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Beowulf on the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literature's 50 Greatest Hits Paperback – May 19, 2009


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 374 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (May 19, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307409570
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307409577
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.2 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #331,375 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Jack Murnighan’s enthusiasm for the great books–and his understanding of why they still matter–is genuinely infectious. Reading Beowulf on the Beach is like belonging to the most stimulating and hilarious book club you could possibly imagine.”
—Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad Is Good For You

“Odysseus was a hero in his own way. But to me, a true hero? Jack Murnighan. He's ingested these 50 massive books and given us a ridiculously entertaining guide. Beowulf on the Beach is funny, smart, passionate and wise. Just having it on your shelf will raise your IQ.”
—A.J. Jacobs, author of The Know-It-All 

"Jack Murnighan unveils a lot more sexiness–and pleasure of all kinds–in classic literature than most people would ever dream of."
—Susie Bright, editor of the Best American Erotica series

About the Author

JACK MURNIGHAN has a Ph.D. in medieval and renaissance literature from Duke University. He is the author of The Naughty Bits and Classic Nasty and has written for Esquire, Glamour, and Nerve. He lives in New York City and teaches creative nonfiction at the University of the Arts.

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Customer Reviews

Murnighan drains the swamp of any inhibition one may have to delve into these classics.
Stephen Kaufman
And if you find that you really do like a particular book, you can always go back to the part you skipped and read it later.
Neal J. King
I'd especially recommend this a starter book for a book club, an excellent read just to take to the beach.
l

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Kaufman on May 20, 2009
Format: Paperback
Murnighan drains the swamp of any inhibition one may have to delve into these classics. He focuses us on the humor and insights to be derived and provides a fresh scaffold. A definite must read for all college freshman as well as for those now motivated to revisit these literary giants.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By l on May 25, 2009
Format: Paperback
Wow!! This is truly one of the best purchases I've made on Amazon, and I've been buying books online for years just waiting to find something so awesome!

Sit back, relax and enjoy the brilliance. Curling up with this book was like having a fantasy dinner party with every genius writer you skipped over in your youth. The author is an extremely talented writer, I guess his work spans a doctorate in medieval literature as well as trendy online blogs, and so he has this truly magical ability to breathe new life into these works, without making it a snoozefest. He reminds us how to read the great works, and does so with such a witty and hilarious flair, and wow, his lovingly selected quotes make you glad you waited for this book.

I'd especially recommend this a starter book for a book club, an excellent read just to take to the beach. It makes great summer reading, and especially perfect if you've been thinking about delving into some of the classics, but can't think where to start.

Really an instant classic.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By J. K. Murnighan on May 24, 2009
Format: Paperback
This is a great, hilarious, mind-boggling book. It is funny, intense, and full of insights and ideas. How could anyone read all these tomes, be so delighted by them, and show us how we can enjoy them too? Only someone with a huge intellect and tremendous passion for great literature. It's a wonderful thing when your children impress you, and that is certainly the case here. Although Jack would like this book to push us all to read the originals, too many of us will simply delight in his summaries, love the humor, and act like we know more than we do when we steal the great quotes that he provides and act like we found them ourselves. For my money, the chapter on the Old Testament and the opening sentence on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice are worth more than the cost of the book. And these are only two of the many gems in this lively, entertaining read. Enjoy!
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Ron Jennings on May 25, 2009
Format: Paperback
I really loved this book. It is so much fun and such a pleasure to read, but there is a serious side to it, too. A friend and I once had a long discussion about the fact that, if you wanted to, you could not come up with a better way to ruin literature for readers than the way it is taught in American high schools and colleges. If that is true, Murnighan is our very own Virgil or Beatrice, our wise and wonderful guide through the literary Inferno that this terrible system makes of these great books. Along the way, with equal parts wit and wisdom, Murnighan rehabilitates these books for us--pointing out the offenders of every kind--and reminds us the point is to like reading, and that means that we, the readers, have the right to judge and choose, and no just to accept what our betters tell us. I promise you'll be a convert. That, and its beautifully written, too.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 1000 REVIEWER on November 6, 2009
Format: Paperback
Jack Murnighhan states in his chapter on `Madame Bovary': `Read the wrong thing, and the damage is irreversible.' I agree. Although sometimes I think it's an issue of timing: a book that is inaccessible or incomprehensible at one stage may become a joy to read at a different stage. Or vice versa.

The main reason I bought this book was to see which the chosen 50 books were. Having some quite fixed favourites of my own, I'm always intrigued by which books others choose, and why. Once I checked that `Wuthering Heights' had been included, I relaxed and enjoyed the book.

I liked the structure of this book which included a cheat sheet which includes the following headings: What to Skip; The Buzz; What People Don't Know (But Should); Best Line; What's Sexy; Quirky Fact; and What to Skip. This cheat sheet is applied to each of the 50 books. I don't agree with all of Jack Murnighan's views, but I enjoyed reading them. His enthusiasm for these books and for literature in general is contagious. I'm not sure that I'll tackle all of the classics I've not yet read (roughly half of those listed) but I'm tempted to read some and to reread others.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Neal J. King on October 22, 2009
Format: Paperback
I've already read about 17 out of his list of 50 classics, but I can't say that I've enjoyed all of them. I plowed through some stretches more out of a sense of duty than of enjoyment.

Murnighan's approach is to read the part that you'll enjoy, and pass on the rest. This idea kind of shocked me, as my customary approach has been that a book (especially a "classic") should be taken as a whole - the unitary artistic output of an act of creation. Murnighan's rather irreverent approach (as demonstrated in his choice of language as well as in his pick-and-choose attitude) I found somewhat strange. However, there is a touch of wisdom in it: If you're out of school and reading for your own pleasure, why force yourself to read what you don't like? Conversely, why deny yourself the pleasure of reading what you might like, just because it's embedded with other material that is not to your taste? Even as a "dutiful student of literature", doesn't it make more sense to read part of a classic than none of it? And if you find that you really do like a particular book, you can always go back to the part you skipped and read it later.

I will definitely go back to this book the next time I want to read one of these 50 classics. But I will apply the insight of "skipping what's not fun" to other books as well!
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