This is a review of An Introduction to Literary Chinese by Michael A Fuller.
"Literary Chinese" is not the same as modern or colloquial Chinese. Roughly speaking, literary Chinese (also called "Classical Chinese") is to modern Chinese as Latin is to Italian (or as Sanskrit is to Hindi). Literary Chinese was (according to most scholars) originally the written form of spoken Chinese, but it became a literary language used for writing and reading. Amazingly, it became the standard literary language for not only pre-modern China, but also for pre-modern Korea, Japan and Vietnam. (This is amazing because spoken Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese are actually not historically related to each other in the way that the European languages are related to each other.)
Few English-speakers learn Classical Chinese, of course, so there are few English-language textbooks for it. Michael Fuller has produced a very nice one.
This book assumes that the reader has some familiarity with Chinese characters (as by studying a year or two of modern Chinese or Japanese). This book will NOT teach you how to recognize the parts of a character (which is a crucial skill in memorizing them), or how to write them, or how to use a dictionary. So someone with no knowledge of Chinese will almost certainly find this book extremely intimidating.
However, this is really good book, I think, for students with some previous exposure to Chinese characters. Fuller's Introduction begins with a clear, sensible explanation of basic hermeneutic issues (e.g., why "Grammar Is Not Enough"). He then presents a learned but clear overview of grammar and phonology, with a bibliography for further reading.
This is well done, but I think most students should skip it and dive right into the first lesson. The first eight lessons each introduce a major grammatical feature (e.g., "Nominal and Verbal Sentences," "Parts of Speech," etc.). The structure of these chapters is explanation, Chinese text (long form characters throughout), vocabulary list (including pronunciations using pinyin romanizations), grammar notes, and exercises.
One of the things I like best about this book is that, right from the beginning, Fuller uses actual Classical Chinese texts. Lesson one uses two brief passages from the Analects of Confucius. I think it will be very exciting for students to be reading the "greats" of Chinese thought from the get-go.
Beginning with Lesson 9 (p. 103), the notes become less extensive. However, the new vocabulary items are still identified, and discussion questions of the content, and grammatical "review questions" (e.g., "Is X used as a coverb here?") are added. Then starting with Lesson 25 (p. 175), readings include only new vocabulary items (although when an author appears for the first time in this section, Fuller supplies a general introduction to him, and brief suggestions for further reading). The reading selections close with "Selected Tang and Song Dynasty Writings" (p. 229ff.), which are only the Chinese text, with no vocabulary or notes. Before this last section, all the readings are ALMOST all from the Warring States Period (403-221 BC) or Han Dynasty (202 BC to AD 220). This is a good choice, since these periods are generally thought to have produced the paradigms of Classical Chinese style.
If you are desperate to teach yourself Classical Chinese, and cannot begin with a good course in Modern Chinese, I would recommend buying this book with _Reading and Writing Chinese_ by William McNaughton, which walks you through how to write many of the most common characters. (Even better is the _Far East 3000 Chinese Character Dictionary_ pubilshed by The Far East Book Co., Ltd., but this is not available on Amazon, for some reason.)