John Sutherland's "Lives of the Novelists" is entertaining and educational. Sutherland displays knowledge of American and English novelists famed and obscure from the 17th century through today. So far, I've made it to the end of the 19th century, with more than 1,000 pages to go. The book's witty capsule bios find value in the little-known writers and deflate the reputations of some of the better known ones, such as Dickens. Overall, the portraits offer an in-depth history of English literature and publishing.
One of Sutherland's strengths, a chatty, informal style, turns into a weakness. The writing is marred by all too frequent dangling phrases, some unintentionally and painfully comic. A learned professor such as Sutherland should not be so susceptible to such sloppy writing. Such constructions, alas, are increasingly common in books, magazines and newspapers.
Despite the tangled sentences, Sutherland is an amusing and learned guide. Apparently, he's read deeply in the novelists he covers, an amazing feat. Reading "Lives of the Poets" is like munching snacks, but the nutritional value is more like sliced carrots than potato chips.