Sunday, November 29, 2009

Review: Who the Hell is Pansy O'Hara?

Well, it is the end of a long weekend - although, truth be told, not nearly long enough for me. It was a time of getting together with family members from far away, giving thanks for life's many blessings, gorging on too much scrumptious food, taking part in traditional shopping expeditions, and doing a bit of holiday decorating. In the midst of all these festivities, I did manage to spend some time reading in honor of the Thankfully Reading Weekend Challenge, and I thoroughly enjoyed these quiet moments of solitude. I was able to skim to completion two books, Beowulf on the Beach and Who the Hell is Pansy O'Hara and read quite a bit of a third, Crossing Washington Square.

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


  1. Love that title "Who the Hell is Pansy O'Hara?" Never heard of it but you do make it sound interesting.

  2. I've never heard of this book either, but love the title. I like these books that cover other books. They always manage to add more titles to my lists!

  3. Glad you found some time to read over the weekend. Thanks for joining in the event.

  4. That sounds like a great book to keep in the car to read when you have a few minutes of free time.

  5. What a striking book title!? I like Kathy's idea, to keep this book in the car to read in small bursts.

    And, who *is* Pansy O'Hara?


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