The Western Lit Survival Kit: An Irreverent Guide to the Classics, from Homer to Faulkner by Sandra Newman
Published: 2012 by Gotham Books
Source: Received from publisher for review
Aside from a Shakespeare play every year in high school (The Tempest, The Merchant of Venice, Macbeth, and Hamlet), my education in "classical" literature was sparse. I remember studying Bruce Springsteen's lyrics as poetry, so my English teachers were very much on the modern side of the spectrum. I am on a quest to round out my reading experience by catching up with what I've missed, but let's face it -- books labeled classic also get an intimidating label upon them.
Sandra Newman has endeavored to relieve readers of some of the intimidation in these works in this witty and informative book. Starting with the ancient Greece and moving chronologically to the early twentieth century, she provides readable synopses of "key works" (well-represented but of course subjective) that explain not only the point of the piece (novels, short stories, plays and poetry are all represented) but also discussions of the historical periods and places in which these works were written and the evolution of the genres:
While Restoration literature is the voice of the nobility, eighteenth-century literature is by, for, and about the middle class. Literature becomes professionalized, ...
... the eighteenth-century novel is subtly different from our conventional novels. It tends to break the fourth wall, reminding the reader again and again that this is a novel and that the author can, if he wishes, turn the hero into a rabbit at any moment.
The "key" players -- Homer, Dickens, Shakespeare (he gets his own chapter), Tolstoy, Hemingway, et al -- are well represented, and there are many names that I have never heard of. Most of the writers are male, but Jane Austen, the Brontes and Virginia Woolf among others are in there too. And the title says it all: Western Lit Survival Kit; Asian and African literature is not represented.
The book is written in a very tongue in cheek tone which annoyed me at times -- it seemed she felt the need to add a punch line to everything -- but it is informative and a good reference for both literature enthusiasts and neophytes alike.
Be sure to check out the other stops on the blog tour:
Monday, January 2nd: Sophisticated Dorkiness
Tuesday, January 3rd: Chaotic Compendiums
Wednesday, January 4th: DBC Reads
Thursday, January 5th: Book Hooked Blog
Friday, January 6th: Bibliophiliac
Tuesday, January 10th: Unabridged Chick
Wednesday, January 11th: The 3 R’s Blog
Thursday, January 12th: Library of Clean Reads
Friday, January 13th: Books Distilled
Monday, January 16th: Lit and Life
Tuesday, January 17th: Shooting Stars Mag
Wednesday, January 18th: Luxury Reading
Thursday, January 19th: Joyfully Retired
Friday, January 20th: Book Snob
Monday, January 23rd: Ted Lehmann’s Bluegrass, Books, and Brainstorms
Tuesday, January 24th: Sarah Reads Too Much
Wednesday, January 25th: Literary Musings
Thursday, January 26th: Between the Covers