Friday, June 25, 2010


As I read my way through the Shakespeare plays I cannot help but wonder about the boy he might have been. Was he annoyingly cerebral? Could he relate to other kids who said things like "Hey dude" rather than "Harken!" Did his mother want to stuff a rag in his mouth to stop him emoting? Or tell him to shut up and eat his oatmeal? Was he a little prissy pants? Somehow I don't see William Shakespeare as the stud-muffin-heart breaker of Stratford on Avon. Geniuses rarely fit in and I imagine he had a rather rough time of it.

I left Henry VI, Part I with poor Joan being lead off to the stake (proving unequivocally that smoking can be dangerous to ones health) and Suffolk gloating Margaret shall now be queen, and rule the king; But I will rule both her, the king and realm. Politics, power and greed. Will we ever learn? I'm waffling on my original idea of reading all the plays in chronological order. For one thing, I don't know that I have the ability to recognize the intricacies of the Bard's evolution as a writer. For another, I don't think I care. At my age I read for fun. So, perhaps I'll continue on to Part II (which does make some sense) or say "to hell with it" and read Love's Labour's Lost. (Stay tuned, details at 11.)

Getting back to what I planned to tell you all along, I closed the back cover of Wolf Hall (reviewed at length by better minds than mine - suffice to say I loved it) and was once again on the prowl. A little background information is in order here: A few months ago I wandered into the library and saw a display entitled "Librarian Picks..." with volumes and audio books recommended by the library staff. Among these was an audio version of The Well Of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde. I picked it up and began to read the back of the case.

"Have you read the Thursday Next books?" a voice asked over my shoulder. I turned to find the diminutive, graying librarian attempting to maneuver a push-cart of books destined for re-shelving peering at me over her glasses which were festooned with a kind of Edwardian grill-work.

"No, I've never heard of them or Jasper Fforde. New glasses!"

"Prada...only fake," she whispered tapping the rim.

"Very becoming."

She smiled. "I strongly recommend them...the books not the glasses" Now she twittered a little, but softly because, after all, we were in the library. "But I'd begin with the first one first."

"Do you have that one on audio?"

"Not at this branch, but we can get from another branch in a few days."

"Well...that's okay. I was looking for something to listen to right away so I'll just start with this one."

She gave me that okay-suit-yourself-don't-listen-to-me look, held it for a moment, and disappeared into the stacks preceded by the slightly wobbly cart.

But by the time I listened my way through one-third of the book I knew. As much as it pained me, I returned the audio book unfinished. The librarian knew her stuff. I had to start from the beginning. Starting in the middle was like trying to eat a sumptuous meal with a head cold. I was missing too many nuances of flavor. I wasn't just reading a book. I was entering a new world and I needed the backstory...I had to learn the language.

That weekend found me at Barnes and Noble where I bought The Eyre Affair in paperback (I also purchased a hardback version of the 5th book in the series, First Among Sequels, at a super-deluxe bargain price that I simply could not pass up.) The Fforde was put on the back burner of my reading stack. And so it was that after having finished Wolfie I was wandering down my upstairs hallway and spotted The Eyre Affair on a bookshelf. I snatched it up as quickly as a frog does a fly. Rarely have I fallen into a book so effortlessly (which oddly enough is much of what the series is about). So mesmerized was I by the writing, the story, the premise that as I neared the end I was afraid of "running out" of Thursday Next.

I stopped at the library last Friday and picked up Lost In A Good Book and The Well Of Lost Plots (book version). When she saw me the librarian said, "I knew you'd be back for these." Which brings me to a sidebar discussion: The benefits of a small library, or a small bookstore, or a small grocery...or a small local bank for that matter, are much the same. You are known by your name if you go in often enough. The people who work there look out for you. They keep an eye out and know when something seems amiss. "We've got some nice lamb chops, Miss Linda," "Morning Mrs. ___. Got your deposit? How's Katharine doing?" "We just got so-and-so's latest book. It's right up your alley." Oh, there are drawbacks, surely. Not enough copies, few exotic ingredients, no Panko crumbs - that sort of thing. But by and large (or by and small) big is better in some departments but small is better for others.

The weekend looms long - being the Fourth of July. I'm half-way through Lost In A Good Book and am trying to pace myself, debating if I should go ahead and check out Something Rotten...just in case of an emergency. What if it rains all weekend and there is nothing to make me feel guilty about laying around reading? Eating only things I can handle with one hand? What if I really and truly can't put Lost In A Good Book down? And immediately jump, crazed and as unstoppable as a juggernaut, into Well Of Lost Plots? And it gets to be Monday afternoon and the library is closed for the holiday and the Thursday Next well has run dry? (I'm slightly dizzy and my colon is giving me a worrying feeling at the prospect.) There is always First Among Sequels as a fall-back but I don't want to read out of turn. Nope. I'd better take precautions. I'll have to prepare - stock the provisions. I'm off to hunt down Something Rotten, so I must run along now.

Oh yes. Before I go...Are you sitting down for the best news? The 6th Thursday Next adventure comes out this fact I think next week. Once I have the new book in my hands, and have read the last word on the last page of that latest book I promise to start a twelve-step program. But for now, there's joy in Bookville!

Happy Fourth of July. Happy Birthday good ole U.S.A.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"Brush Up Your Shakespeare"

I've never been a reader who can have more than one book in progress. Juggling multiple reads has always felt uncomfortable in an odd and inexpressible way. But when reading a long-ish book (Anna Karenina, Armadale, and Noble House come to mind) or a flat-out tome (Les Miserables) I have often felt the need to break away and let my mind settle briefly elsewhere.

In taking a recent pause from Wolf Hall (which I am enjoying enormously) I wandered over to my bookshelves. A two volume set of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, acquired at some point while I was still in high school, caught my eye. Oddly, there is no publication date in either. Upon opening Volume I, I noted that in apparent youthful exuberance I had placed a small check by the plays I had read. They included A Midsummer Night's Dream, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, The Merchant of Venice, King Henry IV (Parts I and II), The Taming of the Shrew, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, Coriolanus. Although I know I read Cymbeline, it wasn't checked off. Perhaps by that time I had grown up enough to stop keeping score. In any event, some Shakespeare was just the ticket for a little diversion. I thought about the tiny check marks. Was it my early intention to read my way through everything Sweet Ole Bill wrote? And if not, why not? Why not! And so, I shall. They are perfect interludes, beautifully crafted and each one short enough to read in an evening. So, that's my read every play and sonnet contained in those two volumes and tick each one off as I go.

The first unchecked play was Titus Andronicus - and so that is where I began. I dived in knowing there was some debate whether this play was actually written by Shakespeare. Many scholars reject it as one of his plays altogether. Others argue that, at most, Shakespeare may have made some suggestions to its real author regarding character development. Its style is certainly alien to Shakespeare's in the copious blood department. It was a stunning 16th century version of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I know Shakespeare was quite the innovator but...who knew? Not being a fan of slasher movies, I found it more than a little disturbing and quite unlike Bill. Example: "And now prepare your throats. Lavinia, come, receive the blood: and when that they are dead, let me go grind their bones to powder small, and with this hateful liquor temper it; And in that paste let their vile heads be baked, to make this banquet; which I wish may prove more stern and bloody than the Centaurs' feast." (Scene II, as Titus cuts the throats of Chiron and Demetrius and Lavinia collects their blood in a basin.)

I was grateful when Lucius (one of the few principal characters to survive with all his limbs, his head and his throat intact) delivered the plays final lines, spoken as he throws the body of Tamora to the beasts and birds of prey rather than provide her with a burial. It was so him.

And so, I staggered to the sink to wash the blood off my hands 1) relieved Titus Andronicus was over, and 2) buoyed in the knowledge I would never have to read it again. I was also grateful it was not my introduction to Shakespeare. I doubt I would have been a repeat customer. Of course, Saw II fans would probably enjoy it.

Because I am trying to read the plays in chronological order, the next is King Henry VI, Part I written in about 1590. It is said to have been produced on the stage in March 1591 and received rave reviews by the audience. William Shakespeare would have been about 26 years old, as if there isn't enough to make underachievers feel queasy. (Someone...please tell me he lied about his age.) Once again, there are some qualifications as to the plays complete authorship and experts can't quite agree that this one is "All Shakespeare - All The Time." It was probably a collaborative effort; most critics concede it contains Shakespeare's "touch," at least.

Looking ahead, perhaps something a little lighter, Maestro? I see Love's Labour's Lost waiting in the wings.

One day I hope to visit the Bard's final resting place.

Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbeare
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.

Of course, you could skip Shakespeare altogether and simply sing Cole Porter:

Brush up your Shakespeare,
Start quoting him now.
Brush up your Shakespeare
And the women you will wow.
Just declaim a few lines from "Othella"
And they think you're a helluva fella.
If your blonde won't respond when you flatter 'er
Tell her what Tony told Cleopaterer ,
If she fights when her clothes you are mussing,
What are clothes? "Much Ado About Nussing."
Brush up your Shakespeare
And they'll all kowtow.

Sleep well, Bill. Try not to roll over.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Something Wonderful

When I was a young girl I would awaken in the morning and say to myself, "Something wonderful is going to happen to me today." Do understand - I didn't merely hope it...or wish it. I believed it. I trusted it. I went armed into the world wrapped in the warmth of it. Quite often something wonderful didn't happen. That never seemed to matter. Although totally unreasonable, the "not happening" never altered my belief that it would. When the next morning arrived I knew that something wonderful was going to happen to me that day.

At some point I stopped saying it to myself. I wish I remembered when, or how old I was, or why. It was some time after college, perhaps, but I can't be certain. It wasn't cold turkey but rather a gradual weaning off. Quite simply one day it dawned on me that I had lost it somewhere...somehow. I hated that I had lost it. It made me feel instantly older and burdened and very tired. Oddly sad and slightly darkish. Out of sorts. I mused, "Not with a bang, but with a whimper." And although he was writing about something far more serious and not about my lost belief, I nevertheless felt a kinship with T. S. Eliot.

I decided I would begin to say it to myself once again every morning and get it back. But I found it really is not as easy as that. What made it work for me...what made it real...was that I believed it - really and truly. I suppose life and experience take their toll.

But in all my years on the planet I have never awakened in the morning saying, "Something terrible is coming. Something dark and insidious with long, oily fingers reaching for the throat. Something mean and grim and seemingly unstoppable." Until now. Georgia has approximately 100 miles of coast - ocean and beach, marsh and wet lands. It is a fragile and tender place. It doesn't belong to us but we belong to it. The marshland in particular is quiet and hushed. Walking along a trail on Cockspur Island, 5 minutes from my home, I can hear the marsh sounds - frogs, fish jumping, gulls, rustling reeds. Traveling farther up the road one comes to the ocean and the beach and the sight of dolphin fins rising up and down in graceful arcs. The usual cast of characters, the terns, skimmers, pelicans, egrets and other birds are present doing what they do: preening, pecking, dozing, taking flight, diving, calling, filling the sky.

The most recent prediction is that the oil may very well be carried around the Florida Keys and up the eastern seaboard destroying life as it goes - a phosphorescent, unctuous, aquatic equivalent of Sherman on the march. There is even the possibility it will cross the Atlantic and despoil those shores.

I am angry. I am angry at a reckless and cavalier company. I am angry at the feckless, flatfooted and delayed response of Washington and our "leaders." (In quotes because I see very little leadership being displayed.)

I have heard that the gush may not be quelled until Christmas! How much of the coast I have come to love will remain?

Maybe private and government resources will work together to come up with a solution. Maybe we can put politics aside and bring together the worlds best and brightest minds in an effort to find an answer. Maybe if we all clap very loud Tinkerbell will live. Maybe something wonderful will happen tomorrow.