My family anticipates the arrival of my daughter at some point in the next three or four weeks, so I thought it was time to revisit two more outstanding new baby books. I have mentioned a few that Raisin and I have enjoyed in the past. See this post.Continue Reading
Bill Bryson is not a Shakespeare scholar, and his brief biography of Shakespeare (published 2007 for HarperCollins as part of the Eminent Lives series) reflects that. The tone of the book is light, accessible, and succinct. Bryson’s approach to the Bard was to admit the gaps in his life and rather focus on what we do know, that being the era he lived in, Elizabethan and Jacobean England.
For the casual reader interested in knowing a little bit about the Bard, including knowing just how much we don’t know, Shakespeare: The World as Stage will probably satisfy. In less than 200 pages, one gets a general overview of the possibilities for how Shakespeare’s life panned out, for some possible reasons he knew what he was writing about, and some of the controversies and influences his writing made on the culture of the world. It was a very quick and easy read and to be honest, I love the idea of reading more brief biographies in the Eminent Lives series. Those 600+ page biographies really take a long time to get through.
However, as approachable and easy-to-read as Bryson’s book was, I was disappointed. I have heard such great things about Bryson’s biography of the Bard that I was very excited to dive in to it. But the general feel of the book was far from satisfying for me.
Sleepwalking Land by Mia Couto1 blends two stories of seeking for one’s identity in the midst of war-torn Mozambique. In the first, an old man and a young orphaned boy have fled a refugee camp and seek shelter in a burned-out bus on the side of the road. Near a corpse, they find a set of journals written by Kindzu. These journals, which tell Kindzu’s story, form the bulk of the novel by portraying life during the Civil War2 in a fantastical magical realism setting.
I tend to enjoy reading magical realism because it mixes fantasy in to seemingly realistic settings and gives a story a very different feel3. In Sleepwalking Land, that not-straight forward feeling was perfect in providing me, a reader unfamiliar with both Mozambican history and life during a civil war, with a dream-like introduction to life in a confusing political and violent setting. I struggled to understand the reasons behind various violence and betrayals, and yet I realized that understand the context absolutely did not matter: Couto’s book instead illustrated how life (such as it was) continued for the people in the land, and the confused tone of what was real or not provided a perfect atmosphere for the hopelessness of the era.
- First published in 1992 in Portuguese as Terra Sonâmbula; translated by David Brookshaw and published in English in 2006. ↩
- According to Wikipedia, the Mozambique Civil War lasted from 1977 (upon freedom from colonialism) until about 1992) ↩
- I must point out, however, that as in most magical realism, there is a fair amount of sexuality in this book. I personally didn’t find it very tastefully written this time… ↩
I decided to join in both Allie’s Shakespeare Month and Amanda at Fig and Thistle’s Charles Dickens month, since I knew I would be reading Bleak House for my book club. It was a great month, and I must admit I’m not quite finished yet with the Bard at least (I’m taking a break from Dickens for a month or so).
At the very beginning of the month, I picked up Jane Smiley’s biography of Charles Dickens and read this gem of a quote in her preface:
Among English writers, Dickens’s only peer, in terms of general fame, worldwide literary stature, and essential Englishness, is William Shakespeare, and the two authors are alike in several ways.”
I loved that my month just happened to be focused around the two most famous, literary, and “English” of writers. More than two centuries separate them. Yet they each wrote for their time in a way that is lasting. The themes speak to us today, the writing is superior, and they seriously impacted their contemporaries.
For my Dickens month, I wrote three posts on Bleak House as I read it and review of a brief biography of Dickens. I wanted to read something else by Dickens as well, but let’s face it, Bleak House was about 1000 pages long and I’m more than 8 months pregnant and trying to get a nursery painted and ready. It was enough.
For the Bard, here’s what I read/posted this month:
- Henry VI part 1
- Henry VI part 2
- Henry VI part 3
- The Shakespeare Thefts by Eric Rasmussen
- Shakespeare and His Contemporaries by Charles Nicholl
- Shakespeare: The World as a Stage by Bill Bryson
I mentioned I’m not done yet: Allie graciously extended her month of fun until the end of next week so I thought I’d throw in some more Shakespeare. I’ve finished reading Bill Bryson’s biography (of which I have mixed thoughts) and hope to get a post up later this week. I also want to shift to comedies since I haven’t read any Shakespeare comedies since I began this blog. My collection of Shakespeare comes with two volumes of comedies, and the first in volume one is Love’s Labour’s Lost. I know nothing about it but I’m excited to give it a try! It’s also quite short, so I think I’ll be successful at fitting it in.
Other books read in January:
- Show and Tell by Dilys Evans (a book about children’s books)
- It’s Hard to Be Hip Over Thirty by Judith Viorst (poetry/Persephone Book)
- Sleepwalking Land by Mia Couto (African fiction from Mozambique)
Reviewed in January/Read in December
- Enchanted Hunters by Maria Tatar (a book about children’s books)
- Birth Day by Mark Sloan (a book about newborn babies!)
Did you join either of these reading month projects?