways of dealing with children in the institutions of family, school and university.

Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray (28 Jun 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0719564328
  • ISBN-13: 978-0719564321
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 415,212 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'A rich, brave and rewarding book' (The Times)

'His story is both a tale of personal redemption and a reflection on changes in the way society treats its children' (Choice)

'This touching, and in places extremely funny memoir, shows how (Sutherland's) leap into literature was far from straightforward . . . a memoir uncompromised by sentimentality . . . Impressively honest' (Independent on Sunday)

'A rueful autobiography by the admired literary critic' (Sunday Telegraph)

'Hilarious and horrifying' (Evening Standard)

'A thoughtful and engaging biography' (Morning Star)

Book Description

This is the story of how books saved one man's life - twice

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This is an elegantly written, witty and engaging autobiography, a riposte to the deplorable vogue for 'Tragic Life Stories', (a genre I'd personally like to see swept off the shelves of W.H.Smith tomorrow and consigned to outer darkness!) What makes 'The Boy Who Loved Books' so different from those self-regarding, self-indulgent and possibly unreliable 'Misery Memoirs' is Professor Sutherland's cool objectivity and lack of self-pity, together with flashes of humour and his forgiveness for those who, in lesser hands, could be blamed for abandonment and carelessness. There's lots to enjoy here; one of my favourite sections describes the teaching methods of the inspirational but eccentric Monica Jones (famously an innamorata of Philip Larkin, with whom I suspect Professor Sutherland feels a certain affinity i.e also having endured an "unspent" childhood) at Leicester University, a place that triumphs over its apparent dourness. This book is highly recommended to the discerning, intelligent reader.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Review: The Boy Who Loved Books - John Sutherland

The middle of the last century was evidently not a good time to be a child, such is the rash of books describing what one national bookseller now categorises on its shelves as "Tragic Childhoods". I have read a few of these, the determining factor in my choice being not the degree of tragedy displayed on the back cover of the books but whether I am actually interested to read about the author for other reasons. Having just read and enjoyed Sutherland's "How to Read a Novel", I decided to read The Boy Who Loved Books, partly because the title could equally have applied to me a good many years ago.

Fortunately, despite the hardship of Sutherland's early life, the label "tragic childhood" does not apply to this autobiography. This is mainly because Sutherland does not blame anyone for what happened to him, nor does he like others explain later tragic years (there were none) to the lingering effects of his undoubtedly difficult childhood. In fact, the book is humorous and amusing, and more in the style of V S Pritchett than Dave Feltzer. This book will not make you shudder at painstakingly described cruelty and abuse.

Sutherland was brought up mainly in Colchester with periods of time in Leith and London, but the setting is mainly Essex, a rural county where even the Colchester had more of the countryside than the city about it. Poverty was Sutherland's lot for a great part of his early life, but in later years, after his mother's relationship with a wealthy Argentinian the money flowed a little easier, with weekly "ten bob notes" appearing through his teenage years.
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4 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars For misery memoir lovers only 17 May 2009
I thought this was a most distasteful book. Well-written, yes. We'd expect no less from a professor of English at UCL. But I felt dirty after I'd read it; partly because Sutherland himself comes across as an unpleasant person and partly because his family seems almost without a redeeming feature among them. His mother in particular is depicted as an outstandingly selfish and neglectful mother at best and a good-time girl, to put it delicately, at worst. He himself seems to have incredibly lucky in his professional career, going from poor A-levels to a university that wasn't exactly distinguished, but from there straight to a lectureship at Edinburgh University. And even then he has the nerve to be unpleasant about Scotland in general ("the fairest road a Scotsman ever sees", ie the one to England, is mentioned more than once) and Edinburgh in particular. He may have escaped his background in material and professional terms, but in terms of what sort of person he is he seems not to have moved far from his not-very-nice family. I can't see why he felt the need to write it, unless he wanted revenge on his mother. Not recommended.
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0 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars One Big Yawn 28 July 2010
By Tony Heyes VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a boring, self-regarding and humourless book which obviously the author felt compelled to write. It's a pity he felt compelled to share it. There is no love in it.
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