The first two books appear to be quite similar, but in reality they really cover similar topics in quite different ways. While both books seek to give some background information on 50 popular novels over the years, the writing style and book selection process are vastly different. My review of Beowulf on the Beach can be found here. The subtitle of this book is What to Love and What to Skip in Literature's 50 Greatest Hits. The author gives a brief summary and analysis of the books spanning Homers' The Iliad to Tony Morrison's Beloved, with a good healthy dose of humor added for good measure. In the second book, Who the Hell is Pansy O'Hara, the subtitle is The Fascinating Stories behind 50 of the World's Best Loved Books. This book begins its timeline with Pride and Prejudice and ends with the 2003 best seller, The Da Vinci Code. Yes, there are a few title overlaps, but I guarantee that you would never find Jackie Collin's book, Hollywood Wives in a book about Great Literature. This book takes a more serious approach to the study of the author's life, influences, and ultimate publication of the popular works.
I enjoyed this latter book, written collaboratively by Jenny Bond and Chris Sheedy, and it too is a book that can be easily skimmed in a couple of hours, or just used as a preliminary reference book before reading the selected novel. The writing style is quite similar to what I ask my senior high students to do for their research reports. I think understanding the historical time period in which the author wrote, the family situation in which the author lived, and the societal environment that surrounded the author are important considerations when reading the work. This book seeks to give just that kind of useful background information.
I am not sure that I will choose to add this book to my personal library, as I tend to reserve private non-fiction bookshelf space for classical literary studies, but it is definitely a book worth checking out of your local library.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars