Friday, October 11, 2013

Review: "A Little History of Literature" by John Sutherland (Digital ARC from NetGalley)

I'm a big fan of the Little Histories books from Yale Press: my son and I used EH Gombrich's A Little History of the World for homeschool.  This one is a short survey of Literature, by John Sutherland. The book is geared to younger readers, but I'd say age 12 and up would be the appropriate age--any adult will enjoy this work as well.

As an English major myself, I felt Sutherland did a pretty good job of being comprehensive, as a far as covering most of the major literary movements. Of course, one cannot talk about every author that ever set quill to papyrus!  He covers the classics of world literature, English literature, and American lit as well, and does a pretty good job of touching on the important highlights. He starts with a rudimentary explanation of myth,  "Myth always contains a truth,which we understand before we can clearly see it or explain it."  I felt throughout the book, Sutherland makes simple statements about whatever is being explored; he makes these observations himself, or quotes other experts and authors. This is the kind of book that will lead readers to other works, both of literature and of criticism. It is so important for kids to read and understand what true criticism is about these days. The idea of criticism has becomes so pejorative.

I didn't necessarily agree with every single thought the author has (Mr. Knightley, dull?! Never!), but overall, I enjoyed his style of writing, and he makes it clear that he is also a reader with opinions. He even addresses the EL James 50 Shades of Grey phenom: a "bonkbuster"), and popular lit vs prize winners.  Other noteworthy topics: the Sagas, Anglo-Saxon literature, interactive literature, digital books, and poetry.

The author, John Sutherland, is a professor in London, and there were a few words that were clearly regional to England. This would be a great book for a middle school age child who is truly interested in reading and literature to read and discuss with an adult. I plan on giving it to my son to read as well. He is almost 13. It is not a difficult read, the prose style is conversational and often humorous.  This could give anyone adult or teen, a leg up in English classes, or at a cocktail party!

5 stars!

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