Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Shakespeare by Bill Bryson

iconiconI actually decided to read Bill Bryson's Shakespeare thanks to my husband, Michael, who is better than I am at staying up-to-date on the newest releases — probably because I write instead of looking at books when we go to the bookstore. However, the subject is one I'm pretty interested in, as an English literature major, so when Michael started talking about it I decided to read it after he finished.

Shakespeare is a pretty short book, which Bryson attributes to how little there is that is actually known about Shakespeare — and he is committed to avoiding any amount of conjecture in his biography of the great man. It turns out that most of what we think we know about Shakespeare is conjecture, so he spends a lot of time discussing why we don't really know what we think we know.

My favorite part of the book was the last chapter, where Bryson roundly thrashes any theory that anyone else might have written Shakespeare's plays — a theory that has always struck me as rather malicious and even a little bit sour grapes. Tearing down the reputation of English literature's greatest writer seems to make a great many people feel better about themselves.

I also really like Bryson's tone, which is delightfully sarcastic in all the right places. It's not often that a book makes me laugh out loud, especially a nonfiction book, but this one definitely did. It is a quick read, but definitely very enjoyable, not to mention illuminating. I highly recommend this one!

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