Thursday, September 24, 2009

Beowulf on the Beach - Jack Murnighan

"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 you find."

If ever there was a book to make you pick up a classic, this is it. Author Jack Murnighan equips the reader with all they need to enjoy what was once known as required reading for English class. He provides a brief taste of content with a story summary and lets the reader know what's sexy in these well-known tomes. If you're wondering about what sex there is to be found in books like "The Iliad", you'd be surprised. Another great if somewhat controversial idea was to let the reader know what parts of the classics they can skip.

Murnighan's enthusiasm for these books is infective. He provides a survey of classics spanning over 2000 years from various cultures and authors. The amount of time and effort he's put into creating this list is evident but best of all, despite being an academic, this book is written with the layman in mind. Murnighan's prose is humourous and cheeky yet informative. "I always found it odd that Claudius kills King Hamlet by pouring poison in the the ear. His ear? Wouldn't that have woken him up and given him time to swimmer-tap it out?"

I don't know that I would necessarily call all of the books in the list 'beach reads'. Some are fairly long like "War and Peace" while others like "Middlemarch" require more than a little focus to comprehend. As well, some titles that I would normally have expected to see on a list like this were absent. While I know Murnighan had to stick to a short list for his book, this is a good excuse for a second book in the same vein. If you're looking for a book with a different take on the classics then this is it.

Rating: 4/5

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