The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature by Elizabeth Kantor

June 8, 2012

Description (from the publisher): What PC English professors don’t want you to learn from…

• Beowulf: If we don’t admire heroes, there’s something wrong with us
• Chaucer: Chivalry has contributed enormously to women’s happiness
• Shakespeare: Some choices are inherently destructive (it’s just built into the nature of things)
• Milton: Our intellectual freedoms are Christian, not anti-Christian, in origin
• Jane Austen: Most men would be improved if they were more patriarchal than they actually are
• Dickens: Reformers can do more harm than the injustices they set out to reform
• T. S. Eliot: Tradition is necessary to culture
• Flannery O’Connor: Even modern American liberals aren’t immune to original sin

Liked:

  • The book is well organized, has a logical flow, and is easy to read.
  • Kantor provides a list of “can’t miss” titles from each time period she covers. Though she invariably left out some good stuff, it’s hard to argue with any of her inclusions.
  • I love that she singled out The Great Gatsby as the leading candidate for the title of “Great American Novel”. I completely agree.
  • Thank you for calling out the Beat poets as mostly hacks! I am a firm believer that a work isn’t automatically good or “inspired” just because it is nonsensical and impossible to comprehend.
  • Ditto for stating that free verse isn’t nearly as worthy of acclaim as poetry that adheres to specific rhyme schemes and meters (e.g. sonnets). Kantor rightly points out that the only difference between free verse and prose is arbitrary line breaks. I have always believed that myself, but never ventured to say so in an academic setting because of the way my profs went on and on about the merits of modern poetry.
  • I enjoyed the section about how to read poetry and great literature with an analytical eye. I really have to start doing that when I tackle the classics.

Disliked:

  • The book seemed very repetitive at times. No matter which era Kantor was talking about, she leveled the same criticisms against the way most liberal college professors deal with the topic. Dead white males, female oppression, anit-religious bias, etc. I don’t doubt that many of those criticisms hold true, but couldn’t she have come up with others as well?
  • Kantor didn’t grant each chapter equal attention. I think the book would have been better if she, for example, spent less time on Byron, Shelley, and Keats’ personal shortcomings (love affairs, drinking) and more time on how to understand poetry.

Rating:

This was the first book I’ve ever read from the Politically Incorrect series, but it likely won’t be the last. I enjoyed Kantor’s take on literature here, though of course it helps that my own values align with hers. I just wish I had some profs like her when I was studying English in college. Maybe then I would have had a more fulfilling experience. I give this book 3 stars out of 5.

Leave a Reply