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Curiosities of Literature: A Book-lover's Anthology of Literary Erudition

3.24  ·  Rating Details  ·  214 Ratings  ·  45 Reviews
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? And, while we're about it, who wrote the first Western, is there any link between asthma and literary genius, and what really happened on Dorothea's wedding night in Middlemarch?

In Curiosities of Literatur
Paperback, 304 pages
Published November 5th 2009 by Arrow (first published 2008)
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(showing 1-30 of 641)
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Moira Russell
Two reviewers on "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
May 22, 2014 Rob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2014
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
Lisa Houlihan
Oxford University Press published his earlier books but I guess Sutherland has come down in the world. Teaching at Cal Tech doesnt strike me as slumming but maybe to OUP it is. This book is from Skyhorse Publishing, and Ill go out on a limb here and posit that Skyhorse doesnt 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 (Bairds Trilby is, significantly like p. 86; downstream, exploitation
Apr 25, 2015 Matthew rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Solid 2.5 stars. This is essentially a collection of random trivia on literature (mostly novels). It was fun to pick up so many new tidbits on well-known books but I couldn't shake my overall impression of this book, which is that the writing could be a bit stuffy. One of the reviews on the back cover says, "This literary miscellany is so rich it is best consumed at intervals," and I think that's exactly right. I had to read this book a few pages at a time. So not bad, just, not a quick page-tur ...more
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.
Feb 14, 2014 Karen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reference, writing
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.
Full of all kinds of trivia and tidbits of literary history and debunking of long-perpetuated myths (Oscar Wilde's last words were not "either the wallpaper goes or I do" -- but, on the bright side, 100 years later, the wallpaper finally went). Enjoyable for sampling and snacking on when unable to concentrate on a longer work or when you only have a moment or two here and there.
I think I expected a little more from this book than I got. While there are some interesting literary "tidbits", the interesting ones were few and far between.

A good read for someone who is really into the "Books About Books" genre.
Aug 13, 2013 Betsy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Jul 23, 2011 Ruth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Oct 18, 2009 Carol Littlejohn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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.
Jul 17, 2016 Shudi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gossip makes me happier, human nature
Feb 05, 2016 Bobbigalvin rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-about-books
This could have been SO much more fun!
Mar 24, 2012 Scotchneat rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, humour
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,
Jan 02, 2016 Ron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fun book filled with lots literary tidbits. A quick and entertaining read for all lovers of literature.
Feb 19, 2011 Wm rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
May 01, 2010 Gillian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
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).
Nov 17, 2009 Dave rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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.
Mar 05, 2012 Chris rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 06, 2009 Karen C rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 08, 2013 Ann-marie Murphy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mar 13, 2010 Heather rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
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.
Apr 24, 2013 Tim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sep 01, 2012 Francine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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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
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