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Thug Notes: A Street-Smart Guide to Classic…

Thug Notes: A Street-Smart Guide to Classic Literature

by Sparky Sweets PhD

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374306,014 (3.5)3



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Thug Notes is a YouTube video series in which literary works are summarized and discussed -- in gangsta-speak, with the aid of animation consisting mostly of cartoons or stick figures with photographic faces stuck on them. I kind of love it, because it's irreverently funny, because it often does a better and more insightful job of analyzing the books in question in just a few minutes than my English teachers did in weeks of classroom time, because it seems like a great way to get teenagers engaged with books that might otherwise have all the joy sucked out of them by making them assigned reading, and because it sends the message that anybody can understand, enjoy, and engage with great books.

And this is the companion volume. Sixteen classic works of literature are covered, with each discussion consisting of several subsections including, among others, "Homies" (a character list), "What Went Down" (a plot summary) and "Themes 'n' Shit" (self-explanatory).

If you're not familiar with the videos, a quote or two is probably necessary to get the flavor of the thing, so here's a bit from the discussion of themes in Moby-Dick: "There's a booty-load of tragic elements in this here text. And one of da most old-school is dat a playa wit' a fat head gonna get his ass put in check by da man upstairs -- 'specially when you spittin' right in his face. Ahab can only talk so much shit 'bout da Big G before his gangsta-ass gets a smitin'."

Or this bit describing the very end of Hamlet: "Then Fortinbras of Norway roll inta da room, see practically errybody lyin' in chalk, and like, 'Dafuq goin on in here? Nevermind. King me, bitches.'"

Fun stuff, right?

Admittedly, I do think this whole conceit works a lot better in the videos than it does in book form. The smattering of still pictures here aren't nearly as fun as the animations, and the attempt to represent the dialog in writing turns something that feels natural and easy in audio into something a bit awkward to read. It helped a lot that I could hear it all in the affable tones of host "Sparky Sweets," but I have no idea how it would read to someone who hadn't seen the videos first. So if this sort of thing sounds up your alley, I'd say you should definitely watch the videos first. The book is probably worth picking up if you're a big fan and find yourself wanting more, or want to support the channel by purchasing it, but it's not really a substitute.

Rating: I find I can't bring myself to give this less than a 4/5, even though I do realize that that's more based on my love of the videos series than on my response to the book itself. ( )
1 vote bragan | Oct 29, 2016 |
Oh, Thug Notes. How I love watching your videos on YouTube. And how I am not entirely certain that translated into book form quite so well.

This book basically takes the format of the videos and puts it into prose form. But it basically reads like a straight transcript of the show, complete with the mashed up image collages they use throughout.

The stories I already know well (The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird), I was able to appreciate reading. Since I already knew the plot and major themes it made it easier to step back and just appreciate the style being used to convey everything. Those breakdowns I was happy with. But for the books I am less familiar with (Invisible Man, Crime and Punishment, The Color Purple), the style here got in the way of me actually understanding the points being made.

And let me be frank, the writing was crazy hard for me to read. I had to slog my way through it all very slowly, and even then I wasn't entirely sure I understood the point of some sentences. Just not my vernacular or one I'm exposed to very often except through watching the Thug Notes videos really.

So I would highly recommend watching the videos on the Wisecrack channel on YouTube. This book might be worth it to big fans, but as far as actually getting useful information out of it, it didn't work for me personally.

Copy courtesy of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review ( )
  GoldenDarter | Sep 15, 2016 |
Thug Notes: A Street-Smart Guide to Classic Literature by Sparky Sweets, PhD is CliffsNotes and SparkNotes written in gangsta. With a wise-cracking street sensibility, it breaks down the plots and analyzes 16 literary classics. The titles analyzed include: Romeo and Juliet, To Kill a Mockingbird. Pride and Prejudice, The Great Gatsby, Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, Invisible Man, Lord of the Flies, Moby Dick, A Raisin in the Sun. Hamlet, Fahrenheit 451, The Catcher in the Rye, Crime and Punishment, Things Fall Apart, The Color Purple, and The Scarlet Letter. There is also a Bibliography.

What you need to know is that Thug Notes began as a humorous online series presented by Sparky Sweets, PhD, and Wisecrack. Sparky Sweets, PhD, is comedian, writer, and actor Greg Edwards. The videos of this series have been used in classrooms to try to make classic literature accessible, which lead to this written guide. The guide does a good job breaking the selections down to the essential basics. He begins by introducing characters, and then does a walk-through analysis of the plot. Included are important themes, symbolism, and passages. But keep in mind all of this is written in "thug" or street language.

I, personally, struggled with reading the actual guide because of the language and phonetic spelling used in the conversational gangsta-street-talk-style. I think I can follow the videos easier than the written guide. (Some of my struggle also involved a technical issue with how the review copy interfaced with the eReader program I use on my tablet.)

While I think Thug Notes has its place and could be beneficial, I'm having a hard time rating this one. I think the videos are far easier to follow than the written guide. Recommended for those who need some gangsta interjected in their study of classic literature.

Disclosure: My eBook edition was courtesy of Vintage for review purposes.

( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
It's a gimmick, but a clever one, and very well-done. The summaries of the plots, themes, images, and characters are very accurate to the classic books included (16 of them, from various eras). I found it on the money for the classics I liked (such as "Pride and Prejudice"), and it gave me a bit of perspective on ones I dislike (such as "Catcher in the Rye").

The problem is, though, that while it's an educational hoot in small doses- it's pretty much impossible to read straight through. The language and the tone just gets too repetitious. It's much better enjoyed in nibbles, especially by fans of at least some of the literary classics covered herein.

That being said, any chapter may be an effective alternative to Cliff Notes or the like!

This is definitely one of the weirder cultural mash-ups I've encountered, and in limited doses it was pretty great.

Recommended, kinda, and would make a great gift for the English major on your shopping list. ( )
  cissa | Oct 23, 2015 |
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