Title: The Literature Book
Author: James Canton et al
Publication Date: 2016
What the book is about…
The Literature Book is one in a series of brilliant books that encompass a wide range of information about a particular topic. This book spans over 20 centuries – ranging from Homer and Dante through Jane Austen all the way to Orwell and James Joyce. It provides a history of the texts, a summary of the author’s life and the context in which the novels were written.
The lay out of the book is brilliant, mixing key facts about a specific novel alongside the context and the historical significance of each novel. Each two (or four) page spread also has a paragraph on the life of each author as well as their influences in the field of literature. There are enough pictures (both of the book, the author and some historical images) that really off set the text perfectly. It is a fascinating read and also gives you ideas for other novels by the same person or by people with a similar style.
The book provides a historical ‘walk through’ of literature, starting with Homer and Dante in the early days of literature as we see it today. We get some great insights into the oral tradition of storytelling and how the form evolved into the written word that we are used to today. There are many examples of non-novel based storytelling with poets being highlighted. Chaucer is given a fair number of column inches as does William Shakespeare. That said it is unfair to say the book is all about European authors. We get an eclectic mix of backgrounds and cultures from Britain and Russia to China and India. The editor appears to have made a conscious effort to present a different culture with each turn of the page which makes this such an enjoyable read.
The eras covered by the various contributors include the ‘heroes and legends (3000 BCE – 1300CE), Renaissance to Enlightenment (1300-1800), Romanticism and the Rise of the Novel (1800-1855), Depicting Real Life (1855-1900), Breaking with Tradition (1900-1945), Post-War Writing (1945-1970) and Contemporary Literature (1970-present). It is wonderful that such a span of time can be captured with the detail that is set out in this book. This is even more impressive given the ease of reading; unlike other historical books about literature this is easily accessible/readable and captures the imagination.
Each section concludes with a ‘further reading’ section. This includes some of the most well known and lesser known classics and gives a short biography of one selected author. It is a great addition for someone who may want to try something unusual or to be reminded of the timeless classics.
One of the best parts of the book is the ability to provide a commentary on key themes and concepts that influenced or were present in novels and stories. Whether it is ‘magical realism’, the ‘writing of narratives’ or symbolism the authors clearly have an expert knowledge of their subject matter and it really shines through.
Final Thought: A wonderful book which any fan of reading or aspiring writers should read. It is highly recommended also to those that might be on the fence and want to get an understanding of literature and the different forms which this art has taken over the centuries. The perfect present for any book fan!