Magazine article The Spectator

Turning Back the Pages

Magazine article The Spectator

Turning Back the Pages

Article excerpt


Profile, £10.99, pp. 273, ISBN 9781846680786 £8.79 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

CURIOSITIES OF LITERATURE: A BOOK-LOVER'S ANTHOLOGY OG LITERARY ERUDITION by John Sutherland Random House, £12.99, pp. 290, ISBN 9781905211975 £10.39 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

John Sutherland's life has been devoted to the enjoyment of books and the passing on of that enjoyment to others, whether through his columns in the Guardian and Financial Times or through his teaching to the literature students at UCL, or the rather less bookish science buffs at the California Institute of Technology. It is hard to imagine anyone better suited to bringing the pleasures of reading to those for whom it has never been an important part of life. His quirky, amused and tolerant eye roams freely over the whole field of books, finding something to attract and entertain in the most unexpected places.

His two new publications illustrate this from different angles. In Magic Moments he looks back to his early years and some of the key events with books, music and film which seized his imagination for better or worse, and changed the way he saw the world. The childhood section is particularly evocative for anyone brought up in a household of boys in the Forties and Fifties.

Tarzan reigned supreme, although for the five-year-old John Sutherland he was not the Lord Greystoke of the Edgar Rice Burroughs books but the hero of Tarzan's Desert Mystery, Johnny Weissmuller, with arms and legs of simian hairiness and a torso suspiciously smooth as a baby's bottom. Other heroes of the author's early days included the Amazing Wilson, the barefoot athlete whose deeds of derring do appeared weekly in the Wizard -- ranging from effortlessly running a three-minute mile and smashing the long jump and high jump world records, to beating Hillary and Tenzing to the summit of Everest.

Sutherland also enjoyed my own favourite comic, Champion, with such sterling heroes as Rockfist Rogan and Ginger Nutt, the Boy who Takes the Biscuit. His point is that for many lucky children the keen pleasure of entering an imaginary world, whether through books, comics or films, is an immeasurably precious thing. He describes how between the ages of 10 and 13, bookish children can be observed experiencing reading rages. They grind their eyes and push their noses savagely against the page. They hoover up, obsessively, everything by their favourite authors .... they slow their furious pace down as they near the end, so as to savour the last, delicious drops of narrative. …

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