Book Haul: Persephone Books in London, England (02/04/2017)

persephone book haulPersephone Books LTD

59 Lamb’s Conduit Street

London WC1N 3NB

0207-242-9292

A few weeks ago, I took a train to London to see all the sights, drink all the coffee, and speak all the English.  There were only a few things that I was dead-set on doing, and visiting Persephone Books was one of them.

Persephone Books is a feminist bookstore which reprints “neglected novels, diaries, poetry, and cookery books, mostly by women and mostly dating from the early to mid-twentieth century” (as per their catalogue).  It’s quaint, homely, and not too far from the Russell Square Station.  It’s the perfect place to go on a rainy day, if only to peruse their selections.

Most books are £12, or £30 for three.  With every book, you get a matching bookmark, and if you buy six books, you get a free tote bag!  This combination for me was a blessing and a curse–books and tote bags are going to my downfall one day.

I’m truly excited to begin these novels.  In reprinting these works, Persephone has opened the world up once more to lost and forgotten authors.  There’s war, family drama, crime, but most of all, there’s a lot of love that these books have to offer.  I’m ready to love them back.

With that being said, let’s begin!  Here are the great reads that I bought (using the numbers which correspond to the book):

No. 28: Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski – Hilary Wainwright, an English soldier, returns to a blasted and impoverished France during World War Two in order to trace a child lost five years before. But is this small, quiet boy in a grim orphanage really his son? And what if he is not? In this exquisitely crafted novel, we follow Hilary’s struggle to love in the midst of a devastating war.  ISBN: 978-1-903155-17-2

No. 42: The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding – A suburban matron, harassed by wartime domestic problems – her husband is overseas – finds herself implicated in the murder of her young daughter’s extremely unattractive beau. This novel is about maternal love and about the heroine’s relationship with those around her, especially her children and her maid.  ISBN: 978-1-903155-32-5

No. 44: Tea With Mr. Rochester by Frances Towers – A collection of 10 short stories described as delicate and poignant.  ISBN: 978-1-903155-34-9

No. 51: Operation Heartbreak by Duff Cooper – Willie Maryngton always wanted to go to war. But he was born just too late to see action in the first world war, and it was a long wait until the second. Would he ever have his chance to be a hero?  ISBN: 978-1-903155-41-7

No. 53: Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary by Ruby Ferguson – The Countess of Lochlule marries Sir Hector, owner of the estate next to ‘Keepsfield’, the palatial Scottish mansion where she lives. But one day she meets someone on a park bench in Edinburgh. This novel is about dreams and the hard world of money and position and their relations to one another.  ISBN: 978-1-903155-43-1

No. 59: There Were No Windows – Norah Hoult – This 1944 novel is about memory loss and is the only book we know of, apart from Iris about Iris Murdoch (and arguably There Were No Windows is wittier and more profound), on this subject. Based on the last years of the writer Violet Hunt, a once-glamorous woman living in Kensington during the Blitz who is now losing her memory, the novel’s three ‘acts’ describe with insight, humour and compassion what happens to ‘Claire Temple’ in her last months.  ISBN: 978-1-903155-49-3

And that’s what I bought!  I think it’s very important to visit authors you normally wouldn’t, especially forgotten women authors!  As much as I respect the classics, there truly is something gratifying about discovering something you never would have expected.  Hopefully some of these looked just as interesting to you as they did to me, and I’ll be sure to put a review of each one up as soon as I read them!

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25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History: Wonder Women by Sam Maggs, illustrated by Sophia Foster-Dimino

Wonder Women

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Nonfiction

Medium: Hardback

Synopsis: As we all know, history tends to be, well, his-story.  The women that we’ve heard of are few and far between in comparison to the men.  Women inventors struggled to get patents, women authors usually wrote under the name ‘Anonymous,’ and women academics were constantly barred from universities.  And even with all we commonly know about famous ladies of the past, Sam Maggs introduces us to many, many more notable women who’ve been shunned by history.

Review: This book focused on women in the STEM field, as well as the adventuring and espionage field.  In total, 55 women were discussed in this book.  25 were the main topics, 35 were ‘honorable mentions,’ and 5 were interviewed.  Out of these 55 ladies, I knew 5.  Yikes.  Granted, I know of a lot of other great ladies that weren’t mentioned in this book, but still.

That being said, I think this is a wonderful book!  I learned so much from it, and I was actually very impressed by the effort that went into the research.  When I bought it, I must confess that I expected this compilation to be very United States-based, and also very white, hetero, cis, and what have you.  The first lady?  Wang Zhenyi, who was a Chinese astronomer, mathematician, and poet from the 1700s.  This book was incredible at identifying women from different countries and time periods, and Maggs brought to our attention the ‘gal pal-ification’ of many bi or lesbian women (or who we can only assume to be bi or lesbian).  In addition to this, she also interviews a trans woman and who she thinks would have identified as trans had the language existed at that time.

One thing that I really liked about the book, which I know some didn’t like as much, was the language.  It was very conversational, as though Maggs wrote how we talked.  I appreciated this because I feel like I can get much more out of a conversation than an academic paper, simply because the words and tone of voice are ones are can better relate to.  And while she has some pretty dang good jokes in there, it can get a little grating.  Hey, nobody’s perfect.

In addition to all that, I absolutely loved the drawings.  Foster-Dimino did a great job of making the illustrations look fun and lively while not toning down the seriousness of their studies or the importance of their accomplishment.

Ultimately, I can’t wait to own a coffee table solely so I can have this book rest upon it so people can say, “Oh, what’s that book about?” and then I can be like, “Well let me tell you all about it!”  This book is nothing short of interesting, exciting, and inspiring.

The Merchant of Venice (RSC Edition) by William Shakespeare

The Merchant of Venice

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Play

Medium: Paperback

Synopsis: Bassanio has fallen in love.  He fully intends to woo the apple of his eye–Portia, a Venetian heiress–but has no means to get to Italy.  Luckily for him, he has the best friend in the whole world, Antonio.  Antonio, a Christian and the titular merchant, is low on funds at the moment, but is willing to take out a loan for Bassanio.  In order to do this, he needs to go through Shylock, a Jewish man he’s always hated, and who has always hated him in return.  The only way to make this deal work is by Antonio using himself as collateral: Antonio must relinquish a pound of flesh if the bond fails.  So, what’s to happen when everybody makes it to Venice, but nobody can repay their debt?

Review: I picked up The Merchant of Venice mostly because I’d haphazardly bought Shakespeare and the Jews by James Shapiro without having read Merchant first.  Before reading this play, I didn’t know much about it, save for the discourse surrounding the play’s anti-semitism.

Immediately, we’re introduced to Antonio, the titular merchant, who begins the play with this line: “In sooth I know now why I am so sad, / It wearies me, you say it wearies you; / But how I caught it, found it, or came by it, / What stuff ’tis made of, whereof it is born, / I am to learn” (I.i.1-5).  How relatable.  Of course, this is how I knew that I’d like the play.

The play itself was great.  I loved the debating themes of love and worth, and the “strong friendship”/”romance” between Antonio and Bassanio kept me intrigued.  The women in this play, Portia, the wife, Nerissa, Portia’s servant, and Jessica, Shylock’s doctor, were incredibly written, and I’d love to see how people act them.

And then, of course, we must talk about Shylock.  And before we talk about Shylock, I just want to say that I’m not Jewish, and therefore when I discuss Shylock, my experiences as a non-Jewish person will reflect that.

Shylock is presented as a very malicious character.  He and Antonio hate each other, on the basis that Antonio is Christian and Shylock is a Jew, as well as a monetary basis (Antonio is a merchant, and Shylock thinks that “[Antonio] lends out money gratis and brings down / The rate of usance here with us in Venice” (I.iii.42-43)).  The word “Jew” is used perjoratively many more times than once, and Shylock becomes a character obsessed with money and his hatred for Antonio to the point where he is more than willing to maim Antonio.  That certainly sounds like anti-semitic writing to me.

For Shakespeare, this play was written in a time where anti-semitism was very rampant, and his ideologies therefore reflect that.  But, in defense of Shakspeare, this play holds the famous “Hath not a Jew eyes?” and “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” speech, which to me seems like Shakespeare’s making an attempt to deconstruct anti-semitic beliefs.  That being said, I think The Merchant of Venice isn’t inherently anti-semitic, but rather discusses anti-semitism as one of its main topics.

However, to continue with my Shylock train of thought…I really liked him as a character.  If he were a real person, I don’t think I’d like him much, but I’ve always been fascinated by the victim-turned-villain trope.  I mean, Shylock has reason to hate Antonio, but he’s also lost so much, and continues to lose so much more.  If there was somebody out there who hated you, spat on you, kicked you, threw rocks at you, and then–then you had the chance to hurt them back, would you?  Shylock would.  In fact, I can imagine this interaction going down  between Antonio and Shylock if this were a modern play:

Shylock: *is visibly frustrated about institutional and personal anti-semitism*

Antonio: Hey man, don’t fight hate with hate

Shylock: So you admit you hate me???

But that’s just me.  So, all in all, for the play, I really liked it!  It was interesting, I found myself wondering how they were going to get out of their predicaments, I wanted Jessica and Lorenzo to be happy together, and I found myself pleasantly amused with both Gobbos.

And now, time to discuss the edition.  My copy is from The Royal Shakespeare Company, and I personally have been really enjoying their editions.  Before each play is a little introduction, which introduces the themes of the play, the history, a little discourse, and what to look out for.  After the play is a scene-by-scene analysis which is super helpful for someone like me, and they even go above and beyond and note the editorial changes they made with help from the folios and quartos.  Even after that, the RSC goes more in-depth with their analysis, with help from directors and actors to highlight the decisions they made with pivotal scenes and characters.

In this section, they mention the history behind Merchant, and how the play itself has become a little taboo after the Holocaust.  The play was shown often in Nazi Germany, and now whenever there’s a new production of the play, the directors and actors must think on how to not tokenize and stereotype Shylock–which is difficult, given that Shylock is actually a little bit of a detestable character.  To highlight this fine line, Bate and Rasmussen state that “Shylock’s statement of common ‘humanity’ is delivered with the express purpose of pleading his right to revenge, by very inhumane means” (125), and that “Racism is as much part of our world as it was [Shakespeare’s].  The goal is not to sanitise or rehabilitate Shylock, but to see him as part of a society whose workings lead to cruel and outrageous acts” (128).

Well.  This was a little bit of an essay, wasn’t it?  As you can all see, I found this play and this edition very engaging, and I myself feel a little bit wistful about my time doing Shakespeare Studies at college–maybe I’ll write a paper on this play just to bring back those old memories.

Okay, one final quote: “Nevertheless, Shylock was ‘not a tragic hero: he is proof that racism breeds revenge'” (131).

And also one more final thought: I just reread the “Hath not a Jew eyes?” speech, and wow wow wow.  I can’t speak for anywhere else in the world, but maybe if more bigots in the United States read Shakespeare they’d understand just how traumatizing their actions are to oppressed groups.  “If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that” (III.i.64-5).

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little women

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Fiction, classics, young adult literature

Medium: Kindle ebook

Synopsis: Marmee is the mother of four young girls, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy.  Their father is off at war, and they’re making ends meet.  Still, despite being in poverty, the family manages to be charitable and kind to others who are less fortunate or to those who have wronged them.  Their struggles are alleviated–and sometimes made more humorous–thanks to the help of Laurie Laurence, the next door neighbor.  While these little women are off gallivanting, Marmee remains the ever-doting mother, ready to offer advice for any situation when it is needed and welcome.

Review: I honestly wish I’d read this sooner, maybe when I was a little girl, or when I was reaching adolescence.  I read a couple reviews before diving in that said that this book was rather preachy, and to be fair, it is, a little bit.  But after having read it all, I feel renewed.  I feel as though I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons, and I want to actually put those lessons into action.  I want to be kinder, more charitable, and more self-aware.

I also felt renewed because this was the first book in a while that I’ve felt emotionally attached to.  While I’m always entertained by books, and have my predictions and wishes for endgame couples, this was the first book in months where I’d audibly react, or I’d have to set the book down because of what just happened.  All of the characters in this book were by no means perfect, but they were written so well and lifelike that I couldn’t help but cheer for them, regardless of whether they were succeeding or failing in what they set out to do.

In addition to this, I feel the need to warn future readers about the major character death that ensues in part two.  It’s not gruesome or anything like that, it’s just really, really sad.

The  most relateable character to me was Amy, though I must admit that I’m biased, since I share the same name.  But at this moment in my life, I feel like I’ve been a “Jo” my whole life, and while I want to retain the “Jo”-ness about me, I also want to learn how to be an “Amy” as well.  As I mentioned before, there’ve been critiques of this book being a little preachy, but overall, I think what Alcott preaches (sometimes with religious overtones) are lessons that we could all do with learning.

All in all, I have nothing but praise for this book.  It made me laugh, it made me cry, and once I’d finished it, I felt satisfied.  I can’t ask for anything more than that.

Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World by Shelina Janmohamed

generation m

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Nonfiction

Medium: Paperback

Synopsis: By the same author who wrote Love in a Headscarf, Generation M details many vivid, authentic, and global accounts of what it means to be young and Muslim today.  Janmohamed researches and discusses a handful of topics with millennial Muslims, and dissects what it truly means to be Muslim and modern.  How does faith interact with consumerism?  How does the internet affect the ummah?  What do Muslim women think about the war going on over their bodies?  What do Muslims consider halal, and how do they know it’s halal?  These are just some of the questions explored by Janmohamed and the multiple Muslims she’s spoken with.

Review: Before I get started on my review, I have to tell you that my review is going to be affected by 2 things: 1) I’m white, and 2) I’m not Muslim.  So, while this affects my reading of this book, I’d also take a look and see what Muslims have said in order to get a full feel for this book, and whether you should read it or not.  That being said, I was thoroughly impressed by this book.  I originally bought this book in London, at the ALEF bookstore (which is next to 221B Baker Street!), and decided on a whim that I needed to broaden my book horizons.  What better way to do that than read a book on something I know next to nothing about?

I’m really glad that Generation M was the first book about Muslims that I read.  It was very general, very global, (often citing the general millennial Muslims as the titular Generation M) which is perfect for somebody who needs a crash course on what it means to be Muslim.  And, what makes it truly perfect for somebody who doesn’t know much on this topic is that at the end, there’s a little glossary, as well as citations and additional readings.

This book stimulated my subconscious–some things that are mentioned were things that I already vaguely knew, but never really put at the forefront of my mind, such as the fact that “more than one-third of today’s Muslims are under 15, and nearly two-thirds are under 30.  That means they have spent most or all of their live sunder shadow of 11 September 2001.”  I knew that Muslims’ lives had been seriously and negatively affected since since 9/11, especially those my own age, but having Janmohamed precisely and explicitly state this fact blew my mind–and that was only at the introduction of the book.

From there, she discusses a huge array of topics, such as what makes halal products halal, how the digital world has affected Muslims, the tie between faith and music, the relationship between faith and fashion, as well as business, advertising, and accountability.  Before reading this book, there were probably 3 things that I could vaguely discuss about Muslims, and that’d be the debate around headscarves (as well as niqabs and burqas), stereotyping, and Daesh.  Let’s get real–that’s not a lot by any means.  And, they’re fairly overused and stale topics (they’re still extremely important, don’t get me wrong!).  But now, thanks to this book, I know so much more about faith, ummah, and ethics.

In all honesty, this book has only bettered me as a person and my mind.  It’s helped to debunk stereotypes, it’s added to my vocabulary, and I have an entirely new layer of understanding.  In my opinion, that’s a successful book if I ever saw one.  I think that this should be required reading for most, if not all, white people.  I’ve learned so much from it, and I know quite a few others who would do well to learn from it as well.

Shakespeare on Toast: Getting a Taste for the Bard by Ben Crystal

Shakespeare on Toast

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Nonfiction

Medium: Paperback

Synopsis: Before writing this guide to Shakespeare, Crystal wondered why there were so many difficult texts on how to read/act Shakespeare, and so many texts that discuss Shakespeare on a shallow level.  In response to that, Crystal wrote Shakespeare on Toast, a fun, light-hearted guide that provides context, depth, and humor to the bard’s works.

Review: Reading this book was like having a conversation with Ben Crystal over coffee, and, well, toast.  I personally was a Shakespeare minor in college, so I’m no stranger myself to his works, or to analyses of his work, for that matter.  Overall, I was very pleased with my Shakespeare education, though I must admit that I wish that we had read this book for our intro class.  The reason why I say that is because Crystal takes us on a journey through Shakespeare’s time, and then through his works as well.

He discusses Shakespeare’s time, history, monarchs, and profession.  He explains how plays were generally received in the public, and where Shakespeare may have gotten his ideas from.  He doesn’t dwell on whether Shakespeare was “actually” Shakespeare, because for him, this doesn’t matter.  What matters for Crystal is how Shakespeare is performed and the catharsis his audience feels after a performance.

“It doesn’t matter who Shakespeare might have been, because who he was isn’t as important to us as when he was and what he did” (15).

For those who have already studied Shakespeare, the first half of the book might be a bit of a refresher, though a very humorous one.  Shakespeare, to Crystal, is the equivalent of today’s soap opera writers, and this makes for quite a few funny jabs at the expense of our bard.  He introduces, in these chapters/acts, the history of the folios, quartos, and how to read Ye Olde English.  Which, by the way, did you know that only 5% of words that Shakespeare uses aren’t in our current lexicon?  It’s not the language that’s “outdated”, per se, but the definitions–and knowing this helps us read Shakespeare.

The next half is where it gets very interesting, especially from a scholar’s point of view.  Now, I’m by no means a Highe Scholar of Ye Bard Shakespeare (read: I took a couple classes on him in college, and I’ve watched his plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival).  But, I think that after all of my classes that I know a little more than the average person.  So, that being said, it’s nice to get into the semantics of Shakespeare’s works.

What do I mean by semantics?  I  mean the stuff that I absolutely dreaded learning about some years ago: iambic pentameter.  Crystal explains how Shakespeare uses meter so well that all I want to do now is reread all of his plays.  He uses both words and graphs to make his points clear: Shakespeare is the Miles Davis of wordplay.  Crystal argues that nothing that Shakespeare writes is unintentional, and this makes sense, given that he writes clues in each scene for each actor in his troupe.

In addition to this, he takes the time to explain the difference between prose and verse, and the different types of prose and verse, and when a character might use rhyming verse versus blank verse versus prose.  Crystal also points out the differences between “thou” and “you,” and when a character might use one or the other, or when they might switch pronouns.  In fact, did you know that Lady Macbeth stops using “thou” to refer to her husband after Macbeth tries to convince her that they shouldn’t kill Duncan (98)?  This is just one example of the interesting things I learned whilst reading Crystal’s book.

Complete with a glossary and recommended readings and movies, Crystal’s book is an incredible help to those who enjoy–or want to enjoy–Shakespeare.

Ultimately, the point of Crystal’s book is how to uncover and read these clues.  And those clues are the key to unlocking the absolute gold that Shakespeare wrote.

Play Review: Hamlet dir. by Robert Icke

For those of you who are new to my review blog, welcome!  About two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting London and seeing Hamlet performed at the Almeida Theatre.  A lot has happened between then and now, and after a fourth read-through of Hamlet and some family drama, I felt that it was now time to finally pen my thoughts.  And again, for those of you who are new to my blog, I want to state up front that I am by no means a critic.  While the media we produce and consume is never above critique, I’m just a humble reviewer who has a lot of love to give to the things she likes.

One of the things that I liked–loved–was this production of Hamlet, directed by Robert Icke.  This modern adaptation had an incredible cast, including Juliet Stevenson (as Gertrude), Jessica Brown Findlay (as Ophelia), and, of course, Andrew Scott (as Hamlet).  Every single person who worked on this show added a new dimension to their characters and to the play itself.  I believe it is safe to say that nobody left this show unaffected.

When I think of this production of Hamlet, I feel it, too.  I feel it at the base of my throat, and just below my sternum.  It’s a dull pang of sadness that resonates through my core.  Sometimes it’s so great that it brings me to tears, even two weeks after seeing the play.  I can’t look at watches without wanting to cry, and vases of flowers brings melancholy to my mind.  Remembering the play offers these striking memories: smashing skulls against the ground, warm lighting and the sound of music coming from another room, fiddling with watches, and the smiles shared between Ophelia and Laertes.

In fact, my whole experience regarding this play was an incredible one.  Only 8 or so months prior, I saw Hamlet in the Elizabethan Theatre at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  The Elizabethan Theatre there seats 1,190 patrons–so imagine my surprise when I found my seat at the Almeida Theatre, which seats 325!  It was the perfect size: an intimate theatre for an intimate show.

This intimacy aided me in feeling closer to the characters and their happiness and their struggles.  I cried when Hamlet cried into Ophelia’s shoulder, I laughed when Ophelia rolled her eyes at Polonius, I cried when Hamlet learns that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were sent for, and I laughed when Polonius’ asides were much more obvious to Hamlet than they should have been.  This production is a roller-coaster: it has its emotional ups and downs, it will leave you feeling exhilarated, and it will leave you feeling bereft when it’s over.  And, like a roller-coaster, it will leave you saying: “I want to do it again!”

The one scene that I want to comment upon without spoiling anything is the ending.  Beautiful.  Breath-taking.  Brilliant.  These are the words that come to mind when recalling the tear-inducing final moments of this production.  Watches, families, dancing, warm lights–in all honesty, it gave me a “Twin Peaks-y” feeling.  After watching the last minutes, I knew that what I just saw would stick with me for years to come.  Even now, as I type this, I’m getting that now-familiar feeling just below my sternum.

I have no idea how the actors can continue playing these characters so often during the week.  I waited nearly two weeks to even begin to think of rereading Hamlet, yet this amazing, talented cast carries on.  They continue to inspire others and bring tears to eyes.  I know that one day this production of Hamlet will be finished, but I truly wish that it never would.

All in all, my review can be boiled down to this: “O Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain.”

The Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson

The Autobiography of Red

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Poetry, retelling

Medium: Paperback

Content warnings: Incest, molestation

Synopsis: In this beautiful retelling, Anne Carson recounts the tale of Geryon and Herakles.  Within the context of mythology, Herakles must prove himself, and obtain the red cow from Geryon’s island.  Upon arriving, he slaughtered sheep, Geryon’s dog, and Geryon himself.  Now, centuries later, Geryon is still red.  He still has his wings.  He meets Herakles in his teenage years.  And he falls in love with him.

Review:  I honestly can’t say whether I’ve read anything more beautiful before.  This is my second time reading The Autobiography of Red, and it is still just as stunning to read as my first time.  I don’t know how Anne Carson does it.  She exerts such skill and mastery of the English language that she may as well be a mythic being herself.

There are so many things going on within this book.  Firstly, please do read the introduction and interviews–they help contextualize the narrative, and immediately open your eyes to how Carson writes.

This book is a magical, fantastical book.  Geryon is a child just like any other.  But he’s red.  He has wings.  Do people notice this?  He seems to remember his myth, his past–the one where he’s killed by Herakles.  But this doesn’t deter him from falling in love with him.  He still sees the color red everywhere.  He has big questions.  Red questions.

Another reason why this book is so important to me is because a) it was highly recommended to me by my high school best friend, and b) it was the first LGBTQ novel I’d ever read.  So, naturally, this affected me, though I don’t think I knew it at the time I first read it.  And to be clear: this book isn’t about Geryon realizing he’s gay, or about his parents’ acceptance and approval.  It’s about the harsh truths of when you love someone, especially when you have a history.  I’m still astonished by how incredible this book was, and I’m very much so looking forward to reading the sequel.

It’s a beautiful piece of work that deserves to be shared with everybody, especially those who want to read red stories about red monsters on a red island.

The Sonnets and A Lover’s Complaint by William Shakespeare

The Sonnets

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Poetry

Medium: Hardback

Synopsis: All of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets and A Lover’s Complaint are coupled together in this Penguin Clothbound Classics edition, along with a new introduction by John Kerrigan.  Kerrigan, in his introduction, explains the nature and history of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and places them in context with other poets of the era.

Review: Wow!  Honestly, I will never not be in love with Shakespeare.  I’d read mostly his plays and less of his poetry, so I decided that it was high time to change that.  And was I glad I did.  His sonnets are some of the most stunningly beautiful pieces of poetry that I’ve ever read.  I’m not kidding.  I want to write some of my own poetry now.  I want to study sonnets and read all of his other works of poetry.  I want to get married solely to use Sonnet #91 as my wedding vows.

If you’re new to Shakespeare, don’t fret!  Give yourself a little free time, some quiet, and his words will course through your body like it’s your own blood.  In all honesty, I was a little daunted by A Lover’s Complaint, since it was a lengthier poem–but, I’m pleased to tell you all that it was fairly easy to read and decipher.  So, please, if you’re worried that Shakespeare is too hoity-toity and upper-class, don’t be!  His works are true pieces of art that deserve to be shared with everybody.

As for Kerrigan’s introduction–also wow.  I learned so much by reading the part that people normally skip.  He discusses the themes of Shakespeare’s work–love, death, Time, Will–as well as places it in context to the other poems of the time.  He discusses some of Shakespeare’s history, along with London’s history, and argues for not reordering the sonnets to make them more “coherent.”

All in all, this edition of Shakespeare’s sonnets and A Lover’s Complaint is well worth the purchase.  It’s beautiful, academic, awe-inspiring.  But be warned: this book is best read with a highlighter or underlining tool so that you can mark your favorite passages.  If, you know, you’re into that sort of thing.

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (RSC Edition) by William Shakespeare

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Play

Medium: Paperback

Synopsis: After only two months of mourning, Hamlet’s mother, Queen Gertrude, marries his father’s brother.  Hamlet is bereft, clad in black out of respect for his father and spite for his uncle.  Enter Horatio.  Horatio hath just seen a ghost–one that looks an awful like the late King Hamlet.  When Hamlet learns that his uncle hath murdered his own father, he must first decide whether this ghost is truly his father or a hellish figure preying on his grief.  Surrounded by his love Ophelia and friends from his school days, Hamlet is forced to make decisions that will effect not only himself but everyone who loves him.

Review: This makes my third time reading this, and I’m reviewing this after having just seen it performed, so I’ll do my best to keep it about the words.  This is also the third edition of Hamlet that I’ve read, however it’s probably the first time that I’ve really gone in depth and truly understood what it’s about (read: I had to read this in high school and I didn’t give it the proper attention it deserved).

I think we all know about Hamlet enough to make our own decisions over whether we liked it or not.  However, I will say that I think that Hamlet should be required reading for everyone under the sun.  Even if you really didn’t like high school and don’t like Shakespeare and don’t like plays.  This is because Hamlet has quite the cultural capitol in western culture.  Skulls?  Poor Yorick.  The Lion King?  Defs Hamlet.  Ghosts?  King Hamlet.  Flowers?  Ophelia.

That being said, let’s talk about the Royal Shakespeare Company edition!  You know how in lots of classic reads, there’ll be an introduction, and sometimes a few essays that take up about a quarter of the book?  Well, one of my Shakespeare professors from college said, “There are people that actually write those, you know.  I’m one of them.  I made a check for five dollars the other day for something I wrote fifteen years ago.”  So now that I’m out of college and I don’t have to read a book a week, I’m now delving into the introductions and acknowledgements–the things we normally skip over.

The Royal Shakespeare Company edition really gives great insight to Hamlet.  Just in the introduction, they discuss themes such as revenge, conscience, and Hamlet’s questions.  This provides a good basis of insight for reading the play, especially if this is the first time you’re reading it.  One of the observations was how Hamlet is actually a very feminine character–something I’d never really thought about before and am now intrigued by.  In addition to this, they also discuss their reasoning behind using certain lines from the Folios and the Quartos, while also providing the cut lines after the play.  Additionally, they also interviewed three directors and asked them to recount their productions and why they made certain decisions.

Overall, this edition is a very informative and intriguing one, and I’d urge you to get this copy if you happen to see it.

“…the devil hath power / T’assume a pleasing shape…” (II.ii.611-12)

“Lord, we know what we are, but / know not what we may be.”  (IV.iv.43-4).