I am not personally attached to any physical volume or edition of literature, but I certainly appreciate a nicely bound book, and the history (or marginalia) of old works can be quite interesting.
The Shakespeare Thefts: In Search of the First Folios by Eric Rasmussen (Palgrave Macmillian 2011) is a personal account of Mr Rasmussen’s work with a committee to track down and record the condition of the less-than-300 remaining first portfolios of Shakespeare (originally printed 1623) in the world. The book is part general history of the creation and issue of Shakespeare’s folio (including a history of the thefts of this most expensive book), part detective work in trying to determine which copies are genuine and where they are (including the personal histories of the owners over the past four centuries), and part bibliophilic adoration of 400 years of marginalia on one of the world’s greatest writer’s first edition (this discussion of the marginalia was the most interesting to me).
It sounds like a lot to cover, but the author’s personal tone (he regularly refers to himself and the things he loves about searching and examining these Shakespeare volumes) gives it a memoir-ish feel, all the while imparting a general appreciation for 400 years of history as found in a particular first edition (or, rather, in the many different first editions that still are in existence). It’s a rather brief work (less than 200 widely spaced pages), but not much more is needed to infuse the reader with a greater appreciation of Shakespeare and where we’ve come since he first was writing. If anything, I wish some of the stories were a bit more drawn out. Most of the chapters were just a few pages long so the stories tended to run together in retrospect. But in general, it was fascinating to learn a bit more about the first readers of the author who would become legendary.
I received a complimentary review copy The Shakespeare Thefts from LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A post for Allie’s Shakespeare Month.