Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"Beowulf on the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literature's 50 Greatest Hits" by Jack Murnighan

The biggest reason I picked up this book is the title; I am a fanatic fan of "Beowulf". I own two different editions, one illustrated, and I tend to read a version of the classic about once every 5 years or so. I just think it's one of the best stories of all time. Obviously, I wanted to see what this author had to say about that work and the others listed here. I also thought I might get some ideas about how to approach the classics I haven't tried yet (which are a lot, despite the B.A. I earned in said subject!)

Murnighan has a nice style and he very much wants you to love literature like he does. He does a good job of breaking down the works into some basic highlights, things like what you should know if you're going to be discussing this at a cocktail party, little-known factoids about the work/author, the "sexy" parts (and yes, there are some in some of the works, and there are a lot in others!), etc. Best of all, he tells you what you can skip. Yes, he admits that there are parts of each of these 50 pieces that don't really add all that much to the overall work, and that by skipping those parts, you actually do yourself a huge favor; you get to read the "best" parts and truly enjoy them.

There are a lot of different types of work addressed here, too, everything from The Bible to Cormac McCarthy. I will admit that this book probably works best as a sort of bedside companion; if you're taking on one of these "Greatest Hits", have this to guide you. I found it to be a bit overwhelming to read the whole thing from cover to cover - too much info to digest, most of which I won't remember in another month or so. And what about that fave of mine, Beowulf? I think Murnighan is more in love with it than I am, and I'm happy to say that he wasn't overly dazzled by Seamus Heaney's version of it, either. I have added the version he recommends here to my Amazon Wish List - can never have too much Beowulf!!

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