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Ebook 50 Literature Ideas You Really Need to Know by John Sutherland read! Book Title: 50 Literature Ideas You Really Need to Know
The author of the book: John Sutherland
ISBN: 184866060X
ISBN 13: 9781848660601
Edition: Quercus
Date of issue: January 6th 2011
Language: English
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 530 KB
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Here is a quick summary of the 50 ideas. Aren't I good to you?

literary inundation

The scale of production of new books is frankly terrifying. You all know that. How do we make our way in our little coracles through this tsunami of words? Well, this very site helps a bit. But Sutherland hadn't heard of it, apparently.

We live in interesting times. It's hard to figure out what you should be reading - you know you don't want to read that utter crap your friend (what was she thinking) insisted on lending you - good god, what was it called - The Alchemist? - but The Pale King by DFW looks a bit of a mindmelt; there must be another way, other than to go sleepwalking into the sopophoria of the suffocating classics from the age of the Brontesaurus.

I agree. We are inundated. However. I regard each time we buy a book knowing full well we have too many unread ones already as not an act of a foolhardy spendthrift but as a blow against the darkness, an act of optimism, a gentle turning aside from cynicism. So fill your shelves to bulging and falling on the floor, my brothers and sisters, till the very books themselves push you out of your own house.


I don't believe in them, so - next.


This is kind of a weird internet thing which I only vaguely heard of, but it seems some fans are so fantastically geeky and disturbed that they can't take life without any more Lord of the Rings to read, so they start writing bits and pieces in the style of. A sub-genre of this sub-genre is slash fiction which is apparently gay fantasies about characters in famous books, e.g. Dracula and Jonathan Harker. It's all a bit mental. But 50 Shades of Grey was a fanfic, so it's not that mental. I guess versions of Moby Dick where Moby tells Ahab "I AM YOUR FATHER" is called finfic. I bet that joke's been done.

ghost writers

This is the way you exploit a brand name in book form. It's a drag if your best-selling author actually dies, but you don't have to stop publishing books by them, you here a team to write in the style of. We have Bonds and Sherlocks and endless V C Andrews, and it's all good fun as far as I can see. Then we have a non-literary brand like a sports person or a celeb or pop star, and you wouldn't expect them to be able to write, so there's nothing wrong with turning on the tape recorder and giving the hours of egomaniac burblings to a ghost writer who then drinks a million whiskies and smokes a million cigs and produces a manuscript in three weeks. Ghosts used to be disreputable but not now.

literary lies

different to plagiarism, these are the other kinds of whoppers you can tell between two covers (of a book) - e.g. Jersy Kosinski (reviewed elsewhere), James Frey and Herman Rosenblat (An Angel at the Fence) - all of whom make up heroic stuff about themselves in memoirs purporting to be true.


we have dealt with this topic before. Sutherland amusingly gives us the loosening of censorship in 1959 in Britain, (Lady Chatterly et al) and then the closing back in of censorship at the end of the 1970s as PC took hold. So, first the censorship came from the right, and then it came from the left. Okay, that's quite funny.


In 1656 James Naylor rode into the English town of Bristol on two donkeys and this was taken to be blasphemous so he was tortured and thrown into prison. In 1977 Gay News, an English periodical, published a frankly blasphemous poem about the dead Christ being used in a most unChristlike manner by a Roman centurian after he was hauled down from the Cross. Gay News was successfully prosecuted for blasphemous libel and fined so heavily it had to close. In 1989 Salman Rushdie published The Satanic Verses and came under a sentence of death. This time the authorities spent a lot of dough protecting the blasphemer. You have to say that's progress, of a sort.


Also fraying at the edges is libel - see the various ad hominen attacks on Tony Blair (The Trial of Tony Blair, The Deal, The Tony Blair Witch Project, etc) and George W Bush, e.g. Nicholson Baker's publicly stated desire to assassinate him in the pages of Checkpoint. So, obscenely defame who you like, people. I'm too busy with my blow-up Vladimir Putin doll to care. He's so cuuute.


Pretty much a dead letter if you mean books published and then being prosecuted, but the censorship of books is still alive and well in local communities in the USA. This is something unknown in the Kingdom of Great Britain, where democracy is not practised, as you can clearly see (do we have capital punishment? No! Have we withdrawn from Europe? No! do I actually want democracy in Britain? No!)

Books are challenged in the USA.

A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others

sexual politics

After Kate Millett and others began to read male authors in the honest light of feminism beginning with KM's brilliant book in 1970 Sexual Politics , all previous literature was shown to be in need of rereading and reinterpratation. In Britain the professional gadfly Germaine Greer investigated The Midsummer Night's Dream and found some vicious things hidden by the gauzy fairy wings.

But does this mean that novels must be issued from 1970 onward with a feminist seal of approval? Maybe there should be a feminist rating system like the movie rating system. (That's my stupid idea, not john Sutherland's).

I spun this off into a review of Kate Millett's original book which profoundly shook me many years ago.

reception theory

Says that meaning does not reside in the text but in the reader. Again, this is reasonably obvious, but it does mark the beginning of a worthwhile enquiry. Consider

a man reads Jane Eyre in 1847
a woman reads Jane Eyre in 1847
a man reads Jane Eyre in 2013
a woman reads Jane Eyre in 2013

You are going to get four different interpretations, some very different. Does the meaning reside in the text?

When Jane says "Reader, I married him" what reader did she or Miss Bronte have in mind?

Are readers free to make of books what they will?



The Name of the Rose allegorises the semiotic plight - the search for the "really" signified, which will always fail because we can never get beyond the nominal/signifying universe of understanding that is the human condition.


How many lightbulbs does it take to change a semiotician?


in which chicken tikka masala becomes Britain's favourite restaurant meal, and Salman Rushdie wins the Booker of Bookers.

Over half of the Bookers have been won by persons from the ex-colonies.

This idea is really old, now. Really - let's wave post-colonialism bye bye. We don't live in a post-colonial world or a late-capitalist world. We live in a better-get-used-to-the-chaos-cause-nobody's-in-charge world.

New Historicism

Are you falling asleep? Yes, i am, a little bit.

School of lit crit which seizes on details in a text and deduces stuff about the society therefrom which then offers an interpretation of the text; apparently there's a famous essay about a cock fight in Bali by anthropologist Clifford Geertz in which he sees all of Balinese culture encoded within the cock fight and you can do the same if you contemplate the fine details of Elizabeth Bennett's arse.

(No that bit isn't in the book.)


File under bricolage - a fancy word for the blindingly obvious.


Oh dear! It's come to this!

Well, Modernism was from Les Fleurs du Mal in 1857 to circa 1930 (it is said). It was a movement of radicals who were disgusted with the repressive authoritarian culture of the time and wished to throw hand grenades at it, which they did, cultural ones like les Demoiselles d'Avignon or Un Chien Andalou or anything by Mondrian or Brancusi. They all believed (it is said) in progress. They wanted things to get better. Make it new! (Ezra pound's slogan).

So eventually all this brash shocking loud stuff like Ulysses and The Waste Land and so forth ceases to shock, it gets to be taught in school, it's old hat.

When you look at the whole kit and caboodle of Modernism, it's still dead white males, and very occasionally , a little tiny dead white woman like V Woolf sneaks in there.

What came after Modernism has the problem : how to rebel against what was in itself a protracted rebellion?

The post-mods did this by disputing the notion of progress - No! things are not getting better! Ulysses isn't "better" than "Middlemarch" - there's no such thing as progress - your values are utter rubbish!

And also attacking who was doing the talking, i.e. the voice of authority - wresting the big dildo of literature away from the grasping white male middleclass fist, and empowering (that word was used) a whole bunch of ne'er-do-wells and urchins. Third world types, queers, women. You know, that crowd.

It was appalling. A free for all. But, we can see that the white males were quick to become pomos too, so all was not lost in the general melee.

Double Bind

An idea imported from psychology. this is where two sets of instructions clash and cause paralysis. Whereas the resulting dilemma focusses on the individual's response, the double bind itself concerns the larger forces operating on the individual. The proverbial definition of this is "damned if you do, damned if you don't". It's a central feature of 1984 and the solution in that novel is "doublethink". Catch-22 is entirely about double-bind.


Text is to literature as cadaver is to anatomy. This section either wittingly or unwittingly reveals modern criticism for the narcissistic obscurantism it so often is. The difference between calling The waste Land, for instance, a text and not a work of literature is :

One appreciates a work of literature. One is free to analyse a text.

But, of course, when you appreciate you think about, you argue with, you puzzle over, you investigate - yes, you analyse. Has any reader of The waste Land ever read the last lines, sighed Hmmm deeply, put it back on the shelf, and picked up the next book?

Actually, to be fair, the textualists (critics) wish to apply a lot more rigour in their analysis of a work than your regular reader would ever do. So the question (not addressed here) is :

what is the relationship between the general reader (us) and the critic? is there one at all?


In most ways this is just a crap list book - each idea, either a tiny one or a very big one, is given four fairly smirky pages. Any of the better reviewers here on GR could do the same and with probably more wit and insight. The four pages on


are stupid, they don't even offer a definition, just some projectile Barthing. Onwards with a shudder to


where at least we can read this :

any encounter with literature involves arbitrarily constructing meaning, then promptly erasing that meaning, only to go through the process again with the reassembled text. There is no finality, every literary text is inherently indeterminate.... Why, if the journey is so pointless, go on? ...Because the making of meanings, however arbitrary, is the only lifeline we shall ever have across the abyss of unmeaningness.

He quotes a poem Deconstruction by Peter Mullen :

D'you wanna know the creeda
Jacques Derrida?
Dere ain't no reader
Dere ain't no wrider eider.

Critical theories like this are magnets for cheap comic sallies - I confess I've done it

Now what? Oh no. It's...


which is what happens when authors stop pretending they're writing down a version of reality; or, maybe, when they stop writing naively, as it were, and write as if reader and writer are aware they're both engaged in a serious (or not) and elaborate game. The term was invented in the 60s but authors have been creating metafiction from the beginning of the novel - Shamela was a parody of Pamela, and Tristram Shandy is the fount of all things meta - as JS reminded me, there's a bit where Tristram, trying to write down his entire life story, gets totally stuck when he realises that he'll never be able to do that because by the time he's caught up with now, now has moved on - "his life is accumulating faster than he can write it down", and his mania for digressions ties him in rhetorical knots - the book is the comedy produced by this conundrum (it's an acquired taste). More recent metafictional flowerings include The French Lieutenant's Woman where the author keeps jumping up and discussing the characters with the reader, and the short crazy stories of Donald Bathelme, and the entire oeuvre of Paul Auster, mashup nonsense like Pride & Prejudice with Zombies, and more interestingly, the great "modern Victorian" genre of The Crimson petal and the White, Fingersmith and The Quincunx.

From metafiction's insistence that fiction is MADE UP and imaginary and a bizarre problematic pursuit, we reverse ourselves into :

Solidity of Specification

Never heard of that term? Well, nor me neither. It's a little phrase used once aand once only by Henry James in one of his esoteric essays on novel writing. So Mr Sutherland is having a bit of a laugh here. What it means is, really, the telling realistic detail - e.g. this from Robinson Crusoe, musing about his lost shipmates:

I never saw them afterwards, or any sign of them except three of their hats, one cap, and two shoes that were not fellows.

So, it's these particular specific details which make the whole imaginary world come alive. JS draws a distinction between "motivated" and "unmotivated" details. The former are used because they will later the plot points, and the latter because they build a realer world. Trollope criticised Wilkie Collins for cramming his novels with nothing but motivated detail :

The author seems always to be warning me to remember that something happened at exactly two o'clock on Tuesday morning; or that a woman disappered from a road just fifteen yards beyond the fourth mile-stone.

Some authors cram in every detail they can, especially in some historical novels - Lawrence Norfolk does this, The Crimson Petal and the White does this - others just spray a few bits and pieces into the room occasionally, to remind the reader where and when she is. JS points out that Jane Austin never describes any of her characters. Which I hadn't noticed. And Shakespeare, well... we never do get told how old Hamlet is.


= "work that is put together from whatever materials come to hand"

this is a fancy pants way of saying that authors are limited to what they know, and make up their work from the ideas of their time, so that seems... self-evident... to put it kindly...and unworthy of such a euphonious term.


I actually had to blow a layer of dust off this book just now.

So let's skip past the entries which i am assuming you already know quite enough about..



and take up


Two opposing ideas here - by presenting something familiar in a strange way, the author can allow us to look at it afresh - the stones are thus made stony, and the glass more breakable. Okay, poetry does this all the time, as does science fiction.

It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.

As does some young adult fiction.

The Brechtian version was to try and prevent the suspension of disbelief which naturalistic literature with its stony stones was trying to and succeeding in conning you willingly into. Brecht wanted audiences to think and be critical of what they were offered.

High priest of defamiliatisation : James Joyce. I mean, wow.


Like we really need this guy to write four pages about irony. Oh, wait a moment, was that sarcasm?


notes on the previous 26 ideas are now here

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Read information about the author

Ebook 50 Literature Ideas You Really Need to Know read Online! 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, and the history of publishing.

Apart from writing a regular column in the The Guardian newspaper, Sutherland has published seventeen (as of 2004) books and is editing the forthcoming Oxford Companion to Popular Fiction. The series of books which starts with Was Heathcliff a Murderer? has brought him a wide readership. The books in the series are collections of essays. Each essay takes a piece of classic fiction, almost always from the Victorian period. Carefully going over every word of the text, Sutherland highlights apparent inconsistencies, anachronisms and oversights, and explains references which the modern reader is likely to overlook. In some cases he demonstrates the likelihood that the author simply forgot a minor detail. In others, apparent slips on the part of the author are presented as evidence that something is going on beyond the surface of the book which is not explicitly described (such as his explanation for why Sherlock Holmes should mis-address Miss Stoner as Miss Roylott in "The Adventure of the Speckled Band").

In 2001, he published Last Drink to LA, a moving chronicle of his alcoholism and his return to sobriety.

In 2005, he was involved in Dot Mobile's project to translate summaries and quotes of classic literature into text messaging shorthand. In the same year he was also Chair of Judges for the Booker Prize.

In June 2007 he published an autobiography: The Boy Who Loved Books: A Memoir. On 18 December 2007 his annotated edition of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Black Arrow was released by Penguin Books.

Reviews of the 50 Literature Ideas You Really Need to Know


For those who are bored to live


Time flew unnoticed.


This book would read to every man for ...


Bogus! You could have done better.


This needs to be read to each

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