‘How To Read A Novel,’ John Sutherland
Put a book about books in front of me, and that will most likely be a book I want to read. This one was a fun, easy read with chapters covering everything from how to judge books by their covers; what to take from titles, and chapter headings, and opening lines; from forewords, and afterwords, and fonts; the role of fiction and science fiction; and the part played by reviews, and reviewers, and literary prizes in our judgement of works.
Chapter three is the strangest one, forcing me to check the publisher’s page to see that, even though it was written just five years ago, in 2007, this has been a lifetime in publishing terms. The title of the chapter?
‘Every other thing has changed: why hasn’t the book changed?’
After a brief discussion of the strangeness of reading books on an iPod, (not iPad, of course, but iPod), or some already outdated software called iCue which I have never heard of, Sutherland goes on to detail the unique features of paper books which have left them unchanged and more or less unchangeable, essentially, for centuries. Oh, the irony.
Here are some of the quotes I took from the book: I love the one about not throwing away a paperback, as it is so strangely true, (although I also have the inability to throw away sports, music and theatre programs, which may cost less than many books I have traded or given away, but have more sentimental value), and the Sturgeon quote, as anything connected to Kurt Vonnegut should be, is wonderful:
“Reading…is a solitary vice. One reads, as one dreams, defecates and masturbates – alone…”
“The Venerable Bede was regarded as prodigious in the seventeenth century in that he could read without moving his lips and was therefore reading faster than he could speak…”
“Most books look better after seventy years than their owners…”
“It is, for some reason, harder, psychologically, to throw away a paperback than a magazine which may have cost as much…”
“As the science-fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon (the original for Kurt Vonnegut’s Kilgore Trout) observed: ‘Ninety percent of science fiction is crap. But 90 percent of everything is crap’…”
“Never, said Benjamin Franklin, pick a fight with a man carrying a barrel of ink…”
Finally, with my soon-to-be-published-one-way-or-another-be-it-self-published-online-if-it-has-to-be novel still looking for a home, I love this quote, (from one of my favourite authors, on another I met at the Hay Festival last month):
“‘The way British publishing works is that you go from not being published no matter how good you are, to being published no matter how bad you are’…” [Tibor Fischer on Martin Amis]