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The Western Lit Survival Kit: An Irreverent Guide to the Classics, from Homer to Faulkner Paperback – January 3, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"How can one book be totally irreverent and incredibly informative at the same time ? Must be a trick. And Sandra Newman pulls this trick off with laugh-out-loud humor."
-Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein, authors of Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes

"Sandra Newman extends a lifeline to those drowning in what others told us was the Western literature necessary to read. This is about what is needed to live. " -Evan Dobelle, Author / Researcher of " Saviors of our Cities " and President of Horace Mann's Westfield State University, " The People's College "

About 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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Gotham; Original edition (January 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781592406944
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592406944
  • ASIN: 1592406947
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #404,654 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sandra Newman is co-author of How Not To Write A Novel. She is the author of the novels The Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done and Cake, as well as the forthcoming memoir Changeling. She has taught writing and literature at Temple University, Chapman University, and the University of Colorado, and has published fiction and non-fiction in Harper's, Granta, and London's Observer, Telegraph, and Mail on Sunday newspapers, among other journals and newspapers.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Buchanan on February 15, 2012
Format: Paperback
The subtitle of Newman's book reads "An Irreverent Guide to the Classics, from Homer to Faulkner," a statement which is absolutely true and almost everything you need to know about this book. Sandra Newman has put together a wry, funny and delightful journey from the Classical literature of the Greeks to meta-fiction in the twentieth century, and along the way she sneaks in an abundance of fascinating bits of history, biography, and literary criticism; but she manages to do it so well that you don't even realize you're learning anything. Entertainment that makes us smarter--this is definitely a book I'll be keeping on my shelves to read, refer to and recommend to friends over and over again.

One of the things I appreciated about the book is that Sandra Newman was able to be irreverent without being disrespectful. While she is not afraid to tease the pedestal right out from under some of our sacred authors, it is always done with love, and more importantly, with knowledge. For example, when she writes of Henry James that his sentences are "a sort of literary Great Wall: while other, similar, structures exist, none are quite so long with so little apparent reason. (In fact, some sentences in The Golden Bowl can be seen from space)" it is as a lead-in to a discussion of the multiple layers of feeling and perception which can be found in these sentences. Of course the discussion, as with the rest of the book, is all tongue in cheek, which is what keeps this subtle literary lecture absolutely engaging.

Newman employs a rating system in each chapter (or for each author); and each work gets graded on a scale of 1 to 10 in the areas of importance, accessibility, and fun.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jill-Elizabeth (Jill Franclemont) on January 18, 2012
Format: Paperback
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.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer VINE VOICE on January 13, 2012
Format: Paperback
Book Description

As subtitles often do, this book's subtitle pretty much says it all: "An Irreverent Guide to the Classics from Homer to Faulkner." As you can imagine, presenting an overview of the Great Books of Western literature is a pretty tall order. Forced to be brief and succinct, Newman still somehow manages to provide a brief author bio, a look at their notable works, and an overview of the time period in which they were writing. Along the way, she also manages to work in quite a few jokes. She also includes a chart that rates each work on three attributes: importance, accessibility and fun. As she notes in the introduction:

"Fun" does not mean "Quality." Paradise Lost is a work of acknowledged genius. It is also about as much fun as being trapped in a freezer. In the Fun rating, I've tried to incorporate various possible sources of fun, such as the loveliness of poetry and the page-turning quality of fiction. However, it all boils down to assessing the entertainment value of the work--not the deathless masterpieceness.

Each of the 14 chapters covers a different era or literary movement--starting with the Greeks and Ancient Rome, moving through times such as The Age of Reason: When People Wised Up And Started Believing What We Believe and ending up with The Messy Twentieth: Finally Over. Two timelines highlighting great moments in Western lit and the lives of the great authors are also included.

My Thoughts

I've been looking for a way to get a broad overview of Western lit without actually having to read too much of it, and Newman's book was a great way to do that. I tend to struggle with the classics--often finding them boring or impenetrable due to the unfamiliar language.
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