Very Short Introductions

Richard Bradford, John Sutherland

Very Short Introductions is a large series of small books published by the Oxford University Press. True to form, each individual item is a beginner's guide to some academically-inclined topic, as written by an expert in the field.

My opinion on this series has changed with time. At first, whenever I encountered these dumb runts in any library, I found their very presence insufferable. For a given topic you may already have an interest in, these all-too-brief books have a shallow depth, and can seem like distractions in better company. They felt more like book-shaped advertisements for the OUP, littered about the shelves like spam pamphlets, rather than comprehensive texts in their own right.

... but the nature of the internet sometimes means that, even if the sum of all human culture is out there, that doesn't mean it is organized and accessible. There are indeed times when you just want a beginner's look into a topic you have no other footing for, rather than diving right into the already-established texts of the field as if you've showed up late to a dinner party. These tiny little books, all in their signature duodecimo size, can seem quite tempting when the only other alternative might be a thick-and-expensive university textbook.

Individually, any one of these books are not worth the price of purchase. Yet as a series, the value of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It's uncanny that way, but I doubt anyone would ever dare to gain the full collection, especially since there are 700-plus of them!

However, if I could make any criticism of the format, these are like a scientific-equivalent of cheap finger food: easy on the eyes and stomach, but they pass right through you, and soon right out of you entirely. Despite having sampled a good number of these, I find it difficult remembering any specifics from them. If the goal of these books is to promote better learning about their subjects, then on that note alone they are massive failures.

As far as the individual books in this series I have opinions on...

Crime Fiction by Richard Bradford

My first “VSI.” This was... not the thing I wanted, but at least it was context towards the thing I wanted. Though it would turn out, I didn't want even that, anyway.

Bestsellers by John Sutherland

I ventured to read this one after hearing the author speak on CBC Radio about the subject. As far the book itself goes, I found the chapters detailing the differences between the American and British publishing industries to be the most interesting. In almost Innisean fashion, slight differences in the setups of those continental industries greatly influenced what could and could not become a “bestselling” book in each sphere of media, creating differences in public reaction even when the same text was published in both realms at the same time.

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