The Western Lit Survival Kit: How to Read the Classics Without Fear, By Sandra Newman

Debunking literature's untouchables

This is a witty, entertaining but genuinely informative trawl through the western literary canon, populated as it is mostly by Dead White Males but also full of some wonderful words.

Newman's love of literature is beyond question even as she shows a healthy disrespect for our untouchable literary gods ("Watching Hamlet try to avenge his father is uncannily like watching your teenaged son try to get a job"). She constructs a sensible narrative arc beginning with Greek epics, leading through the Renaissance, a whole chapter for Shakespeare, the "shallows" of the 17th century, through to the "isms" of the 20th, without losing pace or skipping over essentials. She is also, of course, poking fun at our own literary pretensions, spiking our smugness.