In case you haven't heard about the many celebrations of William Shakespeare that have abounded this month, here is your notice that Virginia Shakespeare Initiative has only just begun to celebrate the most famous playwright of all time. Why start in April? According to the Folger Shakespeare Library, experts agree that William Shakespeare was probably born on April 23, 1564, based on the record of his baptism on April 26, 1564. Reading his plays isn't always everyone's cup of tea, but you can still get your Shakespeare fix with plenty of intriguing novels and nonfiction explorations of his life. One of my favorite novels is The Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett, which poses the question that many scholars have attempted to answer over the years: Did Shakespeare really write the plays that made him a renowned the world over?
The Bookman's Tale unfolds in a dual narrative that traces the life of Peter, a rare bookseller grappling with tragedy, and the journey of a rare book that might hold the key to prove who wrote Shakespeare's plays once and for all. Peter must overcome personal loss, a family rivalry and murderous individuals to solve the mystery. Along the way we learn all the work, skill and love that goes into a well-made tome, wholly unlike the mass-produced books we read in our own time. But more than these interesting explorations of bookmaking and Shakespeare, what I loved about the book was how real Lovett made his characters.
Peter has an inspiring amount of heart and drive, leading him to overcome his own insecurities and apparent agoraphobia to pursue his goals. His wife, Amanda, both when she was alive and as a ghost, encourages him to push himself to find happiness in a straightforward and lovingly snarky manner. His sidekick book publisher reminds him what it means to live and gives him someone new with whom he can connect. And the owners of the mystery book that started all this trouble, their lives traced in anecdotes from the 1700s through the 1900s, all seem to be able to walk off the pages. Lovett's short vignettes of these men are masterfully done, packing in interesting, believable details without slowing the plot.
Despite the challenge of the story jumping through different time periods, the narrative flows beautifully. I loved the setting and characters, especially Peter. Peter is a broken man, who through his quest is redeemed, a story that will always be a great read. And Lovett infuses an obvious and deep love of books throughout the novel. For example, here is the description Lovett pens about Peter's experience when he gets to touch a rare folio of Shakespeare's:
“Peter struggled to find the words to describe the experience of holding that book, turning those pages, reading those words printed while the author still lived and breathed and walked the streets of London. Until recently books had been only something to hide behind, then he had begun to see them as carefully crafted objects, but this was completely different. This was a revelation. This book was filled with history and mystery. Just being near it made Peter flush with emotion."
The Bookman's Tale is available to check out at the York County Public Library. Request your copy by calling 890-5100 or visiting the online catalog today. Want to know more about Shakespeare? Search our catalog for resources for young and old, including books, movies and audiobooks.