John Sutherland’s How to Read A Novel

Lately, there’s been a veritable deluge of books on how to read. (See Reading Like A Writer; Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, even How to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read.) It seems writers and critics are worried that the art of reading is becoming passé.

The other day, at the dentist, the technician asked how come my appointment was in the middle of the morning. “I have a flexible schedule,” I said.
“What do you do?” she asked.
“I’m a writer.”
“Oh, wow. So, like, you have a book?”
“Yes, I do.”
“So is it at, like, Costco?”
I wasn’t so much startled by the mention of a big chain like Costco as I was that the first question about the book was its store placement rather than its content. Everyone buys books. Who reads them, though?

So books like John Sutherland’s How to Read a Novel, which came out last fall and which I started reading two days ago, seem necessary to me. This is meant for the general reader who may not always be aware of what is going on in the world of books, but there are some juicy literary tidbits, too. I love the examples he uses to make his points. For instance, to highlight divergent reader reactions, he brings up Disgrace–I can’t tell you how many arguments I’ve had about that novel with people. Occasionally, though, his sense of humor reminds me of my dad’s. (Commenting on the popularity of iPods, he says “Head implants, doubtless, are on the way, for the dedicated music lover. Seattle is working on it.” Har, har, Dad.) Still, his love for books comes across on every page, so even if you didn’t already love books, you’d love them by the time you were done with this tome.