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The Western Lit Survival Kit: An Irreverent Guide to the Classics, from Homer to Faulkner

4.12 of 5 stars 4.12  ·  rating details  ·  144 ratings  ·  47 reviews
A side-splitting tour that makes it a blast to read the Western literary canon, from the ancient Greeks to the Modernists.

To many, the Great Books evoke angst: the complicated Renaissance dramas we bluffed our way through in college, the dusty Everyman's Library editions that look classy on the shelf but make us feel guilty because they've never been opened. On a mission
Paperback, 304 pages
Published January 3rd 2012 by Gotham (first published January 1st 2012)
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Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
Rating: 4* of five

The Book Report: The author, a novelist and humorist, takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of Western literature, from The Odyssey through Ulysses and beyond. In her fast-talking tour guide patter, she offers up a large amount of information about each era covered, a medium amount of information about notable authors and their works, and a huge heap of hilarity and opinion along the way. Helpful touches such as charts showing the “Importance”, the “Accessibility”, and the “Fun”
This is the funniest book I've read since Haven Kimmel's "She Got Up Off the Couch," which was the funniest book I'd read since Haven Kimmel's "A Girl Named Zippy." In actual fact, "The Western Lit Survival Kit" is kind of like if Haven Kimmel wrote recaplets of the entire Western canon.

In some ways, Sandra Newman's book is a love letter to literature. And it's because she loves words and stories so much that she's able to take the piss out of every author and poet and book and sonnet without c
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 jok
I was an English major in college. I had been steered away from Mathematics (which is a whole other story), I knew I wanted to be a librarian and I liked to read. What choice did I have about my major? However, I managed to graduate without reading many of the classics. So I am always fascinated by books like The Western Lit Survival Kit. I wonder what I missed.

Newman not only gave me info about the books I missed but also reminded me of some great works that I had enjoyed and not thought about
I really enjoyed this book. Loved the author's sense of humor, and I always enjoy reading about the classics, whether I've read them or not. Her honesty and sense of humor actually has encouraged me to try some books I really haven't had much interest before. Fun book.
Mar 01, 2012 Limeminearia rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: rebecca
This is making me giggle and giggle.

I'm done and I loved it. Oh Sandra Newman, not only do you crack me up, you also make me love (some) literature and love life. You are the best.
Feb 18, 2012 G. rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: lit nerds like me
Recommended to G. by: library lady nerd
A fun review of all the books and authors I lived for as a lit major. Only Proust seems to come through unscathed. Hilarious!
Remember having to read all of those classics in high school and college? If you weren’t an English major, it may have felt like torture (heck, even as an English major reading some of those books may have felt like torture). Oftentimes, reading the classics is made out to be something that everyone should do, and if they don’t, they should feel super guilty about it. I’m one of those people who thinks that reading the classics is important not only to understand the history of literature, but a ...more
Jill Elizabeth
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 mathemat ...more
Audra (Unabridged Chick)
Don't let that rather pedestrian first line put you off; this is an irreverent yet avowedly geeky look at the canon of Western European literature. Beginning with the ancient Greeks and ending with the Modernists, Newman provides pithy summaries of famous works with humorous ratings (by importance, accessibility, and fun).

Ranking books is pretty subjective, no matter how objective the criteria, and I'm honestly not usually a fan of this kind of non-fiction (I like forming my own opinion, thank y
An overview for high school/college students or those who want help deciding what is important to read from the Western Canon. The author does an excellent job of synopsizing different eras and summarizing the important works of each time period. She grades each book on importance, accessibility and fun (enjoyment probability). Background information on authors' lives and impact of each book provide many intriguing tidbits.

However, as the title states, this is 'An Irreverent Guide to the Classi
This book accomplished all the things it set out to do: it was very funny, it was very informative, and it did inspire me to go out and read some of the literature it describes. (Not ALL the literature, though. I am now more than ever determined to stay away from James Joyce.) There are a lot of guides to classic books out there, and this is probably better than most. It would be a good companion to Newman's other book Read This Next: 500 of the Best Books You'll Ever Read , or Michael Dirda's ...more
Mark Donnelly
I recommend!

Newman writes with authority, humor, zeal, and precision. Her book is exceptionally brilliant. Why? Because it covers the history of literature since Homer...only the ones that are important. It was so interesting, I found myself reading into the wee hours, and I found myself becoming a better person, writer, and lover because I read this book. And I highlighted through the process what classics were important to me and my future.

I suspect if you are interested in literature, you'll
As someone always looking to fill in the gaps in my knowledge, this was helpful and a fun read in letting me know which gaps can stay unfilled. I did think the 20th century got somewhat short shaft though – she indicates she’ll only cover writers who have an established “critical consensus”, but would that not include, say, Waugh or Forster? Anyway, minor complaint.
Fun, particularly as I've probably read about 80% of the books and authors profiled. I like the snarky tone but wonder if that may turn off readers who arent well versed in Western Lit.
Informative, smart and completely irreverent.
If the study of the Western literary canon were a standup routine it would be called The Western Lit Survival Kit—and it would be very funny![return][return]Sandra Newman’s overview of 2500 years of literary aspirations is an irreverent guide to the classics, from Homer to Faulkner. I know this because it’s clearly stated on the cover. Harold Bloom must be spinning in his grave (or he will be if he’s not there yet...I forget which).[return][return]As far as the Greeks and Romans are concerned, t ...more
Margot Bigg
This is not meant to be a serious study of literature, which should be obvious from the title. It's a fun, quick read although the contrived humour is sometimes a bit irksome--since it's not really that funny, especially when she waxes poetic about speculations of certain writers' sexual orientation.

I found it a bit strange is that once we get past the classical era, she seems to focus nearly exclusively on English (by that I mean British/Irish/American) and French lit, with a bit of Italian a
Have you ever read a book that made you feel smart and dumb at the same time? Well, The Western Lit Survival Kit made me feel this way. However when I say the book made me feel dumb I do not mean that the author made me feel this way. No the book got me excited about literature. The author’s vast knowledge of literature can be a little intimidating though.
So many times before I’ve picked up a “classic” and thought it would be too intellectual or over my head. The author, Sandra Newman, breaks
Amazing. I loved this book and will be using it as a guide to make my way through the classics in 2015! Newman is clever, intelligent and hilarious. She manages to make sarcastic comments about acknowledged works of literary genius without diminishing them and whilst still encouraging you to read them.

“In the 1920s, educators like Mortimer Adler started the Great Books programs, while imprints like Everyman's Library made the classics available to everyone at reasonable prices ... From then on,
E.M. Epps
I adore this book. If you are considering getting an English Lit degree, why not just memorize this instead? You'll save time, you'll laugh more, and you'll still be able to chat knowingly about Restoration Drama when it comes up (as it does). Oh, did I mention you'll laugh? You will. A lot. I sometimes strongly disagree with Newman—and you probably will too—but (as should be clear from my blog) I prefer literary criticism with personality rather than some riculous pretense of objectivity. I rea ...more
You might be the kind of person that likes to discover, you might have wandered among books for a while. And then you meet a book about books. A guided tour, could be a good idea, why not?
The beginning is really fun, you recognize sites, you remember that you read some Greeks when you were a child (aren’t you something?) and this guide’s style is so relaxed and mischievous that you might find yourself wearing it around as a cape. Put down that cape and get back on the tour! Really…you’re just
Abbi Dion
This book is one of the funniest things I have read...ever. So funny it's almost too funny.

Two examples:

"In ancient Greece, poetry was thought to be inspired by one of the nine "Muses," who were the goddesses of the arts. Thus, the Iliad begins with an invocation: "Sing, Muse, of the wrath of Achilles." This line is by far the most famous in the book, because it is as far as most people get. Therefore, "Sing, Muse, of the wrath of Achilles" is a good thing to quote when the Iliad comes up in co
This book is similar to The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature but superior. For one, it's cheaper. Two, it doesn't have a politically incorrect axe to grind. The Guide had more in depth profiles over less works and only focused on English Literature starting at Beowulf, staying in England, and one throwaway chapter to America. The Guide has a stuffy feeling, while the Kit makes me want to hang out with the author.

The Kit covers Western Lit from Ancient Greece to the
Emily  O
Dec 02, 2012 Emily O rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: no-one, especially not students
Recommended to Emily by: hype
If you know me, you know that I am a big classics reader, so I thought that it would be fun to get The Western Lit Survival Kit and get a few laughs out of summaries and ratings she gives. As soon as I got the book, I opened to some classic books that I'd already read, just to get a taste for how she writes and what she's like. To put it lightly, I was not pleased, and my unhappiness with this book grew the more I read. (If you don't like negative reviews, you should just stop now. You have been ...more
I've always had a nebulous connection to the world of classics as taught by our fine educational systems. Throughout school I found that more often than not I had already read whatever we were going to read in class and had often read some relevant literary criticism. This is because I am a book nerd and I always have been.

I went to college with the notion of majoring in English (that's what book nerds do, right?), but after my first few classes I knew that wasn't the direction I wanted to go. T
Laura (booksnob)
Have you ever read a book, touted and revered as great, and wondered what made people "back in the day" want to read a book like that, much less deem it a classic? Year after year, high school and college English students read Western Lit and are not always sure why. The Western Lit Survival Kit is a reading guide to the historical and entertaining reasons why a book achieved greatness and with it, a long shelf life.

You can use The Western Lit Survival Kit as a reference guide to look up interes
The Western Lit Survival Kit is a whistlestop tour through Western Literature from the Greeks to the twentieth century. The sections on each author include a brief biography, a summary of major works and then a rating for importance, accessibility and fun. Designed for the non-expert, it's all written in a tongue in cheek style that is the opposite of a stuffy academic writing.

I was really excited to read The Western Lit Survival Kit because even though I studied English Literature to A-Level, I
This book could be subtitled Western Lit for Dummies, and I mean that as a compliment. There are those who look down their noses at the For Dummies and Complete Idiot's Guide series, but they are wrong. The point of these books is to give a quick overview and inspire the reader to perhaps investigate more on their own if they find the topic, or a subtopic thereof, sparks their interest. Now, granted, I don't expect people reading The Complete Idiot's Guide to Car Repair to delve deeper into the ...more
Mike Pope
"Irreverent" is quite correct. It's not quite a Survey of Western Lit, but it's close. But it's a great tour, with witty and insightful commentary. Newman doesn't pull her punches about authors and works she likes and doesn't like, so some folks are apt to get miffed when she excoriates a favorite author. But the ones she likes, she really sticks up for, to wit:
You might think that no one could possibly remain to be introduced to [Jane Austen’s] work. However, one large population has escaped it
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