John Sutherland

  • 14 August 2006

This article is from 2006.

‘Much of our mental furniture comes from fiction,’ insists the chair of last year’s Booker panel, John Sutherland. Our ideas about science stem largely from science fiction; James Bond tells us about the Cold War, and we gain impressions of World War 1 from Pat Barker or Sebastian Faulks. In his new book, How to Read a Novel, Sutherland explores our relationship with fiction and the power it has on us. ‘People write about human relationships and we pick up our models of behaviour through their words. Through novels we learn what we enjoy.’ But, according to Sutherland, ‘like picking up money in the street’, using fiction as a touchstone is something no one wants to admit to.

Plus, he holds that academic literary criticism has little place in the appreciation of fiction. ‘Most writing is read in a non-curricular way. Dickens sells 1.5m copies a year " more than 20 times the number sold in his lifetime " and those are sold to the people who watched the adaptation of Bleak House, not to students. People don’t want to be told what to think by some ivory tower; they want to make up their own minds. If an academic turned up in a reading group, he’d be tarred, feathered, and kicked out.’

22 Aug, 3pm, £7 (£5).

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