Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 13 (2/16) -- The Book of William by Paul Collins

Paul Collins is the author of The Trouble With Tom, a great odd-history book about the afterlife of Thomas Paine (both his physical corpus and his thinking), as well as Not Even Wrong and Sixpence House, books that vibrate on the borderland between memoir and history, incorporating parts of each. He's one of my favorite contemporary non-fiction writers, so I made a point to find his new book -- which would be this book, for those of you failing to pay attention -- soon after publication.

The subtitle of The Book of William is "How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World," which is grandiose and not, strictly speaking, entirely accurate. William is the story of the publication of the First Folio, and then some interesting anecdotes from the history of individual copies of the FF over the next few hundred years, wrapped up in Collins's travels to see a number of the extant Folios, with the expected amazement as how damn expensive the things are these days.

Along the way, Collins visits two of the great repositories of old editions of Shakespeare today -- the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. and Meisei University in Tokyo -- as well as a battered First Folio in Padua and a host of locations in the London of today and yesterday. He explains the great censuses of Folios, and runs through the changes in the texts between First, Second, and Third Folios, as well as later (but still early) Shakespeare editions.

Book of William is an intensely bookish book, of course -- it's a book for people obsessed with books, and about people obsessed with a particular book. (And, even more than that, with a particular edition of works available very widely.) But for the kind of readers who prefer their books recursive, it's a fine journey through the past and present of a very expensive book. And Collins managed to keep his sources to barely twenty pages this time -- only about half as long as Trouble With Tom -- so I have hopes that someday, perhaps in thirty years or so, we may yet get a book of pure reportage out of him.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: Yael Naïm - Endless Song Of Happiness
via FoxyTunes

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