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Book of the week: guide to reading

A Beginner's Guide to Critical Reading: an anthology of literary texts
By Richard Jacobs
RoutledgeFalmer pound;12.99 pbk TES pound;12.50 (020 8324 5119) 10 copies pound;120

This is one of the most refreshing and lively collections I have read in a long time. Although the book runs to almost 500 pages, the skill of the editing and commentary means it never feels like a long and intimidating read. And I say that after reading it in one enthralling sitting.

Each of the 24 chapters, arranged more or less chronologically, contains either a complete text or a series of poems or some extracts from a longer work, together with the author's brief commentary. The sections are manageable and should inspire uninitiated readers to go on to the larger work.

They are ideal as introductions to the English literary canon, the kind of works likely to be encountered at A-level and on university courses. It would certainly be extremely useful in those contexts, but it also has a greater potential readership of those who want to tackle canonical works but don't know where to begin.

Although Jacobs links the chapters through the over-arching theme of the Fall, as in the Fall of Man in Paradise Lost , this idea is not over-wrought or laboured, but rather given a light, though sure, touch; by the end of our journey through major works of literature in English, the Fall has become transformed into a more general and ephemeral sense of loss, still present but perhaps not so clearly visible.

  • Picture: Adam and Eve, the Fall is the over-arching theme of this book
    • Carol Fox is reader in English in education at the University of Brighton

      A longer version of this review appears in this week's Friday magazine

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