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The Boy Who Loved Books: A Memoir Paperback – 28 Jun 2008

3.5 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray (28 Jun. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0719564328
  • ISBN-13: 978-0719564321
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 1.7 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 389,725 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'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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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Sutherland, John. The Boy Who Loved Books

John Sutherland catches the spirit of what it feels like to be an only child, although in fact he had two parents alive in his early years. The severance between John and his mother could be in part attributed to his father’s early death, although WW2 and his mother’s willingness, if not eagerness, to foist her only son off on to his grandmother Salter, and indeed anyone else available, makes it plain that her need to be shot of him predominated.

Sutherland makes it plain that his devotion to school was minimal. He learned to be ‘a bad timekeeper, a bookworm and stale chip eater’ in Colchester, around which the bulk of the memoir revolves. His mother ensured that he had adult care, pocket money and what for those days was very good schooling, but he preferred movies, fishing and of course books, preferably not assigned texts. At that time of life it could be said he preferred Fanny Hill to ‘Fern Hill.’ Sir Cyril Burt’s IQ tests which dominated school curricular for decades are Sutherland’s bête noire, although Butler’s Education Act incurs his constant approval.

As one might expect from a Lord Northcliffe Professor at UCL the book is bejewelled with literary reference. Books are his friends and he will go anywhere to talk about them, be they never so humble (Warwick Deeping) or superficial (Colin Wilson). Sutherland rose to the top despite Burt and beer (he is proud to have been a member of Alcoholics Anonymous). He is equally proud of his attendance at his failgate entrance into higher education at the once-despised Leicester University, citing its many luminaries including Richard Hoggart, another boy who needed no Oxbridge credentials to make it big in academe.
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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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