I love the Oxford Very Short Introduction series simply because each volume does a fantastic job of introducing a deep subject in a concise yet detailed manner. The volume English Literature by Jonathan Bate surprised me in its approach on the subject, yet it was quite satisfying to read, not to mention it has encouraged me to become more familiar with the earlier English classics.
I had expected this Very Short Introduction to go through English literature in a chronological order as it discusses the eras in the literature of Great Britain. Instead, Bate approaches the subject more subjectively, first defining just what “English literature” could or should be, when and where we’ve encountered it, and how it’s a part of our culture. He then approached English literature through the common themes and writing genres of the written word (including essays, novels, poetry, and drama).
I read this more than a week ago and I really loved the reading experience. As often is the case when life is rather busy and I read a short book in a short timeframe, I’ve unfortunately forgotten a lot of the details that made this book such a satisfying read. When I first put it down I thought “I’ll have no problem writing a lengthy, thoughtful post on this book,” and now, of course, I cannot recall the many things I wanted to address about the book. It’s one I should revisit at different stages of my familiarity with English lit. I look forward to keeping on reading.
Now, if only Oxford University Press would produce a comparable volume on American Literature, then I’d be satisfied.