This is a review of a book I was sent by Icon Books, but at my request – I would have purchased it anyway, especially after having read it, so thanks to Icon.
I have been looking forward to reading Love, Sex, Death and Words for some time, having enjoyed John Sutherland’s earlier books like How To Read a Novel and The Curiosities of Literature. This time John Sutherland is joined by Stephen Fender in assembling this huge anthology of essays about writers and books, 365 in fact, one for every day of the year, although few readers will be unable to resist reading on through several articles every time they pick up the book.
The range is vast and I will mention just a few in order to provide some idea of the scope of the book.
An entry from 1922 describes T S Eliot writing to his friend John Quinn to tell him that he has written a long poem of about 450 lines. This is of course, The Waste Land, and we learn that it was originally to be titled, “He Do The Police in Different Voices”. Ezra Pound was much involved in the development of this modernist opus and Sutherland and Fenton give examples of how Pound suggested minor edits which Eliot adopted.
The collection includes American literature along with European and from 1692, there is a description of the Salem Witch Trial – I for one hadn’t realised that the hysteria arising from this resulted in over 150 people being imprisoned, nineteen hanged and one 81 year old man being pressed to death under a platform loaded with stones. It is no wonder that these events have been a rich seam for writers to mine, not least Henry Miller in his play, The Crucible, which drew out the parallels between the Witch Trial and the House Un-American Activities Committee under Senator Joe McCarthy in the 1950s. Sutherland and Fender quote from the investigation into Pete Seeger who refused to answer questions about his political beliefs and ended up with a one year prison sentence.
In 1938, Isaac Aimov submitted his first science-fiction story, The Cosmic Corkscrew, to the compiler Astounding Science Fiction magazine. The story was rejected and has now been lost for ever, but Asimov went on to write 60 science fiction books, fifteen crime novels and many scholarly treatises on The Bible, Shakespeare and quantum mechanics, his collected papers occupying 71 metres of shelf space at Boston University.
There is a comprehensive index at the back of the book, which runs from Peter Abelard to Emile Zola and its fascinating to flick through it and look up references to favourite writers. This is a nice book to have on your shelf – a big thick wedge of over 500 pages.
The book was granted a lengthy review in The Guardian by Rick Gekoski (whose book Outside of a Dog is another fine “book about books”). Rick said, “I’ve had tremendous fun reading them – arguing with some, substituting others, quoting them over lunch – and pleasure is at the heart of this project. Its irresistible, as compulsive as eating popcorn”.
Its not for me to publicise it but I can’t help thinking that Love, Sex, Death and Words would make a much appreciated Christmas present for any avid reader – so congratulations to Icon books on its timely release.
Title: Love, Sex, Death and Words
Author: John Sutherland, Stephen Fender
Publication: Icon Books (October 2010), Hardback, 496 pages
I’ve deleted the last three posts about my book blogging angst. I thank all those who commented and apologise that their words have been lost to my deleted items folder.