Beowulf on the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literature’s 50 Greatest Hits, Jack Murnighan
Originally reviewed November 11th, 2011
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.
The very idea that there has to be something ‘sexy’ about the books to keep a reader’s interest strikes me as quite guy-centric — or not so much that as it’s a very consistent idea of what’s sexy, or even more generally, what might draw a reader. No mention is given to the compelling nature of David and Jonathan’s love for each other, for example.
There’s possibly a fourth point, in that this is the literary canon of primarily dead white men. It’s European to the extreme. It perhaps wouldn’t be such a dealbreaker for me if it advertised itself as such, but considering the title is ‘Literature’s 50 Greatest Hits’…
Naturally, I disagree on other levels with his ideas of what to skip, and I don’t really get on with his flippant tone. About all I credit this book with is encouraging me to pick up some of the classics I previously gave a miss — but I already had that vague intention in mind anyway.
(Oh, and if you don’t want to view the Bible as a literary document, avoid.)