Monday, December 8, 2008

Uncommon Readers

I don't know whether it's a result of happy coincidence or of paying attention, but so often I'll find that two or more books I read simultaneously or consecutively will hit similar themes or ideas. This weekend I began listening to Geraldine Brooks' Pulitzer Prize-winning novel March, the story of the father of Louisa Mae Alcott's Little Women. The book will be the Big Read for Hickory in the Spring, and I assume Brooks will be reading during that time. I have a copy of the book, but when I came across the CDs at the library, I couldn't resist, having just finished the Sherman Alexie book I mentioned earlier.

Meanwhile, I just finished reading My Name Is Will by Jess Winfield. It was light (especially for a book about Shakespeare)--a fun read, but not quite scholarly. The author moves back and forth between the story of William Shakespeare, the Elizabethan bard and a young man whose mother named him William Shakespeare (first and middle, not last names). He is struggling to complete (or even to begin) his master's thesis. The subtitle, Sex, Drugs, and Shakespeare, explains some of his academic obstacles. The author has had some fun interjecting lines and allusions that most Shakespeare scholars will recognize, although he admits taking some liberties with history, particularly with his time line.

Needing something to read at bedtime, I moved on to Alan Bennett's Uncommon Reader, a fictional account of Queen Elizabeth in which she falls in love with reading. What struck me about both this book and March is the effect that books have on human beings. In March, as a young man, the protagonists ends up spending time at a Virginia plantation, while working as a peddler. The plantation owner is dismissive until he learns young March has books among his wares and invites him into his impressive library. March ends up spending time as a guest for awhile, reminiscent of Odysseus under Circe's power.

In Uncommon Reader, the Queen starts reading for pleasure, evidently for the first time in her life, and her method of selecting books and soliciting book recommendations is familiar to any reader. Although I'm just barely into the book, I love her feigning illness in order to stay in her room and read. Oh! to be Queen for a day.

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