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I recently engaged in some librarian geekiness by re-cataloging my library’s Shakespeare collection. No longer are the plays and anthologies and works about the author jumbled together, though plays sorted by some thoughtful pages by publisher. Now all of Shakespeare comes first, sorted by play title for individual works. I made up my very own Dewey number for the about-Shakespeare stuff, so it all goes after. (Dewey does have an official Shakespeare system, which is in itself about a page long and dreadfully complicated.) And while I was being pleased with myself, I found this book and decided to read it.

Reduced ShakespeareReduced Shakespeare by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor.
I’ve had Shakespeare on my Official List of Favorite Authors for years now, and while realizing that this list is somewhat pretentious and outdated and might not fully reflect my current tastes, still…. I also realized that while I have a handful of Shakespeare plays that I love and have read and watched over and over again, there are many, many more that I haven’t read. And mostly I’m too tired these days to put out the effort that reading or watching Shakespeare demands. The Reduced Shakespeare Company to the rescue! Like their show (which I loved on DVD), this is short and funny, as well as alarmingly accurate. This book covers all the bases in just 244 pages – Shakespeare’s biography (what’s known and the vast amounts that aren’t), the plays, poetry, authorship controversy, industry and films. I was most interested in their analysis of the plays and film adaptations, but I learned a lot about the authorship controversies that I’ve always been too skeptical to pay attention to before. For each play they include the title, date published, class (history, tragedy, comedy), setting, source, best known for, major characters, plot, one-sentence plot encapsulations, moral, famous quotes, best & worst features, a rating in bard heads, an interesting fact, and an essay question. Here are a few even more abridged examples:
Best known for: Not being very well known. Two bard heads.
One-sentence plot encapsulation: Hamlet avenges his father, and it only takes four hours. Best feature: In all likelihood, this is the best play ever written. Five bard heads.
Henry IV
Essay questions: Does the sequel Henry IV, Part 2 have more in common with Godfather II or Rocky II? Why?

Because they are comedians, all of the reviews are so funny that I found myself laughing out loud and reading bits out loud to whatever hapless colleagues happened to be in the break room with me while I was reading it. The reviews for the less popular plays are probably even funnier than the ones for the good ones. Still, the bard head ratings could come in handy if you were trying to decide whether or not it would be worth hiring a babysitter to go see whatever Shakespeare play happened to be coming by locally, or even actually reading through the text.

The reviews for the films also are very funny and include the bard head ratings as well as notes on how faithful to the play they are and whether or not they work as movies. They are organized by the original play, with straight-up adaptations (hint: the movie has the same name as the play) followed by films inspired by the play, like West Side Story and 10 Things I Hate About You, which they like better than any of the straight-up film adaptations of the Taming of the Shrew. Hilariously, they include the 2001 Charlie’s Angels as a Lear adaptation. There are also critiques and yet more funny making-of-the-film bits from classic and modern Shakespeare films. Now I need to check the book out again to make a list of all their favorites that I haven’t seen to add to my too-watch list. The biggest shortcoming with the book is its publication date – 2005 – which means they’ve not covered the many film adaptations and spin-offs that have come out since then. Update, please!

Dear readers, if you have favorite Shakespeare film adaptations, please let me know!
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I just counted. Right now, I have seven library books at home waiting to be read, six reviews waiting to be written, and six books on hold. I hope they won’t all come in at once, though the pile at home says that they’ve been coming in faster than I can read them. Swamped in books I’m excited about is a good kind of swamped, right?

The MicroscopeThe Microscope by Maxine Kumin. Illustrated by Arnold Lobel. I read this book to my son’s class in April, for Poetry Month. I like a funny poem for kids, especially, and this one is funny enough that I memorized for a high school poetry assignment, too. That time, I found it in a Cricket magazine, and though I have about half a bookcase devoted to my lifetime collection of Crickets, I couldn’t find the poem when I went looking for it a couple years ago. This year, I tried Google again, with better results. Now I have the perspective for the name Maxine Kumin to sound familiar. Right – former poet laureate and Pulitzer prize winner for poetry. Not only was the poem published as a picture book in 1984, but my library had it on the shelf, shelved with the biographies. It’s a tiny little thing, maybe 5 by 6 inches, so Teacher A. was kind enough to set up the document projector for me so the class could see the pictures. I’m not sure if this is irony or appropriate for the topic. In any case, we had fun.

The poem itself is a bouncy little thing, gleefully relating the contrast between Anton Leeuwenhoek, Our Hero, absorbed in making his microscopes and the slightly gruesome things he sees in them, and the townsfolk, who would just like him to keep his dry goods store open. The complete text is up on the Web, but here are the closing verses:

Impossible! Most Dutchmen said.
This Anton’s crazy in the head!
We ought to ship him off to Spain!
He says he’s seen a housefly’s brain!
He says the water that we drink
Is full of bugs! He’s mad, we think!
They called him dumkop, which means dope.
That’s how we got the microscope.

The closing notes that Leeuwenhoek didn’t invent the microscope, but built over 200 of them, refining the design and sharing his findings with many other scientists. Lobel’s drawings, while still distinctively his own work, call to mind seventeenth century-style copper engravings and illustrate the poem brilliantly. Read it for the poetry, the science history, or just the humor.
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I found this one using a keyword search looking for books similar to Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude. My mother laughed so hard she almost couldn’t finish reading it to my son, who then took it in to school for his class. It got a 100% thumbs-up rating from them – not even a single thumbs sideways.

An Undone Fairy TaleAn Undone Fairy Tale by Ian Lendler. Illustrated by Whitney Martin. Once upon a time, a beautiful princess was trapped in a tower. Her wicked stepfather, the king, locked her away so that she could bake her famous pies only for him. “Not even her mother could help her.” Naturally, princes and knights came to rescue her, but they all failed the three impossible tasks her stepfather set for them. Up until this point, straightforward fairy tale, told in a fancy typeface. And then, things start to go wrong. The brave, famous Sir Wilbur arrives to meet the king – and finds that he is wearing a doughnut instead of a crown. This, we are informed in plain sans-serif typeface, is because we, the readers, are reading too quickly, and the artist didn’t have time to fill in a proper crown. The artist is right there, in fact, hanging from some scaffolding trying to paint the wall behind the king. Now we are begged not to turn the page – the artist hasn’t gotten his delivery of horses or armor yet. But of course we do, and in the subsequent pages, poor Sir Wilbur is forced to fight a dragon which turns out to be a pretzel, riding on a fish and wearing a pink tutu. Things get more and more out of hand, with the drawings looking less and less polished, until the princess takes matters into her own hands, for a very silly happily-ever-after ending.

Cross-posted to and .
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This book was a thoughtful and very timely gift.

book coverGuide to Pirate Parenting by Tim Bete Are your relatives telling you that you are too soft on your kids? Do you want your children to be bringing in income to help support the family? This book could be for you! Learn how long to maroon disobedient children (one month per age), how to train them in pirate skills and manners, and how to convert your minivan into a pirate ship. If you’re tired of serious parenting books or just need some more piracy in your life, try this book.
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book coverThe Passion of the Hausfrau by Nicole Chaison Chaison’s memoir of motherhood hits both the humor and the hurt of motherhood, told in text with comic-style illustrations in the margins. She talks about giving birth – once in a hospital utility closet and once in a feeding trough; about grocery shopping and Halloween costumes with children; about trying to maintain her relationship with her husband. But she also traces her journey to self-actualization, aligning her journey with those of the male and presumably childless heroes in the classics that fill her bookshelves. It’s this angle, I think, that got her a cover blurb from Alison Bechdel, whose Fun Home, while less funny, also journeyed through the classics. Chaison’s version of motherhood requires large amounts of humor seasoned with profanity; for those of similar bent, this is well worth reading.
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dvd coverSlings & Arrows
What’s not to love about a show whose opening song is titled “Cheer up, Hamlet!”? This a darkly comedic Canadian TV miniseries is about the New Burbage Theatre, smaller but very similar to Stratford, Ontario. At the heart of the show are three characters: Oliver (Stephen Ouimette), the jaded artistic director; Ellen (Martha Burns), the company’s lead actress, currently maintaining her youth with a string of much younger lovers; and Geoffrey Tenant (Paul Gross), director of a tiny and failing theater in Toronto. Seven years previously, these three were in an acclaimed production of Hamlet, Oliver directing and Ellen and Geoffrey playing the leads. In the middle of the third performance, Geoffrey went mad, jumping into Ophelia’s grave and then running away. At the end of the first episode, a very drunk Oliver calls Geoffrey to talk about the past. When Geoffrey refuses to talk to him, he falls down in the street and is run over by a truck labeled “Canada’s Best Hams.” Now, Geoffrey has been asked to be the interim artistic director and Oliver is haunting him. The current lead production is again Hamlet, and a young American action star has been asked to play the lead. We also follow a young apprentice actor, Kate, as perfectly winning an ingénue as you could ask for. Meanwhile, American executive Holly Day is convincing the already business-oriented financial director, Richard, that New Burbage would make a lot more money if it were transformed into a peppy and commercialized Shakespeareville. [ profile] amnachaidh and I were flabbergasted by it all: the dark humor and snappy dialogue, the depth of the musings on theater and humanity, the sheer number of pots kept merrily bubbling at the same time. For those with theater backgrounds, this is absolute perfection. It’s also excellent TV.
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Library Mascot Cage Match: an Unshelved Collection by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum
Unshelved is a library comic strip, featuring the librarians of Mallville going about their daily work. My internet librarian likes to post strips at the bottom of our intranet page, but only one every couple of weeks. Now you, too, can get to know Buddy the Beaver who shelves books; Tamara, the idealistic vegetarian children’s librarian, Ned, the nudist libertarian patron, and our hero, Dewey, a 20-something slacker librarian who’d rather be reading comics than helping you. The humor and situations will be very familiar to librarians, but geeks and gamers and, well, anyone with a sense of humor will appreciate it as well. [ profile] amnachaidh and I were both laughing out loud, and having trouble sharing the book. Even if you can’t find the book, you can still read the whole series online at , and even have the daily strip emailed to you.

The Truth

Apr. 1st, 2006 04:55 pm
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The Truth, with Jokes by Al Franken Hooray for politics done funny! From how W. used Smears, Fears, and Queers to win the election to the social security reform debacle, Franken covers what's been going in politics since the '04 election. OK, if you’re not a liberal, you probably still won’t enjoy this book. But if you are, and want to have some factual ammunition for conversations with conservatives, or just want to know what’s been going on without feeling utterly depressed, then read this book. Or better yet, listen to it. Al Franken is a comedian, so unlike some author-read books, he does a really good job. Plus, whenever he quotes speeches, he plays the clip from the actual speech rather than reading it aloud. You’ll laugh a lot. And then you’ll be really mad.


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