A Little History of Literature - John Sutherland

The one thing this “little history of literature” isn’t is a dry read, and thank God for that because, given the subject matter, it could have been. Rather than composing a high-brow tome of pedantic drivel (like I just wrote), this volume of work is interesting, accessible, and actually fun to read! I hadn’t even gotten through the first 10 chapters when I was already fangirling, wondering how I could go about getting my hardback autographed. Seriously.


Here something I learned from Sutherland’s Little History: About 80% of the KJV actually comes from the Tyndale translation. Seems as though the king’s committee couldn’t improve upon what Tyndale had already done, and seeing as how Tyndale paid so dear a price for his translation, good on him! Furthermore, Sutherland considers Tyndale’s writing on par with the Bard’s, and with good reason.


Reading Sutherland’s book made me appreciate John Donne’s poetry as never before and provided me with insight and information that I’m going to pass on to my students. I also learned that I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Oroonoko writer Aphra Behn, the first female to write plays for the theatre and to be buried in Westminster Cathedral. I’d already wanted to read Oroonoko, but now I feel compelled.


Sutherland also whet my appetite to read Boccaccio’s Decameron, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Mo Yan’s The Garlic Ballads, and, when I feel up to the task, Donald Barthelme’s short stories. Those may be foregone conclusions to most “well read” people, but I had no idea. I’ve missed so much!


If you want a read that’s going to make you think you’re so much smarter than the average bear, look elsewhere; but if you want a little history of a vast subject, written in a casual tone that makes you feels like you’re conversing over a cuppa by a fireside, talking of books and other literary things with author and professor John Sutherland, you might just love this book.  Overall, for what my humble opinion is worth, I highly recommend A Little History of Literature.