Thursday, October 11, 2007

Bryson and Shakespeare


ISBN: 0060740221
Format: Hardcover, 208pp
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Pub. Date: October 23, 2007
Price: $19.95

I'm a huge fan of Bill Bryson. I always enjoy reading his travel essays (some of which I reread whenever I have the free time) and I loved A Short History of Nearly Everything. He recently released a memoir and with his newest book he steers clear of the travel once again. I haven't yet read The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid which just came out in paperback and I plan to buy a copy ASAP. And this one? I'll have to look into it as well.

Kirkus Reviews:

A telling glance at one of history's most famously unknowable figures. As sometimes happens with expatriates, journalist Bryson (The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir, 2006, etc.) often turned his attention to his native America during his 20-year residence in England (Made in America, 1995, etc.). Apparently he's now been back home long enough to look the other way in this 12th volume in James Atlas's well-received Eminent Lives series. And who better fits the bill for this assortment of brief biographies than Shakespeare, the literary behemoth who practically defines the Western canon yet boasts a CV that could hardly be slimmer.

As the typically wry Bryson observes, "It is because we have so much of Shakespeare's work that we can appreciate how little we know of him as a person. . . . faced with a wealth of text but a poverty of context, scholars have focused obsessively on what they can know." Bryson is just as happy to point out what we can't.

To him, Shakespeare is the "literary equivalent of an electron-forever there and not there." Indeed, he makes so much of the fact that so much has been made from the singularly few known facts of the Bard's life that one might say this thin volume's raison d'etre is to identify the many paradoxes surrounding all things Shakespeare, which Bryson candidly illuminates in several deft turns of phrase.

That is as good a track as any to take in this sort of Cliffs Notes-style overview of the rich afterlife and times of Shakespeare, recognized as great, Bryson claims, for his "positive and palpable appreciation of the transfixing power of language"-a point on which even those who don't believe Shakespeare was Shakespeare would agree, anda trait he happens to share with his biographer. Shakespeare redux for the common reader.

10 comments:

Sevenine said...

Hmmm...interesting. Not a Shakespeare fan myself, but I may check this one out. Sounds, well...without being redundant, interesting.

Katie said...

Yeah I thought it looked good. I like Shakespeare well enough, though I don't know much about him. And Bill Bryson just makes everything so readable.

Yoga Gal said...

I'm a BIGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG fan of Shakespeare and you gave me food for thought, thank you!

dingobear said...

Definitely agree with you about Bryson being readable (even for simpletons like me). I find it interesting that he seems to be getting further afield from the travel genre ... I wouldn't have expected him to tackle Shakespeare.

Angela/SciFiChick said...

OT:
Oh my word. You have to get this: http://www.geekalerts.com/hello-kitty-mobile-phone/

;)

Katie said...

Angela, oh wow! I want that phone so bad! It is just too cute. And the whole menu is hello kitty! That is just so cool.

Katie said...

Yoga Gal, me too. And this should be lots of fun.

Dingobear, I was kind of suprised by this one coming from him. I miss his travel essays!

minijonb said...

i read a lot of Shakespeare Cliff Notes back in high school, but not much by the bard himself. i should change that.

Chris, The Book Swede said...

Sounds good! I like Shakespeare myself. Doing Macbeth at school put me off, but I was reading some of his sonnets the other day ... not bad, you know!

He could have made a career out of them... ;)

Apparently James 1st (or 2nd?!) helped Shakespeare write some bits of his plays, cause King James was a very clever guy. He wrote a ton of books. (Yay)

As did Henry VII, one of them being an attack on Martin Luther and (ironically) Protestantism, which is why Rome's Holy Father gave him the title of Defender of the Faith...

Oh, no!... I've bored and geek-ed myself! LOL. Normally I can only do that when I try to explain to non-book friends what SF is really about... ;)

I've never read anything on Bryson except what I had to study at school -- apparently he, as well as a good travel writer, is a world renowned scholar of English. Weird old world!

Thanks for this, Katie :D

~Chris
The Book Swede

Katie said...

MiniJonB, I love his sonnets... and the funny plays. I'm not a big fan of the tragedies.

Chris, yeah Bryson is good. I love all this stuff. As for the Shakespeare stuff I haven't really gotten into his personal life... who wrote what and all that good stuff. Like you I prefer the sonnets.