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Posted on January 28, 2010 at 1:21 PM by Lisa Miyako
Full disclosure: I know Greg Nagan. We are friends. However, even if I didn't know Greg Nagan, I would consider The 5-Minute Iliad one of the sharpest, funniest treatments of some of the Western Canon's most revered literary classics.
The full title of Nagan's book is The 5-Minute Iliad and Other Instant Classics: Great Books for the Short Attention Span, which is funny right there, because the title for a book about condensing "great books" is not very condensed.
Nagan begins the book with a "Five-Minute History of Western Civ," which neatly summarizes everything you need to know about... Western Civilization. Here is a snippet from the middle:
After all the excitement of the Big Scary Monsters, Hell, and the Crusades, things slowed down for a while and Western Civilization became bored. Whole centuries passed while people tried to think of something to do. Finally they decided to chuck it all and start from scratch, resulting in the Renaissance, which was a Very Good Idea.
Following this enlightening and context-providing introduction, Nagan gives us fifteen Great Books distilled through his brilliant filter of humor and intelligence.
Instead of translating Dante's Divine Comedy: Part I in Dante's invented and complicated form of "terza rima," Nagan chose the more accessible and venerably American form of limerick. And "where it was hard to rhyme," he writes, "I made up words." No other translation does this! (Which is a point Nagan makes clear in a footnote about translating the entire Inferno into one canto.)
His version of John Milton's Paradise Lost is inspired; his take on Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol will make you laugh out loud (if you're like me); his "translation" of James Joyce's Ulysses is enough to make English majors cheer; and his Jack Kerouac's On the Road is eight pages long... and one sentence. If you're a Kerouac fan, as I am, Nagan's homage might give you gooseflesh at the end.
The blurb on the back cover sums it up nicely: [T]hese fifteen parodies provide a riotous romp through Western civilizaton... from Homer to Kerouac, from Ancient Greece to Postwar America, from the Lyrical Epic to the Breathless Gush.
If you aren't familiar with these Great Books before you read Nagan's deft handling of them, you will be after you've read this book. And it'll be painless, I promise.
Reviewed by Lisa Miyako
Tag(s): "The 5-Minute Iliad" "Greg Nagan" literature parody humor "book review"
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