Book Review: The Western Lit Survival Kit
Author: Sandra Newman
Publisher: Gotham, January 3, 2012
Back when I was in college one of the graduation requirements was a two-semester course called Survey of Western Civilization. Although it was challenging, it remains one of my favorite college courses. It covered the major written works in philosophy and literature from the 1500s to the twentieth century.
I kept all those books for years after college, intending to go back and reread them. But after graduation I began focusing on career, then family, and more career events, and I never got back to them. The closest I got to those classics was when my two oldest children went to St. Johns College, a four-year program in the Great Books.
And now along comes this book: The Western Lit Survival Guide: An Irreverent Guide to the Classics, from Homer to Faulkner by Sandra Newman. This light-hearted and educational tome has me saying to myself, “What are you waiting for?” These retirement years are the perfect time. My brain hasn’t turned to mush; it’s filled with a lifetime of experiences and thoughts – just right for the classics.
The suthor, Sandra Newman, is . . . .
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.
There are several things I like about The Western Lit Survival Kit.
- It’s written intelligently but in a way that makes the reader believe the classics are not impossible.
- The summaries about the time period. They give the reader an overlook at what was going on and why a particular literary work is important.
- Sidebars throughout the chapters are fun “by the ways.”
- The author offers a rating system for each classic. It’s a three-point system of 1 to 10. They look at Importance, Accessibility, and Fun. (Pride and Prejudice: 10-10-10)
- I liked the two timelines in the back of the book. They make nice lists: Books To Read and a Check-Off list
The use of humor is widespread throughout the book. (It’s subtitled “An Irreverent Guide.”) The first few chapters were a bit over the top that they actually seemed silly. After those beginning chapters, however, the humor levels out. The author is, after all, a professor. Her knowledge shines through in the book. She’s a great salesperson for the classics.
I usually donate my review books to the library or library book sale. Not this one. I’m hanging on to it as a great reference book. The publisher is offering one copy as a GIVEAWAY to any US resident reading this blog. In the comments, please tell me if you are interested in winning a copy. I’ll use Random.org to pick the winner and let you know who that is on January 26th.
Thanks to the publisher for my copy of the book and to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to be a part of it all. To see other stops on the book tour, visit the schedule here: TLC Book Tours