Curiosities of Literature
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Curiosities of Literature

3.29 of 5 stars 3.29  ·  rating details  ·  170 ratings  ·  40 reviews
A witty and eclectic tour of some of the more arcane byways of literature. Illustrated throughout.

How much heavier was Thackeray’s brain than Walt Whitman’s? Which novels do American soldiers read? When did cigarettes start making an appearance in English literature?

In Curiosities of Literature, John Sutherland contemplates the full import of questions such as these, and a...more
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published October 7th 2008 by Random House Business Books (first published 2008)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 493)
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Moira Russell
Two reviewers on Amazon.com: "Sutherland's witty pomposity will either entertain you or drive you mad. Unfortunately, I found myself in the latter category. Consider which camp you belong to before reading this one." "Unlike the other reviewer who pronounced Sutherland pompous and arrogant, I found this book is so witty and enjoyable that I actually read part of it at the beach." I am firmly in the beach-reading camp. To paraphrase Lincoln, if this is the kind of thing you like, you'll love it,...more
Rob
A grab bag - sometimes funny, sometimes sly. If you didn't know that Brontë is a 'patriotic' re-rendering of Irish surname Prunty, or why we say Shavian, Bellovian etc. but we have no adjective for Jane Austen, and these things interest you, then this is a place to spend a little while. Sutherland is a witty enough MC, with a broad literary church that even goes as far as to include a synopsis of the neo-Nazi fantasy opus Kingdom Come.

The structure is loose, ranging around names of authors, mone...more
Lisa Houlihan
Oxford University Press published his earlier books but I guess Sutherland has come down in the world. Teaching at Cal Tech doesn���t strike me as slumming but maybe to OUP it is. This book is from Skyhorse Publishing, and I���ll go out on a limb here and posit that Skyhorse doesn���t hew to the same standards OUP does.

This is even worse in its proofreading and typesetting errors than How to Read a Novel. It is rife with stray commas (���Baird���s Trilby is, significantly like ������ p. 86; ���d...more
Monique
A lot of literary tidbits from longest novel to how authors committed suicide to product placement and ghost writing as contemporary practices.

Interesting in a trivia kind of way. Many entries would be great comversation starters at a party. Sadly, I do not party much anymore and my short term memory being what it is, I am likely to miss the most important aspect in the retelling.
Karen
I liked the idea of this book more than I liked the book itself. The author's tone can be witty but it can also be catty (which is which, is, I suppose, in the eye of the beholder)

Anecdotes about famous books, authors, and the writing life. Occasionally deals with vulgar topics, so may not be suitable for all readers.

Recommended for: those who enjoy reading about writers.
Betsy
A Perfect Gift for the Book Lover in your Life!

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I wasn't quite sure that I would, as sometimes I find books about books to be rather dry. However, Sutherland has really done his research and the result is an enjoyable collection of interesting tidbits about some of our most famous authors and books. I found the author's writing style to be both engaging and witty. He doesn't spend too much time on any one item, which makes for both an easy read and a book that you...more
Lillian Carl
This is a series of short anecdotes about authors and books, such as the origins of the Brontes' odd last name. Tolkien is mentioned in an entry about Amanda McKittrick Ros, born in 1860 in Ireland, who Sutherland names as the worst novelist of all time. Supposedly Tolkien and the other Inklings would sit around reading from her work, seeing who'd be the first person to laugh.

A sample opening sentence, from Ros' Irene Iddlesleigh: "Sympathise with me, Indeed! Ah, No! Cast your sympathy on the c...more
Adrienne Teague
This is a book of trivia about books and authors, basically. Normally, I'm a huge sucker for that kind of book. My problem with it was the vast quantity of typos! If you're going to spend that much money to have a book produced in hardcover, wouldn't you take the time to check that sort of thing? I'm just saying.

Also, there were some fact checking problems. For example, he mentions that the 2005 movie of Pride and Prejudice has made about $121M. Then he says something about women wanting to look...more
Ruth
c2008: As the Guardian stated "Clever, offbeat and funny; the ideal companion for those who take their literature far too seriously - and for those who don't take it seriously enough." A quick read with short chapters so it doesn't read like a dry tome. The author has excellent credentials even though at one point he is less than politically correct about us ordinary readers under the heading "Smart Writers, Dumb readers." Although, I saw through the sarcasm! (I hope!) "One of the heavier crosse...more
Carol Littlejohn
Attention, all book lovers! If you're looking for a book on which to feast, you should try this book. You'll learn all kinds of curious things about your favorite authors. What does the ending of the "Grapes of Wrath" really mean? (Rose of Sharon, an impoverished character, offers her breast to an impoverished man, symbolically meaning that only the poor can give sustenance to the poor) Who is the worst novelist ever? (Amanda McKittrick Ros) Who is the best novelist? (Jane Austen) Who is the qui...more
Andrea
This book is a collection of fun facts and tidbits and suffers from the issues common to books of this genre. There were interesting ideas and stories in here, but there wasn’t a lot of logic to how things were arranged. It just felt like a lot of slogging through random material to get to a few gems.
Jon
Ragbag of literary (ish) anecdata. Slightly interesting.
Scotchneat
How can this book not be made for me? Weird facts about classics in literature and the authors who created them. Find out what happened when a certain wag submitted the opening chapters of "Pride and Prejudice" to some modern publishing houses as a new book.

Sutherland conveniently divvies up the curious facts in easy-to-read chapters dealing with illegal substances (smoked and drank), phrenology, good and bad gunshots and asthma.

One thing is clear - normal people probably won't be great writers,...more
Wm
The subtitle of this book is "a feast for book lovers" -- it's more like a bad buffet at a pseudo-upscale hotel. Oh, sure some of the stuff is amusing enough, but much of it come across as tossed off. There's less focus and depth than a decent blog here. And the glibness is often headscratching or cringing rather than amusing. I don't hate it. But it's just okay -- and not interesting enough for me to actually read it all the way through.
Gillian
Random and quirky things about literature and authors. Nice easy bath read but did spoil the twists of a fair few novels I haven't read yet. It also has a chapter on the infamous milk scene from Grapes of Wrath (which is even more disturbing reading than hearing).

Not sure how to rate this as not a novel so two stars as entertainment akin to reading a magazine rather than a proper read (although is 289 pages).
Dave
Not nearly as good as his other, question-based miscellanies (e.g., "Can Jane Eyre be Happy?"), Sutherland seems to be writing to fit a 500 word limit, and many of the pieces are simply cute or seemingly unfinished, especially early in the book. The later pieces expand a bit, and begin to remind one of those other books. Read those other books.
Sam Sigelakis-Minski
This is a fun book to read for people who love literature, interesting facts, and popular culture. My only complaint is some of the portrayals of Americans. It also lacked information about American authors, but this is understandable because the author is British and probably has more knowledge of British writers than American.
Louise
A nice little book. I took the recommendation on the cover to task and discovered that this is indeed good bed-time reading if like me you're all for a little light, literary pillow talk. It didn't cover any new ground but did chatter rather nicely about various bits and pieces of literary history that are always worth revisiting.
Chris
It was an effortless read, both informative and entertaining, marred for me by the flippant projection of 21st century attitudes onto the past and occasional gratuitous political asides (already dated to the last decade). Oh, and too much sex and death for my taste, butI guess that is what literature is all about, innit?
Karen C
I didn't find this book interesting, curious or entertaining - and I normally love books like this. My guess is that there are a handful of professors somewhere who thought this book was fascinating because they thought they were supposed to like it.

Pretentious. Uses big words for the sake of using big words. Skip it.
Ann-marie Murphy
John Sutherland's books are always interesting and inspire me to read texts he mentions. This one was very good - lots of short, interesting facts about well-known (and not so well-known) literary works and authors. One of the quotations in the blurb is a recommendation for bibliophile insomniacs, I'd totally agree.
Heather
I was a little disappointed with this book - I really like the idea of it, and I was really interested after reading one of the literature tidbits on the back cover. Once I started reading it however, I did not like the style of writing at all and found few of the "curiousities" to be interesting.
Gloriavirtutisumbra
I read this VERY SLOWLY. Tiny chapter by tiny chapter, crawling through odds and ends of book and author trivia, eyeballing disturbingly drawn caricatures, debating whether i really needed to know these things or not. I am still irresolute on that. Ask me again next year.
Tim
Great fun to read, full of literary stories and asides. I should have marked it more, now I will have to reread it to remember the best ones to share. And by share I mean pretend to know the information in conversation and not relate it in any way to this book.
Francine
This was a delightful romp through the world of literature. It contains lots of references to the classics and standards as well as current fiction writers. ...just plain fun to read.
Meg Marie
A well-written, fast paced collection of English nerd facts. I don't know that I will retain this book's trivia for years to come, but I definitely enjoyed reading it.
Donna Jo Atwood
May 22, 2009 Donna Jo Atwood rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Donna Jo by: Lorie Hyten
I love books like this, filled with little snippets of useless information. This is a good bathroom book, as article is very short.
Richard Martin
A collection of brief anecdotes about facts, figures,factoids and trivia about literature. No body is safe.
Ayelet
Not as good as I expected, given Jasper Fforde's love of the book. I won't be reading the rest of his books.
umberto
"The perfect bedside book for insomniac bibliophiles" (David Lodge)
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John Andrew Sutherland is an English lecturer, emeritus professor, newspaper columnist and author.

Now Emeritus Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London, John Sutherland began his academic career after graduating from the University of Leicester as an assistant lecturer in Edinburgh in 1964. He specialises in Victorian fiction, 20th century literature, an...more
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