Though thousands of books, articles and dissertations have been written about William Shakespeare the greatest playwright of all time and the greatest writer in the English language there's always room for more. Shakespeare: The World as Stage, Bill Bryson's concise, well-paced, buoyant bio of the Bard, is a welcome addition to this immense and, often daunting, &andoelig;uvre, made even better by hearing it read in Bryson's transatlantic cadences. Bringing his incurable curiosity, good-natured skepticism and storytelling savvy to the task, Bryson looks for the man in the scant, bloodless facts we have about Shakespeare's life. We know that he was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564 and died in 1616, that he married, had a family, then went to London to become an actor and writer, and we do have the nearly one million magnificent words he wrote. By combing the literature, including the work of the irrepressible anti-Avon advocates, visiting vaults of records, detailing this enthralling period of history and conjuring up the London of the time smells, noise, crime, crowds and all Bryson evokes the authentic, essential Will.
SUBURBAN CULTURE WARS
You can easily imagine the emotionally charged, who-holds-the-moral-high-ground conflicts in Tom Perrotta's new novel, The Abstinence Teacher, as lead stories on the local news. The author of Little Children is back in the well-to-do, all-American suburbs, but this time, while his characters are immersed in the everyday domestic hubbub of parenting and partnering, or lack thereof, they're embroiled in a divisive struggle over the separation of church and state and Evangelical pressure to conflate the two. Ruth, a 41-year-old divorced mother of two daughters, is a sex-ed teacher at the local high school who believes that pleasure is good, shame is bad, and knowledge is power. Now, because of rumblings on the religious right, she's been forced to teach abstinence. Tim, an unhappily married ex-drinker, stoner and rock musician who's been saved and born again, is Ruth's daughter's soccer coach. A collision, on many levels, is inevitable. Perrotta observes it all with compassion spiced with wry humor, and narrator Campbell Scott captures the voices, the mood and the moments perfectly.
You don't have to be a rocket scientist or political news junkie to figure out that Adam Lang, former British prime minister and the focus of Robert Harris' excellent new thriller-diller The Ghost, is modeled oh-so closely on Tony Blair. Lang is charismatic and energetic, he moved through the ranks at breakneck speed, was wildly popular when he went to Downing Street and wildly unpopular and under attack for his high profile support of U.S. military action after 9/11 when he left, 10 years later. Even the advance Lang is being paid for his autobiography jives with Blair's. Enter the ghost writer, the eponymous ghost, hired to replace a party faithful found dead, washed up on the shores of Martha's Vineyard where Lang and his abrasive, brilliant wife are holed up supposedly working on the memoirs. Just as the ghost arrives, Lang is accused of war crimes, including state-sanctioned torture. In the midst of this media circus, our ghost begins to sort out what happened to his predecessor and finds himself plunged into a bigger, far more dangerous intrigue that has a dozy of a denouement. Reader Roger Rees couldn't be better.
Eric Clapton, the legendary, iconic singer, guitarist and songwriter, lets it all out in Clapton, his honest recounting of his life and music, highs (in every sense) and lows, written, as one critic put it, better than most memoirists play guitar. Bill Nighy reads.