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How Literature Works: 50 Key Concepts Paperback – April 7, 2011

11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199794201 ISBN-10: 0199794200 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews


"I consider John Sutherland one of the finest English-speaking critics at work today. His truly encyclopedic knowledge of literature over the centuries is evident throughout this valuable new book, yet he exhibits his learning without pretension; that is, he really uses what he knows deftly. He opens up the world of literary thinking to the uninitiated in a refreshing way that is thoroughly sound without being intimidating. He's also a terrific writer--witty, succinct, and clear. In short, this is a brilliant book." --Jay Parini, author of Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America

"How Literature Works is reader-friendly--the writing is personable, intelligent, and informed without being pedantic--and helpful. John Sutherland clearly has vast learning, but he wears it lightly. Both the large concept and the selection of individual ideas that he covers are quite appealing. The book passes what Seamus Heaney calls the 'jealousy test.' Again and again, I found myself thinking, now why didn't I think of this?" --Thomas C. Foster, author of How to Read Novels Like a Professor

"Superb! You'll never again feel paralyzed over paradigm shifts--in fact, you'll read everything with new enlightenment. Who knew that your beach novel was metafiction!" --Library Journal (Starred Review)

About the Author

John Sutherland, who has been a book columnist for the Guardian and a chair of judges for the Man-Booker prize, is Emeritus Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (April 7, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199794200
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199794201
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 0.7 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #329,038 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Sam Sattler on April 27, 2011
Format: Paperback
John Sutherland's "How Literature Works: 50 Key Concepts" is a reader-friendly summation of literary theory that few avid readers will be able to resist. Each of Sutherland's concepts is presented in a concise, four-page essay formatted to highlight its main points for the quick reference of readers wanting to review or reinforce their understanding of specific points. Each essay, for instance, opens with a summary/introductory paragraph in bold print and includes a timeline of key dates pertaining to the concept being discussed. Each piece also includes a "boxed" story about, or example of, its subject concept and ends with a clever "condensed idea" summation of its four-pages. As I grew more and more intrigued by Sutherland's ability to summarize four pages of complex thought into just a handful of words, the "condensed ideas" soon became my favorite part of the essays.

The "condensed ideas" are particularly helpful when trying to recall the meaning of some of the book's vaguer literary terminology, but even the explanations for more commonly understood terms can be fun. Examples include:

Hermeneutics - "Reading literature and understanding literature are two different things."
Intentionalism - "What a work of literature means is not always what the author means it to mean."
Translation - "It's impossible - but what option do we have?"
Irony - "The camera may never lie. Literature does. And cleverly."

As the book moves from literature's origins toward its future, the essays are presented in six distinct sections: "Some Basics;" "Machinery: How It Works;" "Literature's Devices;" "New Ideas;" "Word Crimes;" and "Literary Futures.
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Format: Paperback
John Sutherland’s “How Literature Works: 50 Key Concepts” is a compilation of 50 literary notions that can be found throughout the world of literature.
Sutherland presents these 50 concepts - both effortless and complicated - in straightforward, easy to comprehend four page summaries arrayed with quotes, examples, and passages from other literary works. Sutherland condenses the 50 concepts into six categories: some basics, machinery, literature’s devices, new ideas, word crimes, and literary futures. Each summary is arranged the same way - bold introduction to the topic followed by the explanation of the topic. Sutherland ends each section with a “condensed idea” that further summarizes each concept in one sentence or less. The presentation of each section is designed to highlight the main points of the subject matter and be a quick reference for future use. Some of the concepts include the following: mimesis, ghostwriting, ownership, imagery, and fanfic.
“How Literature Works” is presented in such a way that makes it an easy to tackle text. The wide variety of concepts covers many types of literature while keeping the reader intrigue. Sutherland uses language that is captivating, not dry and monotone. His speech is more conversational than textual; Sutherland nearly becomes tangible. The layout of the page also gives interest. Because of the quotes and stories, the reader is not looking at pages of straight text. The arrangement of the sections makes this book more reader-friendly. Each concept is given in a short, four page summary, which helps the reader keep concentrated on the subject at hand.
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Format: Paperback
The book How Literature Works summarizes 50 key concepts everyone should know when studying literature. These concepts can even be useful to writers who want to have a better understanding of all that is put into writing. It shows different criteria that not only authors, but also critics have deemed that literature needs to live up to. Also, we can tend to miss out on original meaning the authors intend because we don’t understand a lot of the concepts that were around in that era. John Sutherland addresses a key point in many of the key concepts’ sections. What makes a book an award winning work? How can we judge other’s works to deem what literature is ‘higher in importance’ than others. When you look up some of these award winning works; you can find reviews saying how boring or unworthy the book is. This illustrates John Sutherland’s main point of this book. Literature should be interpreted by each reader. Everyone is going to find different points and different meaning in each book, so we can’t consider a critic’s opinion wrong.
Those that are planning to read this book need to have a higher understanding of literature, otherwise it may be confusing to those that can’t understand his intricate vernacular. Sutherland attempts to write at a higher level of education, yet leaves the reader needing a dictionary and public database of major literary works on hand at all times. Sutherland bases this
book off of a basic list of literary works that he speculates most readers should have came across in basic high school and college literature. If you do not have a basic understanding of high school and/or college literary works, then this book is not for you. Sutherland does not break the concepts down into terms that are easy to understand for someone who is not an avid reader.
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