Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Weird Sisters Bookmark

The Weird Sisters? (bookmark front)
The Book Phantom is wrapping up her “Fun with Shakespeare” reading experience.  Now it’s time to “close the book” on this reading module by sneaking a bookmark into my library book returns (did you know Shakespeare coined the term "to sneak"?).  It all started with Eleanor Brown’s new release The Weird Sisters (the title is a reference to the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth).  The front of my bookmark is a vintage photograph of three wizened old gals.  It came from an old family album, but no one knows for sure who they are.  I call them the Weird Sisters because they look like they could stir up some “toil and trouble”. 

On the back of these Weird Sisters, I put a copy of the first scene from Macbeth, where the three witches meet and say the famous line: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair,” before taking off.

Act I Scene I from Macbeth (bookmark back)
In case anyone is interested in the titles from “Fun with Shakespeare”, I've included some "speed reviews":
  • Eleanor Brown’s The Weird Sisters topped my reading list.  I liked this one in spite of my initial doubts about it.  I refer you to my long review.
  • For some classic reading, I tackled King Lear, by William Shakespeare.  Tolstoy hated King Lear, and called it stupid, verbose, unintelligible, tedious, lacking any moral or uplifting message, etc., etc.  In spite of his rant against it, I liked it as much as a tragedy can be liked.  Yes, it was violent – I wouldn’t want to see Gloucester’s eyes gouged out on stage or screen – and nearly everyone died.  I have to agree with Tolstoy that it wasn’t very uplifting, but it was exciting and suspenseful.  There is something satisfying about seeing villainous characters get their comeuppance.  And there are rays of morality in the play: Cordelia and Kent never waver in their loyalty or sense of what’s right.  (Read more in my long review.)
  • Germaine Greer’s Shakespeare’s Wife was disappointing.  It was a laborious read, with genealogical-type facts from parish records and lots of “ifs” sprinkled throughout.  Greer’s hypothesis is that Shakespeare’s wife has been unfairly maligned by Bard historians.  While I don’t doubt her theory, the best she could do was cast reasonable doubt on the maligners’ research.  As is common with historical inquiry, the data Greer used as evidence didn’t come in neat and tidy bundles of proof.  Her book was overlong and tedious, and I asked myself, “Does this research really matter and why?”  Greer didn’t make me feel that it did matter.  I confess, I only read about half the book, and there may have been redeeming parts I missed.  It is a pity I couldn’t finish what she wrote, because Greer is a dynamic and amusing speaker.  In the end, I felt the book was (ahem) much ado about nothing.
  • Because Greer’s book was less than thrilling for me, I picked up Gary Wills’s Witches and Jesuits.  This book put Shakespeare’s Macbeth in its historical context, explaining how the play was influenced by the Gunpowder Plot, the demonizing of Jesuits involved in the conspiracy, and the belief that witchcraft and devilry were threats to the crown.  This was an intriguing read, and I interpret Macbeth much differently now.
  • For children’s reading, I started off with The Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird by Vivian Vande Velde.  This was one of those turning-the-fairy-tale-on-its-head books.  The usual villains were the good guys and vice versa.  The stories weren’t all great, but Vande Velde’s take on Jack and the Beanstalk was funny and her Hansel and Gretel was creepy.  Right now my seven year old son is reading Mary Pope Osborne’s Stage Fright on a Summer’s Night from the Magic Tree House Series.  My nine year old daughter is reading The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet by Erin Dionne (which I can’t wait for her to finish!)
  • For a little fun bonus reading, I picked up Terry Pratchett’s The Wyrd Sisters from his Disc World Series.  What a hoot!  I am impressed when an author can sustain comedy for an entire book.  The witch characters are funny and even lovable, and they truly carry the story.  If you haven’t read the other books in the series, you won’t be lost.  You might miss some of the humor if you are unfamiliar with Macbeth or common Shakespeare-isms.  Also, an understanding of medieval history (such as droit de signeure) might make you laugh until your belly hurts.  But don’t be intimidated if Shakespeare or “getting medieval” isn’t your bag – even without this knowledge, there is plenty to yuk it up about. 
  • Finally, I perused Scott Kaiser’s Shakespeare’s Wordcraft.  It’s an interesting little reference to pick up and put down at leisure - it's not something you have to make a “sit down commitment” to read.  Kaiser explains the Bard’s many literary devices and word choices which is helpful for those of us who’d like to be better readers of Shakespeare. 
Check back later this week to see what books are in my next reading module.  Want a hint about what’s at the top of my list?  All I can tell you is I’ll be “swamped” in reading.

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