Comte grabbed a copy of Paul Collins's The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World at Slog Happy back in October or November. Comte never reviewed the book for us (all you have to do is e-mail me the book report, Comte! It's not hard!) but luckily, he brought the book back to another Slog Happy for Enigma to read. Enigma is one of the most prolific Slog Commenter Book Reporters, and she's really outdone herself this time. This is a great review of a book by a great author. Any errors you may find are my mistake; they surely happened in the editing process. Take it away, Enigma:
The Book of William is a story of books. It's a story of one book in particular, but in researching this strange anomalous book, we see how so many of our treasured classics become so treasured through happenstance and luck. Part of the joy in reading about the First Folio is the reminders of your own life, of books that have appeared suddenly and become intimately connected with your life story. The story of the First Folio is how the world’s story is very much Shakespeare’s story. He is ubiquitous; every season, in every medium, we are surrounded by the Immortal Bard’s worldview. But looking at history and the vast amount of authors and playwrights that have existed, the odds of one person having such influence seems incredible. And it is, until you see the circumstances surrounding those odds.
The fact is, it would have been quite easy to lose Shakespeare to the fickle winds of history. Shakespeare himself did not preserve his work in any careful manner. He created no great compilation of his work. What we have of him today is largely due to the last two surviving members of the Globe troupe after Shakespeare’s death—John Heminge and Henry Condell, two friends who saw the value in their old compatriot’s work and wanted to make sure others got a chance to experience the joy they felt in being a part of the King’s Men.
Much more, including the madness of book collecting, after the jump.
The production of the First Folio was not a moneymaking venture. Collections of plays were regarded in the 1600’s much as they are today—a pleasant diversion but nothing to get that passionate about. And reading through The Book of William, you see that folio collecting is not about collecting an asset. We hear about fine art auctions being partly in the investment field, but book auctions are different than other works of art. Book collecting is often done by researchers or people who desire not to show off what they acquired, but to be a part of the line of history in this book’s ownership. There is a madness to book collecting, and the First Folio is the ultimate ticket to the funny farm.
We see this madness in author Paul Collins. His reverence at being in the vicinity of a First Folio does not border on adoration, but tips right over into practical worship. It’s not an irrational worship—he doesn’t expect shrines to be built to the thing—but he wants to share this incredible story with the world and show how one book, one man, can encompass so many times, places, and ideas. When he enters the vault of the Folger Library (home to one of the preeminent Shakespeare collections) you sense a man entering a sanctuary.
A large part of my enjoyment of The Book of William is tied to Collins’ passion for the subject. He writes such clear and simple descriptions of the places he travels, this very well could be a guidebook for a world tour. We are immersed in this elite club of First Folio owners for a short time (too short, really). As the book comes to a solid “Finis.”, I kept reading into the ‘Further Reading’ section. Usually a dull bibliography, Collins surprises by including a few short tales of his First Folio journey that didn’t quite fit in the main book. Again, I forget I’m basically reading a list of research materials.
I can’t recommend this book enough; for book lovers, history buffs, travel bugs, or anyone interested in the transmission of ideas in our modern world.
Thanks so much for this one, Enigma. And if you've been inspired by this to write a book report about your Slog Happy book, all you have to do is send it here.