Paul Collins wrote a book a few years ago called Not Even Wrong. It's about autism, but that magnificently undersells the book. It's about chasing a diagnosis for his son, it's about the history of autism, it's about how all of communicate and how we understand the brain, and it's a personal narrative of a father and a son... and it's just an amazing book. I picked it up off the library shelf, I had no specific interest in autism, I was just looking for some books to read and something about it grabbed me.
Loved the book, thought Collins was a terrific writer, and sought out the books he'd written previously, Banvard's Folly and Sixpence House, which I enjoyed as well. Collins joined Bill Bryson and David Shields on the short list of writers who I've decided I trust enough to read whatever they write, even if I think I'll hate it.
Collins has been testing that faith. His previous book, The Trouble With Tom, is about Thomas Paine's remains, and where they are. This did not sound like an interesting book. I read it anyway. And while I wished it was more personal, that it was more like Not Even Wrong in that respect, I still enjoyed it.
His latest book is The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered The World. Amazon link here. And maybe it's just me and the Cliffs Notes I used to get through a bunch of Shakespeare plays I had to read in high school (shameful to admit), but there are very few subjects I am less interested in reading about than Shakespeare. I don't know why. I wish I had the patience and the desire to really read Shakespeare. To wade through, to appreciate, to digest.
Bill Bryson wrote a book about Shakespeare a couple of years ago. A short biography, focused on how little we know about Shakespeare's life. Was not excited to read it, but since Bill Bryson wrote it, I gave it a chance. Did not regret it. It's an enjoyable read.
But I was not that excited to see that Collins was taking on Shakespeare as well. Especially this particular angle -- the actual first printing of a collection of Shakespeare's plays. The printing itself, and then what happened to all the copies. I tried to tell my wife what this book is about, and she fell asleep mid-sentence. This does not sound like an interesting subject to read about.
And yet it's a marvelous book. It's about the history of printing, it's about the history of books, about libraries and book collecting and the world in which Shakespeare lived. It's about Shakespeare himself, a little bit, but it's more about the ancillary players surrounding him and the journeys that books take over the course of centuries.
It's a marvelously interesting book about what I expected would be a very dull topic. Collins is a terrific writer-- a terrific storyteller and traveler into the bowels of history. What his books sort of have in common is books themselves-- he digs deep, he chases things no one else is all that interested to chase, he goes to a lot of research libraries. And makes the stories more fascinating than they ought to be.
In a couple of weeks, I'll write a post like I've written for the past few Decembers, listing all the books I've read this year (it'll be about 85, I think) and finding some way to rank them. I haven't gone back and looked at my list yet, but I have to imagine this book will be in the top 5, if not even higher than that.