Improving Your College Courses with
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism
by Steven J. Venturino
1. Wait. This is a “complete idiot’s guide.” Is it good enough for my courses?
- Yes. It’s an authoritative survey of literary theory from Plato to ecocriticism, carefully researched and written by an educator with more than eighteen years of experience teaching literature and theory in college classrooms. You can see what else I’ve done here. I wrote The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism with all of the other theory guides in mind, from Culler’s neat little introduction to the more expansive guides by Barry, Eagleton, Klages, Parker, and Ryan. I wanted to write a book that was engaging, conversational, and easy to understand, without sacrificing any of the intellectual rigor of those other volumes. Thanks to the publisher, the book is also affordable, easy to order, and includes not only an excellent index but a respectably sober cover image. Penguin Group USA currently features this guide in its 2016 catalog of recommended books for courses in literature.
2. Which courses will benefit from this book?
- The book can play a central role in organizing readings and discussion for courses in the history of literary theory and in contemporary theory. You’ll also find it helpful for courses in film, cultural studies, anthropology, and philosophy. It’s also designed to accompany introductory courses literary studies generally. For courses in contemporary theory, pair up The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism with a good anthology, such as Critical Theory: A Reader for Literary and Cultural Studies, edited by Robert Dale Parker (Oxford 2012). For the best Plato-to-present anthology, I recommend The Critical Tradition, edited by David H. Richter (Bedford/St. Martin’s 2006).
3. Can I use questions and sidebars from the book for my assignments?
- You bet–that’s “fair use”! The “Apply It” sidebars are particularly suited for essay prompts and discussion starters, while the “In Theory” sidebars provide students with direct quotations from theorists and critics, including Derrida, Foucault, Woolf, Freud, and Sedgwick, among many others, which I think are essential to giving students a chance to close-read and close-think a critic’s actual statements.
4. What about non-Western literary theory?
- Glad you asked. Try this.
5. Can I send you comments, suggestions, anecdotes, and requests?
- Yes, and thanks! I will also update and expand this guide as time goes by. On Twitter I can be followed at @sjventurino.