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

Beowulf on the Beach by Jack Murnighan
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Jul 03, 2011

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Read from June 29 to July 03, 2011

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 something else, there were a LOT of man-lit books in this compendium) and saying that if you stand up in the bathroom you probably won't like Jane Austen. I didn't expect that to bother me much because I'm pretty tolerant about other perspectives and I tend to keep the author's background in mind when reading something controversial. And the fact of the matter is, it's HARD to get dudes to read Jane Austen. I've completely given up on my husband where Jane Austen is concerned and moved on to trying to get him to read the Brontes (especially Emily, although I myself prefer Charlotte) and still he won't bite. Not saying that "it's a guy thing" should excuse anything, and it's inarguable that Murnighan focuses too intensely on macho books and leaves out some very good books by female authors, but... it is what it is.

-At the end of the book, Murnighan includes two pages on how he made his selections and mentions that he first tried to include classics that people hadn't read, but felt they should. Hence the Iliad, Odessey... I guess that's why the book that I personally consider to be the Great American Novel (that's right, it's already been written, folks) didn't make the cut. Pretty much everyone has already read To Kill A Mockingbird. But that doesn't mean it didn't deserve to be in the second wave of books that made the cut simply because they are supreme achievements. To Kill A Mockingbird is a supreme achievement. If you ask me, it is THE supreme achievement of American literature. Why wasn't it on Murnighan's list? I could forgive a lot by accounting for perspective, but that was inexcusable.

-It sounds like I didn't like this book. Please don't misunderstand: I did like it. It made me want to go back and re-read some of my favorites that were included here (Decameron, wut wut!) and added any number to my already ridiculous TBR list. I loved the inclusion of quirky facts and stuff people don't know in the discussion of each and every book mentioned. More than anything else, I loved how clear it is that the author really loves books, loves reading, and wants everyone to feel the same magic he does when he encounters a really great book. We might disagree about which books are the best (I for one have little interest in Herman Melville and next to no interest in Cormac McCarthy - I told you Murnighan is a macho dude) but we can agree that reading is awesome and more people should love it.

Now, on to my lists. You see, I took BOTB out of the library, so I have to keep track somehow. I don't expect many people will find these lists of mine useful, unless they have the same taste in books as I do and want to see how Murnighan affected my TBR list.

First, Murnighan's selections that I've already read (and now maybe want to re-read):

-Beowulf (Anonymous) - just recently read, enjoyed much
-Inferno (Dante) - read in high school, now must revisit
-The Decameron (Boccaccio) - a silly, witty, raunchy good time
-Hamlet (Shakespeare) - my angsty teenaged self adored it
-Macbeth (Shakespeare) - see above, especially Lady Macbeth
-Pride and Prejudice (Austen) - one of my all-time faves
-Jane Eyre (C. Bronte) - my absolute all-time fave
-Wuthering Heights (E. Bronte) - a bit creepy/whiny for me
-Madame Bovary (Flaubert) - meh, didn't really like it
-War and Peace (Tolstoy) - love, love, LOVE it
-Anna Karenina (Tolstoy) - ditto, Count Leo rocks my world
-The Trial (Kafka) - read this in law school, eerie and great
-To The Lighthouse (Woolf) - if only I understood it

Next, the books that I hadn't really been prioritizing but now am absolutely dying to read thanks to Murnighan:

-The Iliad (Homer)
-The Odessey (Homer)
-The Bible
-The Aeneid (Virgil)
-Metamorphoses (Ovid)
-Paradiso (Dante)
-The Canterbury Tales (Chaucer)
-The Faerie Queene (Spenser)
-King Lear (Shakespeare)
-Don Quioxte (Cervantes)
-The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling (Fielding)
-Faust I and II (Goethe)
-Eugene Onegin (Pushkin)
-Bleak House (Dickens)
-Great Expectations (Dickens)
-The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoevsky)
-Middlemarch (Eliot)
-Remembrance of Things Past (Proust)
-Native Son (Wright)
-One Hundred Years of Solitude (Garcia Marquez)
-Beloved (Morrison)

And the books that still aren't the top of my list, mabye I'll get around to them, maybe I won't:

-Paradise Lost (Milton)
-Pere Goriot (Balzac)
-Moby Dick (Melville)
-Crime and Punishment (Dostoevsky)
-The Wings of the Dove (James)
-Ulysses (Joyce)
-The Magic Mountain (Mann)
-The Sound and the Fury (Faulkner)
-A Farewell to Arms (Hemingway)
-Tropic of Cancer (Miller)
-The Man Without Qualities (Musil)
-Lolita (Nabokov)
-Giovanni's Room (Baldwin)
-Gravity's Rainbow (Pyncheon)
-Blood Meridian (McCarthy)
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