Curiosities of Literature

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Random House, 2008 - Authors - 289 pages
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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 attempts a few answers in a series of essays that are both witty and eclectic. An account of the fast-working Mickey Spillane, for example, leads to a consideration of the substances, both legal and illegal, that authors have employed to boost their creative energies. An essay on good and bad handwriting points out in passing that Thackeray could write the Lord’s Prayer on the back of a stamp. As for Mary Shelley, a brief recital of the circumstances in which she wrote Frankenstein stops off to consider what impact the miserable summer weather of 1816 had on the future path of English literature.

It’s debatable, of course, whether knowledge of these arcane topics adds to the wisdom of nations. It does highlight the random pleasures in reading literature and reading about it.

As John Sutherland rightly asks, “Why else read?”

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Curiosities of Literature: A Feast for Book Lovers

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Sutherland (English, Univ. Coll., London) presents a collection of little-known facts and literary trivia that should appeal to fans of Jeopardy!, Trivial Pursuit, and the like. Categories include ... Read full review

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About the author (2008)

John Sutherland currently teaches literature at the California Institute of Technology and is Emeritus Lord Northcliffe Professor at University College London.

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