Peek Beyond the Page With Mental Floss’s ‘The Curious Reader’

Books Education Entertainment Reviews

I love a good aggregator of interesting information. Having one place to go to feed your intellectual curiosity. Curiosity about the world, about people, about art, about progress, about anything. Sites like Brain Pickings and Mental Floss fit into this category, and that’s actually how I first discovered GeekDad, back in the aughts. These are sites that share their take on the news of the day, or on topics of general interest to us nerds. Some sites (like us at GeekMom!) have even come out with books of their own that carry that premise further. Mental Floss, for example, has published many books. Books filled with trivia, history, puzzles, lists, true stories, science facts, and even how to make your favorite cocktails.

Their latest book is entitled Mental Floss: The Curious Reader: A Literary Miscellany of Novels & Novelists and is edited by Erin McCarthy and the team at Mental Floss. If you’re a fan of classic literature, this is a fun reference. It’s filled with Mental Floss articles from the past couple of decades that relate to all things literature, authors, and books.

Putting the novels in order alphabetically by title (yes, including “A” and “The” as words for alphabetizing purposes), the book covers classics you’ve read and classics you were supposed to have read. Plus plenty that you somehow missed. Starting with 1984 and finally arriving at War and Peace, in between you’ll find Brave New World, Frankenstein, Invisible Man, On the Road, The Color Purple, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Joy Luck Club, and The Metamorphosis; there is something for everyone. Even those who don’t like some of the drier classic literature. Plenty of other books that I’d never heard of in high school are also included, so you’ll have to flip through it yourself to see if any of your favorite classics are included. Overall, the book covers a lot of the in-between facts of the literary world, sheds light on what authors were/are like, and shares much of the context for the books that are included.

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With books from hundreds of years ago to books from the modern day, each section includes information about the profiled book and author, as well as related facts or tangential information. Though organized by specific book titles, each beautiful entry includes information about more than the book, delving into the life of each book’s author, including birth and death dates, where they were born, other notable works, and sometimes letter excerpts. Throughout the book, there are frequent sidebars and blurbs covering related topics, such as writing advice from authors, banned books, facts about authors, amazing books written by Black authors, and a list of authors who loved cats. There are also some harsh rejection letters and reviews. Though many of the articles that this book is based on were written some time in the past, the content has been updated to reflect changes, and it adds interesting new content, such as the first book in Mary Robinette Kowal’s Lady Astronaut Series, The Calculating Stars, winning both the Hugo and Nebula awards in the late 2010s.

The Curious Reader also includes Pride and Prejudice, so of course this Jane Austen-obsessed person made a bee line for that part of the book to see what they had to say about Jane Austen. Though I already knew most of what this section contains, I did still learn a thing or two. The quotations from famous authors (Charlotte Brontë, Mark Twain, Ralph Waldo Emerson) who shared their distaste for Jane’s books were pretty epic.

The title of The Curious Reader (available starting today for $20.99) fits its content very well. If you’re at all curious about authors, their books, history, and/or the literary world, I highly recommend it. And maybe it will encourage you to revisit a beloved classic with new eyes, or try on something new for size.

Note: I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

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