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How to Read a Novel: A User's Guide by John…
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How to Read a Novel: A User's Guide (edition 2007)

by John Sutherland

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Member:Booksloth
Title:How to Read a Novel: A User's Guide
Authors:John Sutherland
Info:St. Martin's Griffin (2007), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 272 pages
Collections:Your library, Non-fiction, Reference, Lit crit/theory, Books about books
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Tags:Books about books, Language use, 2000s

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How to Read a Novel: A User's Guide by John Sutherland

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The man is an inveterate reader and a good storyteller, and when he moseys along through his bookish world, I enjoy him very much. Sometimes not, though, such as when his Britishness shines forth as chauvinism rather than wit:

"It is no accident that the novel came into being after the Queen Anne copyright act of 1710, the first in the world." Much as I omitted to take down that sentence's page number, he omits to explain why he overlooks Don Quixote as the first novel, let alone Tale of the Genji. He is discussing the novel as a concept, not specifically early British or English forays, so he ought to have justified naming Robinson Crusoe as the first novel.

A few sentences on, though, he says something equally Anglocentric that I liked:

"Copyright did to storytelling what the 18th century enclosures did to the English countryside."

It's an apt metaphor unless you happen not to be as fluent in English history as you are in the English language.

I want to be confident that what I read in a nonfiction book is accurate. Besides overlooking Don Quijote, he also says, while discussing what a reader does not yet know, that Col. Mustard is killed in the library with the wrench. No, the reader discovers that Col. Mustard, who is alive and well, killed Mr. Boddy. Must I look up whether the year he cites for the copyright act is correct? What can I trust?

Then lots of errors: on instead of or, a skipped initial capital, and wide margins (which he likes, because he likes to take notes) that maybe should have been narrower to allow for more generous kerning. I do not like to read text likethis.

Plus he dropped a spoiler for The Wasp Factory, though he did give a warning before doing the same for The Human Stain. I assume he reasoned that because the former is British (though Scottish, not English), of course everyone has read it, while a little book by an American-thus-minor author is obscure. I suggest this, mostly facetiously, because it leads to another Anglocentrism: He says on p. 97 that it is "curious" to discover that The Great Gatsby is the most studied novel in U.S. high schools. Why is it curious?
  ljhliesl | May 21, 2013 |
Based on the title, I expected to learn how to best reap the rewards of a good novel, how to pay attention to subtleties of plot, character, setting, theme, symbols, etc. That is not what the book gives, however, and I was disappointed. [a:John Sutherland|1265|Jane Austen|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1176491679p2/1265.jpg] was very interested in talking about novels he's encountered and talking ABOUT the novel as a medium, but he's not giving a course on reading literature as I understand "reading" to mean. It finally dawned on me: the title [b:How to Read a Novel|43409|How to Be Lost A Novel|Amanda Eyre Ward|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1170106818s/43409.jpg|3257732] refers to reading a book in the way you might 'read' a person. That is, 'read' the clues they present to ASSESS who they are and what they're about to better understand the person. So with books -- Sutherland is telling us how assess (or read) novels using clues like title, font, endorsements, first sentence, genre, epitaphs, copyright dates, etc, to help the reader select the books he/she wishes to read. Such a re-interpretation of the title makes the book more interesting, but it still did not quite enthrall me.

To save you the time, here are some of the tips Sutherland suggests:
1) Follow [a:Marshall McLuhan's|455|Marshall McLuhan|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1243193001p2/455.jpg] advice: When looking for a book to read, read page 69 of the book; if you like it, read the book. (I like this suggestion; it's practical and works like 3:16)
2) It's better to read a book on the bottom of the bestseller's list and will move up, than to join the 'game late' and read the book of the moment. (I don't understand his rationale, which is more against following the crowd than on choosing a good book.)
3) Compare the date of the book's publishing with when it was written for more accurate historical context. (Too much work!)
4) Endorsements on the cover are meaningless. (No kidding.)
5) Buy authors with whom you are familiar. (Duh.)
6) Titles can suggest what the book will be about, may give no clue, or may not make sense until the book has been read. (With this book, I think the title gives the book a false impression -- the book is more about novels, their history, and their quirks.)
7) Read epigraphs, forwards, and afterwords.
8) First lines are as useful as titles. (see my #6)
9) Try a different genre every now and then.
10) Note the font, size, and spacing of print -- look at the page as a whole, not just the words.

That's about as far as I got before I lost interest in the book. Sorry.
( )
  LDVoorberg | Apr 7, 2013 |
The author wants people interested in novels not to get washed away by the flood of hype, false advertising, biased reviews, avalanches of books dumped on the market, e-books, movie tie-ins, foolish best-seller lists and all of the other evil things about the book world in the 21st Century. Oh yes, and I forgot another evil thing he doesn't like: Harry Potter new volume book launch extravaganzas.
It's fun to watch people get mad at all of the above things. Sometimes I even get mad at them myself. But whatever goofy things are going on, I don't think they can ever harm the true reading impulse of the true reading public. The new reader and the veteran reader have built-in BS detectors. They weren't born yesterday. The author complains at times, but what wrote above is not meant to paint his mood as always negative. He comes out in the end as a very positive and enthusiastic promoter of reading novels. I agree with him.
I had lots of fun reading this book. I recommend it to anybody who is interested in the book trade and who loves to read.
2 vote libraryhermit | Dec 26, 2011 |
Not a thought provoking work, but an amusing and enjoyable read (although I was annoyed by the occasional repetition). You also have to appreciate that it was published in 2006 and discusses a lot of novels published in 2005 (this was good for me, as I have now (five years later) read a lot of these novels).
I will remember this for when I said to my daughter that this book was fun as it referenced other works. My daughter said, yes, but is annoying when you know something is referential, but you do not know what it is referencing - it would be useful if books provided the references at the back. I then showed her the ten pages of novels cited, quoted or discussed in the text, that are detailed at the back of the book.
Of course, the other good thing of reading a book about books, is that it always makes me want to go back and re-read works or, even better, read new novels, ( )
  CarltonC | Aug 4, 2011 |
Sutherland's book does not teach you how to read a novel, but it does something even more important - it gets you excited about reading, and perhaps even wanting to write a book of your own. It certainly worked for me. ( )
  soylentgreen23 | Aug 4, 2011 |
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Epigraph
Dedication
First words
I recall one evening walking to the underground with A. S. Byatt, after a day's teaching. We were both then lecturers in the same English Department. Why, I asked, did she publish so much higher journalism ...?
Quotations
A clever engagement with a novel is, in my opinion, one of the more noble functions of human intelligence. ... It is, I would maintain, almost as difficult to read a novel well as to write one well.
Reading, done well, is an act of self-definition.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312359888, Hardcover)

"Do we still know how to read a novel?" John Sutherland, Chairman of the 2005 Booker Prize Committee, asks. His disheartened answer is an unequivocal, "No." But Sutherland has not given up hope. With acerbic wit and intellect, he traces the history of what it used to mean to be well-read and tells readers what it still means today. Using this delightful book as a means to an end, he reminds readers how the delicate charms of fiction can be at once wonderful and inspired and infuriating.
            On one level this is a book about novels: how they work, what they're about, what makes them good or bad, and how to talk about them. At a deeper level, this is a book in which one of the most intimate tête-à-têtes is described--one in which a reader meets a novel. Will a great love affair begin? Will the rendezvous end in disappointment? Who can say? In order for the relationship to take its appropriate course all the details must be clearly acknowledged and understood for their complexities: plot, point of view, character, style, pace, first and last sentences, and even beauty.
            Still, Sutherland knows a true understanding of fiction is more than a flirtation with text and style--it is a business. Taking his readers on a trip to the bookshop, he helps them judge a book by its cover based on design and color, wondering aloud what genre might be best, even going so far as to analyze one of the latest American bestsellers to further help the buying reader choose the novel that is right for him or her.
            In a book that is as wry and humorous as it is learned and opinionated, John Sutherland tells you everything you always wanted to know about how to read fiction better than you do now (but, were afraid to ask).

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:03:40 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

So many novels, so little time! How do you choose? This book explores how novels work, what they are about, what makes them good or bad and how to talk about them to kindred spirits.

(summary from another edition)

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