To help you with this ass-covering, here are five of the most frequently assigned works of literature, broken down into nuggets that even the most drug-addicted, sexually compulsive, endless-nap-taking student can digest and comprehend in 45 seconds or less. In addition to basic info (title, author, genre), you'll find pertinent facts about the author, condensed plot descriptions, and "Quick Quotes"--bite-sized synopses that, when recited to a demanding instructor, make even the most ill-prepared student sound like Brainy McBookenstein. For exceptionally lazy students, there are "Short Cuts," speedy paths to at least a D+; for overachievers, there are "Extra Credit" assignments, guaranteed to get anyone's indolent ass on the Dean's List.
Author: William Shakespeare
Genre: Classic drama
Pertinent Author Info: Wrote during the reign of Elizabeth I; rumored to be gay; rumored to be Christopher Marlowe (and Francis Bacon and John Fletcher).
Plot Synopsis: Elderly king divides his kingdom between three daughters. All hell breaks loose, and nearly everyone dies. Plus, there's an annoying fool.
Quick Quote: "Sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child."
Short Cut: Watch Kurosawa's film Ran, where the daughters are swapped for sons and everyone's Japanese.
Extra Credit: Mount a one-person puppet production of the play using only fruits and vegetables.
Author: Henry David Thoreau
Genre: Autobiography/nature studies
Pertinent Author Info: American writer, philosopher, and naturalist of the mid-19th century; advocate of individual rights and opponent of social conformity; father of "passive resistance"; friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Plot Synopsis: Man spends two years living and writing in a crude hut on the shores of Walden Pond, located on the outskirts of Concord, Massachusetts.
Quick Quote: "Walden ably demonstrates how abstract ideals of libertarianism and individualism can be effectively instilled in a person's life."
Short Cut: Watch Survivor and pretend there's only one contestant.
Extra Credit: Spend a weekend living and writing in a small closet stuffed with houseplants.
The Portable Nietzsche
Author: Friedrich Nietzsche
Pertinent Author Info: German philosopher, poet, and philologist of the late 19th century; influenced by Schopenhauer; father (along with the Marx Brothers) of punk rock; name pronounced KNEE-chuh.
Plot Synopsis: Good and evil don't exist; morality is relative; Christians are stupid.
Quick Quote: "God is dead."
Short Cut: Commit suicide before exam.
Extra Credit: Punch a Christian; know what "philology" is.
Author: James Joyce
Genre: Fiction (impenetrable stream-of-consciousness division)
Pertinent Author Info: Celebrated Irish poet and novelist of the early 20th century; celebrated drunk.
Plot Synopsis: Two guys wander around Dublin, ruminating; later a woman has a very long orgasm. Based on Homer's Odyssey.
Quick Quote: "I was particularly moved by the 'oxen of the sun' section."
Short Cut: Drop acid, read first page.
Extra Credit: Drop acid, read entire book.
Author: Toni Morrison
Genre: Fiction (dead baby ghost story/oral history of slavery division)
Pertinent Author Info: African American author of late 20th century; Nobel Prize-winner; friend of Oprah
Plot Synopsis: To save her infant daughter from a life of slavery, slave woman Sethe bashes her baby's brains out against the wall of a shed. Later, the ghost of the child (now a young woman) haunts Sethe, nearly driving her out of her mind.
Quick Quote: "Slavery is bad."
Short Cut: Watch the movie. (Yes, all of it.)
Extra Credit: Watch Amistad. (Yes, all of it.)