The Western Lit Survival Kit: An Irreverent Guide to the Classics, from Homer to Faulkner

Overview

A side-splitting tour that makes it a blast to read the Western literary canon, from the ancient Greeks to the Modernists.

To many, the Great Books evoke angst: the complicated Renaissance dramas we bluffed our way through in college, the dusty Everyman's Library editions that look classy on the shelf but make us feel guilty because they've never been opened. On a mission to restore the West's great works to their rightful place (they were intended to be entertaining!), Sandra ...

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The Western Lit Survival Kit: An Irreverent Guide to the Classics, from Homer to Faulkner

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Overview

A side-splitting tour that makes it a blast to read the Western literary canon, from the ancient Greeks to the Modernists.

To many, the Great Books evoke angst: the complicated Renaissance dramas we bluffed our way through in college, the dusty Everyman's Library editions that look classy on the shelf but make us feel guilty because they've never been opened. On a mission to restore the West's great works to their rightful place (they were intended to be entertaining!), Sandra Newman has produced a reading guide like no other. Beginning with Greek and Roman literature, she takes readers through hilarious detours and captivating historical tidbits on the road to Modernism. Along the way, we find parallels between Rabelais and South Park, Jane Austen and Sex and the City, Jonathan Swift and Jon Stewart, uncovering the original humor and riskiness that propelled great authors to celebrity.

Packed with pop culture gems, stories of literary hoaxes, ironic day jobs for authors, bad reviews of books that would later become classics, and more.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A clever tour d'horizon of what you might encounter in a Great Books course in college. At first glance, Newman's (Read This Next, 2010, etc.) work comes across as a comedy routine meant to poke many of the received-opinion greats in the eye with a sharp stick, much in the manner of Ovid, one of the author's favorites. And that is certainly part, but far from all, of the truth. First, a typical zinger: "As a general note, all of Homer's heroes were illiterates who considered rape and genocide normal. Generations of European boys were raised on Homer. Just saying." The author is not here to venerate--though Shakespeare gets a pretty deep genuflection--or eviscerate: She appreciates genius and fine, intellectually thrilling writing. With each writer, she gets to the nub of a work or style from the outset ("The Bronte home was a little biosphere of literary misery"), and she is not afraid to venture her true feelings: Of Tristram Shandy: "Page for page, it's possibly the funniest novel ever." Newman is a serious fan of humor and a good roll in the hay: e.g., Sappho, Tom Jones and Gargantua and Pantagruel. Montaigne's Essays also get the nod, as do Dickinson, Kafka, Eliot and a holy host of others. Half the fun here is quibbling with her choices and tinkering with her rating system: How important are the books considered? How accessible are they? How much fun? Newman assigns each a number from 1 to 10, and despite all the levity, she has clearly (if seemingly surreptitiously) read deeply and brought serious rumination to the proceedings. A sly piece of work--though you still should read the books.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781592406944
  • Publisher: Gotham
  • Publication date: 1/3/2012
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 1,375,955
  • Product dimensions: 6.08 (w) x 9.08 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Meet the Author

Sandra Newman is the author of the novels Cake and The Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done, and a memoir, Changeling. She is the coauthor of How Not to Write a Novel and Read This Next. Newman lives in Brooklyn.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 3, 2012

    A great - and fun and snarky and very useful - reference book...

    The subtitle for The Western Lit Survival Kit says it all: "An Irreverent Guide to the Classics, from Homer to Faulkner". I've tried reading and/or flipping through anthologies like this before. Usually, collections of short précis or summaries of books/theories/philosophies sound much better than they actually are. Every author/compiler seems to think they are more witty and urbane than everyone else on the planet. Mathematically, of course, this isn't possible. And the books bear that mathematical impossibility out.

    Most of the time, books like The Western Lit Survival Kit read like a mediocre student's collection of seventh grade book reports. Still, somehow I remain an eternal optimist about this type of book, despite the fact that I am a die-hard pessimist (or at best cynic) about all other things in life, and despite the fact that I am nearly always universally disappointed as a result. So imagine my delight when I started reading this one and found that it did, in fact, deliver on its promise!

    Sandra Newman's summaries and analyses - as well as her scales rating the importance, difficulty, and fun of the various works she describes - are concise without being curt, interesting without being overdramatic, and surprisingly fun to read. She covers a wide variety of works by the standard canonical western world authors, and sprinkles in fun facts, odd tidbits of insight and snarkiness. There is also just enough evidence of her apparently insatiable appetite for authors many of us cannot stomach to make the book a fun and useful reference guide.

    I'm not in school anymore. I don't need crib-notes on the plot, meaning, or purpose of literary works. I've read enough to be able to hold my own in conversation about most of the great works - through reference even if not through direct reads. Still, there are authors that I've never quite been able to get through at more than a superficial level, as well as some whose point I've never been able to fully grasp. Newman's guide is a great way to get a better sense of the content and significance (at least to the world of literature, even if not to the world of Jill-Elizabeth, teehee) of these. And it is pretty fun - and funny - too.

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