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

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3.6 of 5 stars 3.60  ·  rating details  ·  425 ratings  ·  107 reviews

If you’re like most folks, you probably feel guilty for never reading War and Peace, Ulysses, or Moby-Dick. Or maybe you read them in school, but you didn’t exactly enjoy them, right? Writer and professor Jack Murnighan says it’s not the books that put you off, it was the lifeless, uninspiring way they‘re usually taught. Now, with Beowulf on the Beach, you’ll discover not

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Kindle Edition
Published (first published 2009)
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Nikki
It's perhaps inevitable that I wouldn't get on with this book, for three reasons. One, I'm an academic type. Two, Beowulf genuinely is my idea of a beach read. Three, in his words, I sit down to pee.

No, no. I don't mean that in a derogatory, 'women always argue' way. I mean that Jack Murnighan keeps going on about 'Man Lit', and how amaaaazing it is that he managed to find anything worth reading in Pride and Prejudice, and how all women are going to be all starry-eyed over Darcy, and whatever.

Th...more
Jain
Alternately engaging and infuriating; I talked back to this book a lot while reading it. Murnighan has an unfortunate tendency to reduce works to male and female literature. (Men won't like Pride and Prejudice, especially the last third of the book; women won't like Beowulf. [Okay, to be fair, he doesn't actually come out and say the second bit, but here is what he says: "If there's such a thing as Man Lit, this is it: a plot-driven, action-brimming, hero-of-heroes story line, man vs. monster, b...more
Alex
Murnighan is also the author of a book called The Naughty Bits: The Steamiest and Most Scandalous Sex Scenes from the World's Great Books, and that tells you a lot about him. Murnighan is the guy who considers himself "the cool professor" at your college. His mission here is to take some books traditionally considered old, crusty, impenetrable and boring, and convince you that in fact they are cool.

This is a lovely idea, and of course he's right. Sometimes. I mean, no, the Old Testament is not c...more
Lisa
May 25, 2009 Lisa is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
OMG...I don't know if it is my teaching background or love of classics, but it doesn't matter. This book is making me giggle madly. I am cornering my children and reading sections aloud to them. I'm only a little ways into it, but I have a total crush on this book. Each section is about a classic summarized, broken down, digested and spit back out in a way you've never heard before. For instance, on The Old Testament under Quirky Fact:

The Old Testament is probably the greatest compendium of quir...more
Beth
I really, really wanted to like this book. As a reader, and a reader of the classics, I thought that it would be fun and interesting to read about which books the author deemed worthy and to read why he thought others were unworthy. A mistake I made, and it was my mistake, was to misread the title. I thought the author would tell me which novels as a whole to skip from his list of 50. Not so, instead he tells you which parts within the works to skip. I cannot even begin to say how offensive I fo...more
James Payne
The author's voice made me miserable. He is fond of perpetuating gender stereotypes and does so throughout the book. For example, and I'm paraphrasing here, "Woman like Pride and Prejudice and dudes totally don't!" I guess I'm pretty embarrassed that I read this. I feel like I debased myself in some way. The author also repeatedly referred to how arduous the writing of the book was, which to me seems sort of inexplicable. No entry is very in-depth, and it's rare to read something in it that a Wi...more
Jen B
This book has found its way onto my bookshelf at school alongside To Kill A Mockingbird, Romeo & Juliet, and the other high school staples I teach. I have loved using it to teach literary criticism and analysis this year. The author has such a funny, modern voice that most of my students really enjoyed reading his interpretations of books that they (and sometimes I) thought were boring. I have not read all of the books listed in Murnighan's 50 greatest hits, but I'm going to add a few of the...more
Sarahlynn Lester
I've been reading this one for nearly a year and will probably finish this summer. I think that's the perfect pace for this book; if I read too quickly the chapters merge together in my mind I begin to confuse James Joyce with Thomas Mann. This is a fabulous book and I might loan out my copy but I'll never give it away.
Kam
One of the most common assumptions people make about my choice of career is that I am as well-read as my job description implies, and because of that, I have a reason to be - even an obligation to be - snooty about my reading choices, and make equally snooty declarations regarding any literary work I come across. These people look at me and titter, and say that I must have read the Russian novelists and enjoyed them, or that I must find Joyce and Woolf exceedingly enlightening reads.

But I do not...more
Heather
Rating: A-

Summary: Dr. Smarty Pants (aka, the down-to-earth Jack Murnighan) gives you a low-down on 50 of the world's greatest books. He tells you what's sexy, what's skip-able, and why this book will rock your world if you'll just give it a chance. He aims to bring the lofty and esoteric of literature down to the huddled masses of the world so we can enjoy it too.

Review: I do admit that I have a fondness (and maybe a little bit of a crush) on this author. I mean it, let's get real, what guy was...more
Joanna
This book was not quite what I had expected. It did serve two purposes for me-- a review of lit. that I don't actually intend to re-read, and some teasers that encourage me to read some that I hadn't read yet. Otherwise, I found myself irritated a lot of the time. The author doesn't seem to have a grasp of his audience really. He includes a "What's Sexy" category in each review, and honestly, he uses that section to reveal when and if there is sex happening in the work. I submit to you, the fact...more
Kaylee Burns
Well this certainly was a very interesting novel. I learned a little bit about several of the "50 Greatest Pieces of Literature" but it was really only his opinion on things. It gave an adequate description of the novels and made even some of them sound interesting, but all in all I was thoroughly bored. The book was easy to read but I felt like I was just reading it page by page just to get through it. The bible review did intrigue me a bit. His fascination of the Songs of Solomon really seemed...more
Elizabeth
By the end, I felt it was worth reading this book because I managed to get a couple good points, the beginning was painful. Despite the marketing of essentially bringing classic literature to the masses, the author is constantly making difficult word choices in his writing (I read quite a bit and there were a lot of words that I had never seen before, let alone just didn't know what they meant). I agree with the another reviewer that his choices left something to be desired on the whole and that...more
Sue
Although he sometimes becomes rather too enamored of his own vocabulary, Murnighan pretty much hits the nail on the head with most of the books he reviews. And he's funny and easy to read. I was rather relieved to hear a PhD in Medieval and Renaissance Literature say that there are parts to the "great" novels that aren't so great; especially when he called the main character in James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, a "simmpering dork". I'd always thought of him as an annoying twit...more
Sarah B
Really a 3.5 star book. I enjoyed this, and I appreciated the effort it took to put this together. I do not read as an academic, plot is almost always more important in my reading than the language and allegorical meaning, so I like the way he laid out ways to read deeper into the works. After reading this, I definitely have some classics to add to the list , and some to leave off. Not bad.
Amy
Jul 17, 2009 Amy marked it as unfinished  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009-reads
I heard an interview with the author on NPR one morning while heading to the farmer's market.

So far, I have enjoyed the book. I'm not sure that it's a "read straight through" book but is more of a reference to come back to at various times.
Troy Jeffcoat
I first heard about this book on the podcast Books on the Nightstand. They talked about how it will movitivate you to rethink the classics. They even made a summer reading challenge around reading 4 classics during the summer. I didn't hear the podcast in time to be a part of the challenge, but I did find it interesting enough to pick up and read in about a week. I enjoyed the discussion topics and how Murnighan layed each book by the buzz, what's sexy, best line, what you don't know but should....more
Christina (Boupie)
Apr 22, 2012 Christina (Boupie) rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to get excited about reading the classics
This is a very entertaining book (if you can look past his some what biases choice of classics). He did what he set out to do and entertained along the way. Like all good literature professors his aim is to get you to want to read the classics, to get excited about them, and ultimately take something away from them. His choice of classics I will relate at the bottom (more for me than for your benefit) and not all of them seemed like classics to me, but all of them sounded interesting enough I mi...more
Alice
Until I've read more of the novels mentioned in this book I think I'll have to stick with 3 stars. It seems to me, with not a lot of insider knowledge, that the author doesn't credit his audience with much intelligence. To me reading is very subjective. While the author of a particular novel might have had something specific in mind when writing I, as the reader, apply my own meaning. I might enjoy knowing what the writer meant, but in the end I'm usually going to stick with what I thought and f...more
Kacy
A Beach Read

This is a light-hearted book about books, written in a conversational style. It served as an important addition to my summer reading, as I needed something with short chapters and sections to read while supervising my children in the kiddie pool. I enjoyed Murnighan's candid descriptions of the books featured--finding classics to add to my reading list and a few to cross off. Murnighan is honest about the books he features, and it's obvious that his clear favorites are Moby Dick and...more
Licha
I appreciate what author Jack Murnighan was trying to do with this book. I wish he would stuck to the better known classics that we all have probably stayed away from thanks to high school, though. The whole purpose it would seem is to get us to read what we have all heard about but have cringed away from for one reason or another.

Each classic is reviewed with some commentary by the author, a breakdown about what's good, bad, and sexy in each classic. He even adds a "What to Skip" section where...more
Dylan Popowicz
[Printed in the Sacramento Book Review: http://sacramentobookreview.com/books... ]



I was skeptical about this book, presuming it to be yet another list of the “greatest” novels, what they’re about, why you should or shouldn’t read them, etc. And Beowulf on the Beach really is just that, but Murnigham pulls off the over-done “book on books” concept with a flair that you might not find anywhere else.



Firstly, everything is described and allocated its value through a liberal dousing of common (but ca...more
theduckthief
"Let's give literature another look, but this time we'll enjoy ourselves. And I don't just mean above the ears; I want you to feel these books in your heart, in your soul, and maybe even below your waist. I myself am a recovering academic (it's a tough twelve-step program), but since the day I took off my tweed, I've been on a mission to appreciate the classics for their deep humanity and wonder. And trust me, if you read any or all of the books I'm championing here, you'll be shocked at what yo...more
Jaclyn
I read Beowulf on the Beach for a couple of reasons - because I liked the title, I like books about books/reading, I wanted to hear what the author thought about some of MY favorite books, and I wanted to add to my TBR list. In no specific order, here are my thoughts, and then (be forewarned) I'm going to make some lists.

-A lot of other reviewers complained about the author's macho dude perspective, particularly in referring to Beowulf as man-lit (I think it was Beowulf, might have been somethin...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
I do not think there could be a person on earth (1) who obviously loves reading as much as I do, yet (2) who has completely and totally opposite reading tastes.

Let me make one thing clear: Jack is a GUY. He is looking for action in books. Plot. Fighting. Killing. Plunder. You know. That sort of stuff.
I could care less about plot. I want to get inside people’s heads. I want to understand people. A group of intriguing people, sitting around in chairs, talking? Excellent book for me.
So Beowulf at...more
Marsha
Mr. Murnighan brings powerful passion to his discussion of the myriad novels, plays and tracts that he tackles here. Determined to plumb what is great and not so great about works as varied as Shakespeare’s plays, the Bible and “Paradise Lost” et al. He dissects these oeuvres chapter by chapter and sometimes line by line. He’s not afraid to tackle popular opinion; his ideas can be daring and contrary to what hoi polloi commonly think. (Dickens is superior to Shakespeare; the Bible isn’t a terrif...more
Amy
I really enjoyed this book ... I loved that I was able to dip in and out over time as I was able to read a bit. I liked to read what Jack Murnighan thought about each of these classics. His perspective on these novels is interesting. I didn't always agree with him but it was nice to see what he thought of the books that I love (and hate). There are a number of books on his list that I will probably never read so it was nice to get a taste of them through this book. Although they may not be what...more
Fiona McGier
Feb 01, 2011 Fiona McGier rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who is interested in classics.
This book offers a great way to learn about classic books that you've always meant to read, but never got around to. The author clearly loves literature, and makes you enjoy it along with him. He gives a synopsis as well as cute features like "famous lines from the book", and "naughty bits" from each book he discusses. I'm not sure I'd agree with his inclusion of some of the books, since he doesn't always pick the most well-known of an author's works, but he does know the books inside and out......more
Richelle
Well I simply loved the idea of this book, having been the high school English student that he often describes: a slacker, more or less. I just didn't appreciate much of what we were given to read. I don't know if it was more my mind-set at the time, or the delivery of the information, but little-to-nothing stayed with me. Admittedly, however, I did not finish this book. I don't think that I will, until I have read everything that he discusses. I just get frustrated that I don't really understan...more
Sam
I turned my nose up at this book when I read about it at first, thinking it would be another one of those books for people who don't know anything about books and need to be told what to read. Then, I picked it up one day at the library in order to scoff at it and quickly realized just how wrong I was. Beowulf on the Beach has something for everybody, regardless of how much or how little someone has read. I found myself laughing at descriptions of things I had read, taking note of things Murnigh...more
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Smalltown Hoosier by birth, central-Illinoisan till college, then some semiotics at Brown, an Orwellian stint in Paris, a Ph.D. in Medieval Lit from Duke, and finally New York's Chinatown. And now that i've hauled all my books to my 6th-floor walk-up, i'm staying put.
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