Mental Floss: The Curious Reader; A Literary Miscellany of Novels & Novelists

Insight. May 2021. 288p. ed. by Erin McCarthy. ISBN 9781681887555. $24.99. LIT
With sumptuous, visually stimulating spreads, this book (by the editors of the e-magazine Mental Floss) delivers on its promise—to unearth strange stories, bizarre facts, or unexpected details about the books on our shelves. Many readers could unearth most of these details by following internet rabbit holes, but the book’s wise curation acts as both microscope and telescope, zooming in and out on particular texts to provide fascinating insights on writers’ private lives, as well as big-picture advice and anecdotes. For instance, the biographical and textual facts that ground Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar lead to a discussion of five books about mental illness, from Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, to Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. The section on Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go opens up a bigger conversation about genre, along with some details about Ishiguro’s life and narrative style, and a list of nine other novelists who (like Ishiguro) have won Nobel Prizes.
VERDICT Good for curious readers, whether they want to delve into authors and books they love, feel competent faking knowledge about books everyone else seems to have read, or just dip into and out of literary worlds.
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