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11 December 2009 @ 02:56 pm
The Book of William  
So I finally finished The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Changed the World by Paul Collins, and learned that I still get tears in my eyes when someone mentions how many of Shakespeare's plays we wouldn't have had if not for the Folio.

(I'd been carrying it around in my purse for the last few months, which meant that even though whenever I actually managed to read some of it, I enjoyed it, I only seemed to read it during down time, and when I happened to be carrying that particular bag.)

I'd read the author's previous book, Sixpence House (about living in Hay-on-Wye for a year), and spent a pretty delightful couple of evenings doing so, so I bought The Book of William on a whim. Paul Collins takes delight in bookish coincidences and happenstance, which is a lot of fun. If you actually do know a fair amount about the early printing of the Folio, or about eighteenth-century editing of Shakespeare (which I don't), then you might find the beginning a rehash of things you already know, but in later chapters he follows several individual Folios and visits the locations that have them (in part of the book, he visits the Folger Shakespeare Library), and he's an entertaining narrator throughout.

One peculiarity of the book--for me, at least--is that it takes "Shakespeare" as a given. That is, we follow Collins as he examines these Folios and discusses their worth to us, but there's no sense of why we should care about what's in those pages. But I suppose it's the same with lots of things, from Shakespeare biographies to newly discovered portraits that might be him, to the latest supposition about who he "really" was: we're told that we should care, that Shakespeare is a treasure, but that seems divorced from the thing that should matter most, the actual words. This isn't really a fault of the book, though; it's just something I think about and am frequently frustrated by. Because I really don't think that this is a given, not for lots of people, and I feel like that's the problem I want to be addressing: how the same people who will say "This above all, to thine own self be true" when you mention Shakespeare will then turn around, with no sense of the disconnect, and tell you that they don't read or see Shakespeare, because Shakespeare is too hard, or boring, or not relevant to their lives.