Revisiting the Classics
People always ask me how I manage self-control working at the Bookshelf. The answer is Not very well. Having so many books come into the store every day can be overwhelming, especially when I have first pick of the advance copies. I have to be discerning about what I take home because my time (and budget) are severely limited right now, but I like to think I’ve got a sixth sense about these things and rarely regret my decision. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given my general tastes and the spirit of this column, the two books I’ve most enjoyed this month are exercises in revisiting the classics.
The first is Romeo and/or Juliet by Ryan North, a smart, hilarious, and just downright fun choose-your-own-adventure riff on the Shakespeare classic we all pretended to read in high school. I’ve been following North’s hilarious Dinosaur Comics for close to ten years, and his recent run on Marvel’s Unbeatable Squirrel Girl has been a breath of fresh air in a medium that can often take itself too seriously, so I had some idea what I was getting into, but I couldn’t have prepared myself for how much fun it would actually be. If you like your Shakespeare with sometimes silly, sometimes truly thought-provoking options, this is the book for you. And if you love it as much as I do, you’re in luck! North’s choose-your-own-adventure revision of Hamlet, To Be or Not to Be, came out in 2013.
The second book is one I can hardly stop talking about. If you’ve been following us on social media, you probably already know that I’m talking about The Whale by Mark Beauregard. I’ll be upfront and say that it’s not a book for everyone. It’s a historical novel centered on Herman Melville and the composition ofMoby-Dick, which was enough to sell me (see also my love letter to Moby-Dick from last summer), but it’s also about the [ahem] intimate friendship between Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne, which has been whispered about in literary circles for 150 years. Beauregard draws from historical documents like journals and personal letters to reconstruct what may have happened between the two men, and the book becomes a beautiful meditation on obsession, duty, and where to draw the line between love and admiration. It is equal parts charming and disarming, and though I wouldn’t call it “high literary” by any means, it is well researched and paced in such a way as to make the reader never want to put it down.
I hope you’ll revisit these classics with me this summer. Tell me what you think!