April 2022 in Books

I went to London in April and visited a few secondhand bookshops not far from King’s Cross train station. There were also a few book-related delights that I talked about in my April Wrap Up video – I’ll link that at the end of this post and only focus on the books I read here.

Mad about Shakespeare by Jonathan Bate

This is the highlight of my month. It just came out in April and I had no idea until the book jumped out at me in Foyles in London. I thought, ‘oh I know the author!’ It was like seeing an old friend in a bookshop full of strangers. Jonathan Bate is the author of English Literature: A Very Short Introduction which I read last year and Radical Wordsworth, which I just read last month.

A quick glance at the cover told me that it was a memoir with a focus on Shakespeare and literature and the blurb persuaded me that I was going to like it. But the quick glance also convinced me that I couldn’t afford it – newly published, hardback, in Foyles in London. I left it behind.

I searched out the audiobook immediately on the train home and discovered that it was narrated by the author himself! Sure, the author is not necessarily always the best narrator. But in this case, no one could have done a better job. I was enchanted the second I heard Bate’s voice. It felt like I got to know the author not only through his writing – the text in the book – but also in his voice.

I loved hearing about his father’s stories in WWII; his early encounters with Shakespeare in school. I loved hearing about him watching and analysing various productions of various plays; being involved in Shakespeare’s plays himself in various ways; and what kind of roles literature played in difficult times like his mother’s depression and his daughter’s illness.

He mentions many people: contemporary theatre producers, directors and actors, authors in history, and so many books, it’s dazzling! I wanted to note down everything and search out everything.

The only downside of listening to an audiobook is that because it was so enjoyable, stopping every few minutes to take notes or to look up references really ruined the flow of the narrative. After a couple of chapters, I gave up altogether. Now I’m listening to it the second time to make notes.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

The title of the previous book, Mad about Shakespeare, is on one level about his love for the dramatist. But the book also talks about different kinds of madness that are presented in Shakespeare’s plays. When we talk about madness in Shakespeare’s plays, we think of Hamlet, King Lear or Lady Macbeth. But ‘madness’ is also present in Romeo and Juliet.

The Austen Girls by Lucy Worsley

I picked this up because of the author. Lucy Worsley wrote an excellent Jane Austen biography, Jane Austen at Home, that I read last year. I had no idea what to expect from a novel of hers. Because she wrote the biography, she did a lot of research and knew lots about Austen and her family. And she put real historical figures into a novel. The main character is Fanny Austen, Jane Austen’s brother Edward’s daughter. Jane herself appears too.

In addition to historical figures, Worsley also put a real historical event into the novel: Jane Austen’s aunt was being accused of theft by a shop in Bath. That was in the novel too. She clearly made good use of historical materials!

The Watsons by Jane Austen

It’s one of Jane Austen’s unfinished novels. It’s about Emma Watson, who was adopted by wealthy aunt and uncle when she was little. But recently her uncle died and her aunt got married to a second husband and moved to Ireland. Emma had to return to her birth family and live with three unmarried sisters, one sick father, and no money at all. The novel starts with her first ball in the neighbourhood, where she met the prominent family and some potential marriage partners.

It reminds me of Pride and Prejudice in many ways. I did a dedicated blog post all about it, where I talked more about the plotline, and did a character study on Emma and her sisters. I link it here.

The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

It’s George Eliot’s second novel, starting with this fabulous picture of the happy childhood of nine-year-old Maggie Tulliver and her beloved brother Tom. Some disasters struck and the family fell into an unfortunate position. It’s about sibling relationships, parents and children relationships, and romantic relationships. But ultimately it’s about Maggie as a person and how she grows and lives through the good and the bad situations in life.

Again I did a separate blog post all about it, where I talked more about the plotline, and analysed an opening scene. I link it here.

Finding My Father by Blair Linne

Blair Linne, according to Wikipedia, is ‘an American model, actress, and Christian spoken word artist’. She’s married to Shai Linne, ‘an American East Coast Christian rapper’.

The book is a memoir with a focus on family and fatherlessness. It’s her personal story about growing up without a father in the house and all the difficulties that come as a result. It highlights an issue that I know very little about. I very fortunately live in a world where most families have both parents. Even when they don’t, the reason is not the same as that of Blair. It was a privilege to read her personal story, full of pain but also full of hope.

Happy reading!

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