How to Be Well Read: A Guide to 500 Great Novels and a Handful of Literary Curiosities (Hardcover)
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A very personal guide to the best novels ever written, and why they matter
As the annual flood of published novels grows ever greater, it’s a hard a job to keep up, let alone sort the wheat from the chaff. Fortunately, literary sleuth and academic John Sutherland is on hand to do precisely that. In the course of more than 500 wittily informative pieces he gives us his own very personal take on the most rewarding, most remarkable, and, on occasion, most shamelessly enjoyable works of fiction ever written—the perfect reading list for the would-be literary expert. His taste is impressively eclectic. An appreciation of Apuleius’s The Golden Ass—arguably the first-ever novel—is followed by a consideration of Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger. The Handmaid’s Tale is followed by Hangover Square, Jane Eyre by Jaws. There are imposing Victorian novels, entertaining contemporary thrillers, and everything in between, from dystopian works to romance. The flavor of each is brilliantly evoked and its relative merits or demerits assessed. At the same time, John Sutherland shows how the work fits into a broader context—whether that of the author’s life or of other books from the same genre or period. And he offers endless snippets of intriguing information: did you know, for example, that the Nazis banned Bambi or that William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying on an upturned wheelbarrow; that Voltaire completed Candide in three days, or that Anna Sewell was paid £20 for Black Beauty? Encyclopedic and entertaining by turns, this is a wonderful dip-in book, whose opinions will inform and on occasion, no doubt, infuriate. It is also effectively a history of the novel in 500 or so bite-sized pieces.
About the Author
John Sutherland has been a professor of literature for a long time and in many places. He is the author of numerous books, including How Literature Works, and A Little History of Literature, and Lives of the Novelists. In recent years he has written voluminously on a variety of literary and non-literary topics in, principally, the Guardian and the Financial Times. Currently he teaches at the California Institute of Technology and is the emeritus Lord Northcliffe Professor at UCL.
"A dazzling array of genres, periods, styles and tastes . . . chatty, insightful, unprejudiced (but not uncritical) and wise." —Times Literary Supplement
"I consider John Sutherland one of the finest English-speaking critics at work today. . . . He opens up the world of literary thinking to the uninitiated in a refreshing way that is thoroughly sound without being intimidating. He's also a terrific writer--witty, succinct, and clear. In short, this is a brilliant book." --Jay Parini, author, Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America, on How Literature Works