How Literature Works: 50 Key Concepts

Overview

How Literature Works is an indispensable book for any reader seeking a greater appreciation of their favorite novel, poem, or play. It offers a lively and straightforward guide to literary thinking. With a series of compact essays, the renowned literary critic John Sutherland—widely admired for his wit and clear reasoning—strips away the obscurity and pretension of literary study. His book offers concise definitions and clear examples of the fifty concepts that all book lovers ...

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How Literature Works: 50 Key Concepts

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Overview

How Literature Works is an indispensable book for any reader seeking a greater appreciation of their favorite novel, poem, or play. It offers a lively and straightforward guide to literary thinking. With a series of compact essays, the renowned literary critic John Sutherland—widely admired for his wit and clear reasoning—strips away the obscurity and pretension of literary study. His book offers concise definitions and clear examples of the fifty concepts that all book lovers should know.

It includes basic descriptive terms (ambiguity, epic), the core vocabulary of literary culture (genre, style), and devices employed by authors (irony, defamiliarization). More broadly, How Literature Works explores the animating concepts behind literary theory (textuality, sexual politics), traces the forces that impact literature's role in the real world (obscenity, plagiarism), and grapples with the future of reading (fanfic, e-book).

For any reader who wants to get the most out of the literature they read, Sutherland's short sharp book will both inform and delight.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"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)

Library Journal
Interested readers—whether recreational or academic—will be hard-pressed to find another book that so elegantly, precisely, accessibly, and masterfully explains the West's approach to literature across the ages as Sutherland (Emeritus Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature, Univ. Coll. London; Curiosities of Literature: A Feast for Book Lovers) does here. Indeed, only if Sutherland ghost-wrote (Concept #47) this review could it reflect the charm and erudition, devoid of pomposity, found in his book. He presents his 50 key concepts within six sections, from "Some Basics" (e.g., Ambiguity, Epic, Gothic) through "Machinery: How It Works," "Literature's Devices," "New Ideas," "Word Crimes," and "Literary Futures." Each concept is covered in four consistently formatted pages. In each presentation, he employs rhetorical questions that keep readers engaged and text boxes with enticing particulars of lit-crit history. Customized time lines across the bottom of each initial spread indicate useful reference points (e.g., his Gothic time line extends from the Goths sacking Rome in 410 to 1974's publication of Stephen King's gothic Carrie). The second spread always includes "the condensed idea" (e.g., "Terrify us, please!"). VERDICT 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!—Margaret Heilbrun, Library Journal
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199794201
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 4/7/2011
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 280,606
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet 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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Table of Contents

Introduction

SOME BASICS
1. Mimesis
2. Ambiguity
3. Hermeneutics
4. The Classic
5. Intentionalism
6. The Affective Fallacy
7. Narrative / Story
8. Epic
9. Lyric / Prosody
10. Gothic
11. The Translation Paradox

MACHINERY: HOW IT WORKS
12. Culture
13. Milieu
14. Base / Superstructure
15. The Canon
16. Genre
17. Closure
18. Paradigm Shift
19. Ownership
20. Critical Authority
21. Style

LITERATURE'S DEVICES
22. Allegory
23. Irony
24. Imagery
25. Allusion
26. Defamiliarization
27. Bricolage
28. Metafiction
29. Solidity of Specification

NEW IDEAS
30. Structuralism
31. Deconstruction
32. Textuality
33. Double Bind
34. Postmodernism
35. Heteroglossia
36. New Historicism
37. Post-Colonialism
38. Semiology
39. Reception Theory
40. Sexual Politics

WORD CRIMES
41. Plagiarism
42. Obscenity
43. Libel
44. Blasphemy
45. Permissiveness
46. Literary Lies
47. Ghost-Writers

LITERARY FUTURES
48. Fanfic
49. The e-book
50. Literary Inundation

Answers to Quizzes
Glossary

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