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How to be Well Read: A guide to 500 great novels and a handful of literary curiosities Hardcover – 8 May 2014
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"500 expertly potted plots and personal comments on a wide range of pop and proper prose fiction." (The Times)
"Generous, enjoyable and well informed." (Observer)
"A dazzling array of genres, periods, styles and tastes… chatty, insightful, unprejudiced (but not uncritical) and wise." (Times Literary Supplement)
"Anyone hooked on fiction should be warned: this book will feed your addiction." (Mail on Sunday)
"A glorious selection of books to tempt you - all considered in witty and elegant prose. Highly recommended." (Sue Magee The Bookbag)
John Sutherland's very personal guide to the best novels ever written, and why they matter.See all Product description
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Boxall's book contains very good illustrations, sometimes a photo of the author, sometimes a first edition cover and also details of the books publishing history. It is also very helpfully organised in chronological order whereas Sutherland's book simply puts the books in alphabetical order of title - a pointless arrangement if you don't know in advance which title has been selected for each author! This means for example, that Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818) is followed immediately by Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (2010) and The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (1906) is followed by Jurassic Park by Michael Chricton (1990). The result is a very disjointed collection of essays which would have benefited greatly from a more thematic arrangement.
The articles are of course excellent but any well-read reader will wonder about Sutherland's choices. Why for example choose Thomas Mann's early work Buddenbrooks when so many better titles are available from his years of maturity? Why include the tedious Fanny Hill on the one hand and the best-forgotten Huntingtower by John Buchan on the other? I don't think you need to read either of these to feel well-read! I could go on, but perhaps it is pointless to question John Sutherland's choices when after all the point of a book like this is perhaps to introduce you to books you wouldn't otherwise think of reading.
I think this book would ideal for a library where you could look up his article on a particular novel, but for owning it myself I am rather disappointed I bought it as it doesn't really hang together as a book in its own right, unlike the Boxall book which is a lovely thing to own and browse through. A book like How to be Well Read would make much more sense as a searchable website where you could pick out just the article you were looking for. As a single volume I don't think it works very well at all.
If anything, I feel that John Sutherland has been rather let down by his publisher. The whole volume, from its unappealing cover, the absence of any sense of "design" in it's presentation, the very boring layout, the lack of background or thematic information suggests that it has been publshed on the cheap. So much more could have been done with it to make it more interesting. In these days when e-books are presenting such a challenge to printed books, I think it's essential for a book like this to look atractive and to make you want to handle it and to turn it's pages. It's a competitive market out there and I'd rather have Peter Boxhall's book any day. Sutherland's is a disappointment and with a bit of thought and investment by Random House could have been so much better.
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