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review 2015-01-11 16:47
Review: How to Read a Novel by John Sutherland
How to Read a Novel: A User's Guide - John Sutherland

I have a weakness for books about books- how to read them, the history of them, how they’re made or collected, the crazy people that would risk their lives or livelihoods for them. This one is a bit odd, in that it isn’t really about reading novels in any lit-crit or historical sense, but about how to choose what novels to read when we are inundated with so many choices. If you need an idea of the tone of the book, I’ll just say that the blurb on the back of the book was written by the author himself, and discusses how to write a blurb.


It’s always a bit strange to read books that discuss publishing in the earliest years of the new millennium; we were (are) flooded with choices, but those choices have expanded even further in the eight or so years since How to Read a Novel was published, thanks to technology and the advent of large-scale self-publishing platforms. His analysis of electronic reading and its potential to influence (or not) the world of 2006-era publishing is kind of hilarious now; this book was barely twelve months ahead of the release of Amazon’s first generation Kindle, which rendered some of Sutherland’s pronouncements obsolete rather quickly. Digital reading devices and smart phones didn’t change the game overnight, but in hindsight it kind of feels like they did, and it is both anthropologically interesting- and entertaining- to see otherwise savvy critics get their predictions so very wrong.


This can be read as a serious (though cursory) guide- something to help you find your way through all of the overwhelming options we have available. But I don’t think it was intended that way, and I certainly didn’t read it very seriously. I don’t think anyone really interested in reading would need a guided tour through the world of literary marketing, and anyone who is NOT a serious reader (serious as in dedicated, not as in “serious” literature) would bother to read a book about books. I found the book interesting in many places, like when Sutherland discusses author reactions/feuds surrounding literary awards, or going a little inside-baseball on how bestseller lists and endorsements work. He teaches us how arbitrary it all is in the end; books rarely find their readers in the ways publishers think they will, and awards may boost sales but they never guarantee longevity. Maybe that’s why I found it more funny than useful- it’s all one big joke on the business of publishing. Readers have always known how to find what we need, even if we feel a little overwhelmed by the options.


Cross-posted at Goodreads: How to Read a Novel

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text 2014-12-04 18:28
Reading progress update: I've read 50 out of 272 pages.
How to Read a Novel: A User's Guide - John Sutherland

People just don't understand the nature of books about books. I keep getting snarky comments about why someone who "reads as much as you do" needs an instructional manual. It's not INSTRUCTIONS, wise-ass. It's an exploration of the novel as format. Sheesh.

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review 2014-05-04 00:00
How to Read a Novel: A User's Guide
How to Read a Novel: A User's Guide - John Sutherland the pedestrian three stars rating for this book.

it's rather confusing who this book is aimed to. not people who just started getting interested in reading novel, it's not really novel reading for dummies. perhaps for novel reader veteran who has already clocked hundreds of novel? just for them to have a bit a laugh down the memory lane? it did amuse me, though i wouldn't say that it helped me to finally navigate myself better in the middle of publishing onslaugh that we're living now. (which sutherland rather insinuate i'll be able to do after reading his book)

for one thing, sutherland likes to negate all his own advices. would you trust book reviewer? well, those people aren't so cool anyway. how about best seller list? it's good if you want to swim with million other people.

which actually lead me to the second point, do you need to read novel wisely? would it matter if during my whole lifetime i'd miss some unbelievable master piece of world literature? i doubt anyone will award me honorary distinction for a well read life. so i think my current combination of picking book blindly from whatever i have or library and spare-time review trolling is good enough for me.

in fact, the reason i read this book now is just because it's the only one that capture my attention long enough to finish reading it. i'm in the middle of this hateful phase where i can't settle down long enough to finish anything. i've started many books these few weeks just to throw it away again, interestingly, they're all non-fiction; i can't even start reading fiction. whatever causing this phase i hope it'd go away soon.

so it's worth reading, if only to have a smirk or two from his writing. some of his hints are helpful, like i can get background from publishing history (not that i'll start to google before reading all novel); but it's still useful.

some stuff i can do without: i wished he'd stop nagging at e-reading; the whole technology barrier he talked about has been more or less solved. the whole talk made the book feel really old and i wonder if he's actually jumped into the e-reading bandwagon now.

another theme he won't let go is the 2005 man booker prize winner The Sea from john banville. sutherland was one of the jury and i had this feeling he's taking out the past judging discussion and bringing it to the book. well, i like following man booker prize, i have better discoveries from it than from say, pulitzer. i haven't read the sea, but it's 2014 now, and reading him gnawing at this bone made me want to say, just let go...

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review 2009-01-01 00:00
How to Read a Novel: A User's Guide - John Sutherland I scanned the last few chapters. Interesting resource about books, reading and publishing in general. Not really my cup of tea.
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