Reading Log: May 2019

Books acquired: none

Books read: “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” “Timon of Athens,” “Pericles,” William Shakespeare; “Shakespeare: The World as Stage,” Bill Bryson

As you can see above, I took the Reading Log on the road. I was reading the Bard all month, and after passing the Shakespeare bench outside Rancho Cucamonga’s Lewis Family Playhouse and Biane Public Library recently, I thought to return with my books and take the photo there. The things I do for you people! The photo at the end is on the same bench, not that it’s obvious.

I’ve been reading one or two Shakespeare plays per year the past few years, which makes him one my “annual authors” among such disparate company as Robert Benchley, H.P. Lovecraft, Jack Smith and Robert A. Heinlein. He certainly elevates the list, as he would with any such grouping.

I decided to read two plays this year, as I did last year, realizing I would never finish all his plays if I didn’t pick up the pace a bit. Rather than lug my college omnibus around once again, I went to the Pomona Public Library and checked out portable editions of the two plays I’d resolved to read: “Pericles” and “Merry Wives of Windsor.” Each edition I chose has two plays. “Wives” was paired with “Taming of the Shrew,” which I’ve read; “Pericles” was paired with “Timon of Athens,” which I believed I hadn’t. So, what the heck, instead of reading two Shakespeare plays, I read three. I was enjoying myself; once immersed in the language, the plays are easier to read, so one leads to two and two to three.

“Merry Wives” was familiar because I’d seen the LA Opera production of “Falstaff” a few years ago, and Verdi based it on “Merry Wives.” Much like Greg Brady, Falstaff tries to woo two women at once (both of them married) and suffers the consequences. It’s funny, and with a warm ending.

“Timon,” I realized a few pages in, was vaguely familiar for another reason: I’d read it in college. But as I didn’t remember much about it, I kept reading. It’s lesser Shakespeare, written with a collaborator (likely Thomas Middleton) and with a fairly one-dimensional lead character. But despite its flaws, it’s Shakespeare, so it can’t help but have some great lines.

As for “Pericles,” believed to have been written with a different collaborator (probably George Wilkins), there’s some question whether Shakespeare wrote the first two acts, or whether he perhaps only lightly revised them while doing heavy lifting on the last three acts. Anyway, this gets better as it goes along. Not great Shakespeare, but come on, it’s still enjoyable and worth reading.

Lastly, Bryson’s 200-page Shakespeare study seemed a good way to round out the month. (I considered reading something purposely different, like one of the Tarzan novels, as a joke, but that seemed willfully offensive. Let the Bard be.) Besides, I’d owned “The World as Stage” for a while — I bought it in 2011 on the cheap as Borders was closing — and was waiting to read it until I felt sufficiently interested. This was the time.

Best known as a witty travel writer, although he’s also written on other topics, like the English language, Bryson here provides a good general view of what we know about Shakespeare (very little, really) and his times while gently sending up some of the surmises others have made on flimsy or no evidence. He can be eloquent on the wonder that audiences must have felt upon hearing Hamlet’s soliloquy for the first time, or sitting through “Macbeth” wondering what would happen. And he is skeptical of many rosy claims, such as that Shakespeare famously leaving his “second-best bed” to his wife was a tribute of affection rather than an insult.

I began the month having read 16 of the plays (really 17, though I didn’t know it) and ended it having read 19, or precisely half of the 38 total that survive. That’s a nice feeling, and I look forward to next year’s reading, as even one play will mean I will have read the bare majority. I hope to read them all, of course. And then there’s the sonnets and a few poems, likewise.

How have you done regarding Shakespeare’s plays: some, many, all, none? And what did you read in May? Let us know, please, in the comments. And don’t be intimidated, though it’s hard to imagine you are; my June reading will return to the usual mishmash.

Next month: the usual mishmash.

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  • Hugh C. McBride

    I read five books in May, bringing my five-month total to 26:

    BRASS (Xhenet Aliu) – This novel alternates between parallel narratives. In one, a young waitress (Elsie) falls in love with a line cook, becomes pregnant, and is abandoned by him before their daughter is born. In the other, Elsie’s 17-year-old daughter, Luljeta, searches for the truth about the father she has never known. The book does a tremendous job of capturing the desperation of life in a company town after the company (in this case, the brass factory that gives the novel its name) has ceased to be. I thought the ending was a bit abrupt, but the plots & characters are engaging and all too real.

    THE BOOK OF LIES (Brad Meltzer) – On the positive side, Brad Meltzer knows how to keep the pages turning. This novel doesn’t skimp on the action or intrigue. On the negative side, the plot involves a shadowy organization’s decades-long search to acquire the weapon that Cain used to slay Abel, which may be connected to the murder of the father of the inventor of Superman, who may have included clues in an early comic that may (or may not) have been destroyed (to be clear, it was the inventor of Superman who may have hidden the clues, not his murdered pop or Supe himself). An enjoyable read, but I think Mr. Meltzer’s reach exceeded his grasp a bit on this one.

    THE 7½ DEATHS OF EVELYN HARDCASTLE (Stuart Turton) – I read this one after being intrigued by Doug Evans’s description of it in last month’s reading round-up. My review can be adequately expressed as #WhatDougSaid. Another case of reach exceeding grasp. The novel is hyper-detailed in areas that didn’t need to be so densely packed with factoids, yet maddeningly sparse in other areas (like how this whole environment was created & is maintained). And the ending evoked thoughts of M. Night Shyamalan (and not in a good way). A noble attempt – and one that, if Goodreads is any indication, many folks loved. Unfortunately, I am not among the fans.

    HOW TO BE A GOOD CREATURE: A MEMOIR IN THIRTEEN ANIMALS (Sy Montgomery) – The animals that Sy Montgomery has learned from include a few dogs, a pig, some chickens, a spider, and an octopus. This is a wonderfully written, heartfelt book by a writer who has spent significant time observing, interacting with, studying, and writing about animals.

    A QUIET KIND OF THUNDER (Sara Barnard) – A teen girl who struggles with severe anxiety and selective mutism forms a friendship, then a romantic relationship, with a new classmate who is deaf. A sweet, moving, YA novel.

    Of course, nothing on this list compares to the literary wonderfulness of a book review that compares Falstaff with Greg Brady … 🙂

    • davidallen909

      The two are often confused, of course. Hugh, thanks for joining us again. My compliments on reaching 26 books read. And Doug will be flattered to know that one of his negative reviews led you to read the same book, share his opinion and yet express no regrets.

      • Doug Evans

        I think Terri was reading this one last month as well, based on my lukewarm-to-cold review… I hope the author appreciates that, whatever I thought of the book, I’m generating some sales! 🙂

        • Terri Shafer

          I haven’t read it yet, but I have it on order! Now that you both gave it lukewarm reviews, I feel like I really have to read it!! I’ll let you know… 😉

  • Doug Evans

    I took two semesters of Shakespeare back in my college days, but would have to check my textbook to see if I read these particular plays. Pretty sure we did “Merry Wives;” not sure about the other two. I did read and really enjoyed that Bill Bryson book, though! I thought he did a great job of summarizing what we know about the life of Shakespeare (not much) as compared to what many people think we know about the life of Shakespeare. I especially liked his taking to task the conspiracists who believe Shakespeare couldn’t have written his own plays. If I recall correctly, he takes apart the flimsy evidence supposedly proving that Shakespeare couldn’t have been the author, and then says, “The only reason to believe that Shakespeare didn’t write his plays is if you really want to believe that Shakespeare didn’t write his plays.”
    I read five last month!

    “The Day of the Doctor” by Steven Moffatt (2018). I gave this five stars on Goodreads! Which is maybe a high score for a Doctor Who novelisation, but this was a clever book: telling the chapters out of order (because: time travel); promising us that a lot of answers to important plot questions will come in Chapter Nine, and then telling us that our minds had to be wiped after reading Chapter Nine (there is no Chapter Nine); and on and on. If you count “War and Peace” (or, heck, “Bleak House”) as your five-star standard, this probably doesn’t match up, but as TV novelisations go, this was really entertaining.

    “Make Me” (Jack Reacher #20) by Lee Child (2015). It’s Jack Reacher! In this Jack Reacher book, Jack Reacher steps off a train in some town with his travel toothbrush, gets into trouble, kills some bad guys, moves on. Which, I know, my fingers are just typing that automatically at this point. But: hey, look what I read next!

    “Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of ‘Make Me’” by Andy Martin (2015). This is a book written by an academic (a lecturer at Cambridge University in England) who spent nine months hanging out with Lee Child in New York while Child wrote the Jack Reacher book mentioned in the paragraph above. So: kind of a weird book. But entertaining! There’s not much excitement in watching a guy write a book, or reading about a guy writing a book, so Martin takes lots of digressions, talking about philosophy, literary tropes, baseball, and so on. Not an essential book, even for Reacher fans, but fun. Two takeaways: Lee Child knows just as much about the plot as Jack Reacher does at the beginning of each book, meaning he’s making it up as he goes along; and the publishers tried to reject “Make Me” as the title for the novel because they believed it wouldn’t appeal to women. Child got to keep his title.

    “No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories” by Lee Child (2017). Just like David Allen and Shakespeare, I got to the end of “Make Me” (and “…the Making of ‘Make Me’”), and decided that I wanted to read more Jack Reacher. So I read this collection of 11 Jack Reacher short stories. Fun, short, entertaining, probably a good if atypical introduction to Reacher for people who are curious to give him a try. I only have two more Reacher books to go till I’m all caught up!

    “Lethal White” by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) (2018). I’ve been reading this one, Terri Shafer-style, off and on for months, mostly by listening to it on audio. The fourth and latest in Rowling’s Cormoran Strike private eye series, written under a pseudonym to escape from the Harry Potter shadow, though her cover was blown shortly after the first book was published. This was lengthy but very entertaining… possibly my favorite book in the series yet.
    “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood” by Trevor Noah (2016). Trever Noah, host of “The Daily Show”, tells a good story about a pretty difficult childhood, starting with the fact that, as the title states, his actual birth was a crime, as it was illegal under apartheid for a white man and a black woman to get together in the way that could conceive a child. Very well written… my only complaint is that Noah doesn’t share how he first got into comedy or the influence that the tough circumstances of his childhood may have had on his comedic voice. Maybe there will be a sequel.

    Next month: another Jack Reacher; the last of my Doctor Who novelisations I bought in ebook form; maybe something literary, too. But no promises.

    • davidallen909

      Doug, pardon the correction, but isn’t that SIX books, not five? You are a modest sort to undercount your own titanic reading.

      Imagined dialogue inspired by your post:

      Publisher: Lee, we’d like you to come up with a new title for your 20th Jack Reacher novel.

      Lee Child: Make me.

      • Hugh C. McBride

        I hope Andy Martin enlisted a film crew to document the creation of his book. Next month at the Laemmle Claremont 5: “The Making of The Making of Make Me.”

        Also, “There is no Chapter Nine” sounds like either a line from 1984 or an episode of The Twilight Zone.

    • Terri Shafer

      Doug, the only one I’ve read of yours is Lethal White. I am really enjoying the Cormoran Strike series. I think Book #3 was my favorite so far (Career of Evil), but I really like it overall!
      Also — glad you were able to use my “reading style!” It does come in handy 🙂

  • Terri Shafer

    David, I have read Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare book and really enjoyed it! I like his books in general. I highly recommend his “A Short History of Nearly Everything.” It was Very Good! I need to get to another of his soon!

    I again read several books 😉

    Swing by Kwame Alexander
    This was a YA audio book that was sent to me free, about a young boy trying to find his place in life. Pretty good.

    The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz
    I read this for book club. It was interesting in that Anthony Horowitz, who is a famous author (and writer of episodes of TV shows, especially on PBS), inserts himself into this fiction detective story. I have never seen that done before. I really liked that!

    Kindred by Octavia Butler
    Wow! Pretty interesting. The time travel of the main character back and forth from 1976 to the early 1800’s really kept my attention!

    Becoming by Michelle Obama
    So wonderful! So real! I read it for book club and was very glad to read it.

    A Distant View of Everything by Alexander McCall Smith
    I always enjoy a visit with Isabel Dalhousie, even if she gets off track (a lot!!!). I still feel like I’ve learned a lot, but have also had a long, newsy chat 😉

    The Professor by Charlotte Bronte
    I enjoyed this story of the Professor and his life. I thought it was a little different for Charlotte Bronte since the main character was a man, but I liked it. However, I thought it was a little sweet, what with the nice tidy ending and all (even though I liked it!). I’m thinking that may be what Charlotte wished for her own life.

    The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde
    Read for a Goodreads group read — very dark, moving, sad. It really makes you feel sorry for Oscar Wilde :'(

    Chocky by John Wyndham
    Have you read this one?! I really liked it! It is a short novel of a young boy who has an imaginary friend — or is the friend really imaginary? I liked the way Wyndham wrote this one. It made it feel so real!

    The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials #3) by Philip Pullman
    I was happy to finish this trilogy. I liked the first book, and the second one was pretty good. But I really didn’t like this third one at all. IMO, it felt like the author just gave up. It just felt good to be done with it :/

    The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
    I’m glad I read this, but it was not a happy book! I just kept thinking something was going to come around in the end, but — if you’ve read Hardy before, you know, that usually doesn’t happen 😉
    I was glad to add to my collection of Hardy reads, though!

    A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift – Oh my!! Wow! This one is so funny, also scary and disgusting! But what a smart thinker and writer Swift was!

    The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
    This was very interesting, but I couldn’t actually tell you much about it. I had never read Machiavelli, so was glad to experience his writing.

    The Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith
    If you like Alexander McCall Smith’s other series, you’ll enjoy this one as well. He always brings a smile to your face with his quirky characters and odd observances.

    This series is set in Sweden with the main character, Ulf Varg, being a detective in the Department of Sensitive Crimes. You will get to know Ulf and his fellow officers, his dog (who is deaf), and some interesting information about Sweden. Detective Varg and his colleagues solve some unusual cases with a little fun thrown in along the way. I think I will enjoy this series in the future when I’m in the mood for something light and uplifting 🙂

    Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster
    Such a cute story of an orphan girl, who lives in an orphanage. Surprisingly, her college education is to be paid for by a philanthropic donor (also an orphanage trustee) whom she is not to meet or know his name. However, the only stipulation is that she write to him monthly to tell him of her studies — he will not be writing back to her.

    Of course, the reader gets to know “Jerusha Abbott” well through her letters which she addresses to “Daddy-Long-Legs,” (because she saw him at a distance at the orphanage and saw that he had long legs) but only at the very end does the reader find out who “Daddy-Long-Legs” really is — but there are clues as the book goes along. You know that Jerusha is more surprised in the end than the reader! I really liked it! It was very uplifting 🙂

    The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
    A group of long-time friends go on a New Year’s weekend party just like they do every year. However, this year is a little different — one of the friends gets killed, and one of the friends is the killer!! But who gets killed? and who is the killer?! It’s quite a ride!

    • davidallen909

      I’m counting…15? Can that be true? Sure, May had 31 days, but still. And Terri, your eclectic reading lists rarely fail to amaze.

      I read Mayor of Casterbridge in a college class in which we read four Hardy novels. They were gripping, a bit overwrought and oh so depressing.

      I’ve read only Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, who was like Methuselah compared to her siblings by living long enough to complete three or four novels. (I have visited the Bronte home in Haworth, England, btw.) You’re probably right about The Professor. My recollection is that the circumstances were similar to a personal experience of hers, and that her one or two other non-Jane Eyre novels are also rather similar to The Professor.

      • Terri Shafer

        You’re right about Hardy! When I read Tess of the D’Urbervilles in high school I thought I never wanted to read him again! So dark. But as I have read five of his now, I like him more and more. Even though they are all pretty sad and depressing — go figure!

        I will tell you, I am reading Tom Jones right now (only around 10 pages/day!). I am really enjoying the humor! And I am going to be “enjoying” until about the middle of August at this rate 😉

        • davidallen909

          Hooray for Tom Jones! Good luck with it.