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The Book of William: How Shakespeare's…
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The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the…

by Paul Collins

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This book was a total delight! Paul Collins travels the world to try to find as many “First Folios” of Shakespeare as possible. Meanwhile he “time travels” (metaphorically) giving much information on the history of how these folios came into existence and the many people, both famous and nearly forgotten, involved. This was a Christmas gift from my husband and I highly recommend it to bibliomaniacs and Shakespeare fanatics. ( )
1 vote MusicMom41 | Apr 19, 2011 |
While I enjoyed this book (and Collins' Sixpence House) I was a bit disappointed by it. I had hoped for a bit more depth. The breadth of the work is, however, an excellent introduction to the movement of the Folios themselves. The "Further Readings" section makes up for some of the disappointment. Even (or perhaps especially) when reading popular histories, I find myself waiting for the footnotes, citations, etc. to point me toward more on the topics discussed.
I found Collins' tendency to jump in time a bit difficult to follow. His use of pronouns was not always clear enough for me to pick the book up after a few days away and remember who belonged when. Overall though the book is very readable. It's a bit breezy in style in places, but Collins is a writer bridging the gap between academic and popular publishing. I think he does well in general, but in a few places, particularly in Acts IV and V he increasingly 'floats' over rather than 'dives' into the subject matter.
I am reading Shakespeare and the Book by Kastan next and I think this will be an excellent deepening of Collins' work.
I would recommend Collins for anyone interested in Shakespeare, the Folios, the afterlife of either, and book history more generally. I think the book would be helped by some brief family/association trees of those persons that turn out to be related in various ways. ( )
  rheaphine | Jan 14, 2011 |
Paul Collins writes an entertaining and enlightening tale of the First Folio of William Shakespeare. I am not by any means a Shakespeare scholar, although like most educated Americans, I've been exposed to his works both in high school and in college.

The story of how his works were published, and the tortuous journeys of these volumes is fascinating and presented with a clear and somewhat humorous narration. Collins follows the folios throughout the world, tracking ownership, explaining the differences in different editions, and painting word pictures of these archival masterpieces. I was especially interested in two aspects, the collection at the Folger Library in Washington DC, and the collection owned by the Japanese and held at the Meisei University in Tokyo.

I was intrigued by his descriptions of Japanese theatre and how Shakespeare has been adapted to it over the past hundred plus years. I am familiar with kabuki, and with the marvelous Japanese puppet shows: Bunraku. He explains:

"Along with such alien notions as soliloquies, the poetry, the English system of meter and accent, didn't make much sense in Japanese. ...Japanese words are consonant-vowel, and because of the confoundment of R and L, Hamlet became Hamuretto, and Shakespeare himself turned into Sheikusupia. "

Puppets provided an excellent solution to the problem.

Collins' love of early printing, and the Folios in particular is evident throughout the book. It is well researched, and provides additional resources at the end. I just wish he'd presented a bit more framing up front so I could have figured out earlier what he was attempting to tell us. It took me almost 100 slowly dragging pages before the light went on and then the story snowballed. For book lovers and students of Shakespeare this volume will provide hours of enjoyment. ( )
1 vote tututhefirst | Jan 14, 2010 |
My first reaction to this book was quite negative: although the opening chapters of "The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World" included some fascinating details, its analysis was shallow, it was distressingly short on detail, and its prose was overly precious. (One example: Collins refers to the book's five sections as "acts" and its chapters as "scenes." If you think that this decision is charming, this book may be for you; if you think it's trite and overly cute, try to find another book to look at.) Paul Collins, the author, also has a tendency to place himself at the center of the action. I didn't find his description of a visit to Sotheby's very informative, for instance, and would have been happier if the book had begun by looking at its purported subject (Shakespeare's First Folio) in greater depth.

My annoyance at the book softened with time, however. It occurred to me about halfway through that "The Book of William" felt more like the text of a radio commentary than like a nonfiction book; the book's prose would feel less precious if read out loud, I think, and although I found it a little light on substance for a book, it was just substantive enough to make for a good oral presentation. (Interestingly enough, Collins is a frequent guest on NPR's Weekend Edition.) I also enjoyed the book's brief history of the reception of Shakespeare in Japan: until now, I'd always thought it was kind of random that several of Akira Kurosawa's greatest masterpieces were adaptations of Shakespeare, but now I understand that there was a strong tradition of adapting Shakespeare's plays for a Japanese audience dating back to the nineteenth century.

Overall, then, this is a light, readable book offering readers a series of intermittent pleasures. You can do significantly better if you want an accessible look at Shakespeare and his world: I much preferred "The Lodger Shakespeare," by Charles Nicholl, to name one such work I've read in the last year. On the other hand, you can also do worse, and if you can get past his irritating style, Paul Collins has some interesting things to say. They just weren't as frequent as I'd have liked. ( )
1 vote dwar | Jan 3, 2010 |
This was lovely, Collins reviews the history of Shakespeare's First Folio from the time of its publication up through its status today of the world's most collectible book (w/ price tag to match). I think booky people -- people who not only read, but love to literally get their hands on books -- would be especially interested in this, although in a way it was strangely UNsatisfying because it's not as if I'm ever going to own one. The chapter on Shakepeare in Japanese culture could be the basis for a whole different book.

This would be a terrific companion piece to Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare which I read last year and enjoyed immensely, and it has a similar effect of making you nostalgic for your high school Shakespeare class (with Miss Bangeter?). ( )
1 vote delphica | Dec 22, 2009 |
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One book above all others has transfixed connoisseurs for four centuries--a book sold for shillings in the streets of London, whisked to Manhattan for millions, and stored deep within the vaults of Tokyo. The book: William Shakespeare's First Folio of 1623. This "travelogue" follows the trail of the Folio's remarkable journey and Shakespeare's cross-cultural future as Asian buyers enter their Folios into the electronic ether.… (more)

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