How to Read a Novel by John Sutherland

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How to Read a Novel by John Sutherland

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Category: Reference
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Not a book about how to read but about how to read well - how to chose wisely and not be propelled into buying books you won't enjoy. Time invested in this book will be repaid in every book you read in the future.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: August 2007
Publisher: Profile
ISBN: 978-1861979865

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Books are my passion and my business so it's hardly surprising that I started How to Read a Novel - A User's Guide as soon as I removed it from the packaging. Ten minutes later I was still reading and hadn't even thought that it might be easier if I sat down.

Unsurprisingly this isn't a book about how to read a novel; after all, if you couldn't read how could you read the book? It's about how to get the most out of your reading, right from deciding what sort of book you want to buy, deciphering the title, reading the hidden messages on the cover, putting the novel in context and even whether or not a review can help you. It's the sort of background information which every informed book buyer should have at their fingertips. His chapter on Fiction - a four-minute history is worth the cover price alone. This is a book about reading well.

Did you know that when book salesmen visit bookshops it's the covers they take, not the books? Covers, you see, are what sell books. As a reviewer I've often lamented the fact that covers have been too chick-lit for my tastes and don't reflect the contents. I'd never have read Jodi Picoult or Jennifer Weiner if I'd gone by the cover alone, yet I enjoyed both books. It's me that's out of step though. A large proportion of the production costs for a book are invested in the cover and they're designed to appeal to the greatest number of people. John Sutherland will tell you how to read the signs and the subtle messages. You'll turn into quite a detective.

Does this sound like an awful lot of work just to read books? Well, I wouldn't call it hard work, but it is time well spent. A few hours reading this book will change the way that you look at every book in the future. It could save you from making expensive mistakes or wasting time in reading (or starting) books which are ultimately going to prove unfulfilling. The herd instinct which propels you into buying the latest must-read book will have gone. It's a wonderful exposé of the wiles of the publishing industry, too.

This isn't an easy read, but it's very fulfilling. Sutherland tackles some complex topics, such as intertextuality and makes them accessible because he's a born communicator with a witty and engaging style. He's so obviously enthusiastic about books that you want to go along with him for the ride. I'm certainly glad that I did!

This is a truly important book.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this book to The Bookbag.

For another book about books you might like to try Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman.

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Buy How to Read a Novel by John Sutherland at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy How to Read a Novel by John Sutherland at


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Magda said:

I'll get it - I am a sucker for all these 'what's behind the design' stuff.