Monday, January 26, 2015

Reads for Writers: Bill Bryson's Shakespeare: The Illustrated and Updated Edition Provides a Masterclass

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.

Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don’t generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice, and/or creativity.

          I love books—hardcover or paperback—but some books are more physically beautiful than others. Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare: The Illustrated and Updated Edition is one of the beautiful books.

          The glossy, heavy stock paper pages are filled with full color photographs, paintings including the Cobbe portrait of Shakespeare identified in 2009 but not without controversy, documents, woodcuts, drawings, and sketches not to mention Bryson’s entrancing prose and entertaining facts like:

Shakespeare produced roughly one tenth of all the most quotable utterances written or spoken in English since its inception. (page 151)

He coined—or, to be more carefully precise, made the first recorded use of—2,035 words, and interestingly he indulged the practice from the very outset of his career. (page 148)


Although he left nearly a million words of text, we have just fourteen words in his own hand—his name signed six times and the words ‘by me’ on his will. (page 24)

That juxtaposition just adds to the mystery of Shakespeare’s life.

While organized chronologically, Bill Bryson’s well-researched book is written as a captivating guided tour of Shakespeare’s life, historic London, and the rise and fall of the theatres. Shakespeare’s companions and competitors all have roles as well. Who would the man be without his time, place, and contemporaries? Not to mention his published works. Given all the facts, it’s difficult to imagine where the English language would be without Shakespeare.

Shakespeare’s plays might have been lost…had it not been for his close friends and colleagues John Heminges and Henry Condell, who seven years after Shakespeare’s death, produced a folio edition of his complete works…Heminges and Condell were the last of the original Chamberlain’s Men. (page 202)

          No one knows exactly how many First Folios were printed…but all or part of three hundred survive. (page 211-212) Shakespeare never entirely dropped out of esteem—as the publication of Second, Third and Fourth Folios clearly attests—but nor was he reverenced as he is today. After his death, some of his plays weren’t performed again for a very long time. (page 217)

          For any writer, being recognized and read nearly 400 years after death is astonishing—and deserving of celebration in such a gorgeous and engaging book.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Reads for Writers: By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review edited by Pamela Paul

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          We all want to know more about our favorite authors and writers. What inspires them? What are they reading? What books don’t they like? Who are their literary idols? Which authors would they invite to a dinner party? And which three books would they take to the proverbial deserted island?

          By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review Edited and with an Introduction by Pamela Paul, editor of the Book Review, answers these questions—and many more.

          Sixty-five authors, writers, and others with literary lives answer a variety of questions giving fans and other writers not only insights but reading recommendations. If you like a certain author, does it follow you will like whatever he or she reads? It’s fun to find out.

          I have read books and pieces by over half of the writers. Naturally, I read their interviews first.

I loved learning Pippi Longstocking inspired Anne Lamott to become a writer. (However, Amy Tan found Pippi too cheerful.) And that A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle, changed Lamott’s life. (Mine, too.) It’s also Dan Brown’s favorite book of all time. He highly recommends What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell who highly recommends Lee Child who plans on reading Emma by Jane Austen next. (That surprised me.)

          I have not read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, but her favorite childhood character is Meg Murray, the heroine of A Wrinkle in Time. Sandberg highly recommends books by Michael Lewis, as does Malcolm Gladwell, and she most wants to meet JK Rowling—whose book The Cuckoo’s Calling Gladwell chose not to finish.

          This book is a great version of “Six Degrees” usually of Kevin Bacon, but this time with writers.

          I also like knowing more about where others write. However, only four writers had their answers published:

Carl Hiaasen: The first thing you see outside my office is a doormat that says: LEAVE…Inside, my so-called work space looks like it got tossed by burglars. (page 26)

John Irving’s description on page 31 sounds to be the most efficient and comfortable with two tables, a computer in a far corner, a couch, and a chocolate Lab for company.

Sylvia Nasar’s office is very neat and colorful also with a Lab for company—see page 50.

And PJ O’Rourke’s is a mess—see page 102.

Some of the other writers included in this book are: David Sedaris, Neil Gaimen, Mary Higgins Clark, Colin Powell, Junot Diaz, John Grisham, Dave Barry, Katherine Boo, James McBride, Jhumpa Lahiri, Donna Tartt, Ann Patchett, Michael Connelly, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Chang-rae Lee, and dozens more.

While all of the answers to the following question were enlightening, this one made me laugh aloud:

If you could meet any character from literature, who would it be?

Isabel Allende: Zorro, of course. If possible, at night and in bed, with the mask but not the whip.

          Good to know--as are all the revelations and recommendations in By the Book.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Mighty Pen

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I’m sitting in my office watching the Unity Rally in Paris. Looks like more than a million people including other Europeans, Africans, Australians, Americans, and from many other countries and different religious affiliations have gathered together to show they are unified against terrorism. Some have flags, others placards with “Je suis Charlie” as well as listing the names of journalists imprisoned and murdered elsewhere, and still more carrying pens and pencils—reminding us all that the pen is mightier than the sword.

           Remembering that words are powerful, that cartoons are powerful are important lessons. Writers and artists play essential roles in civilization. We capture what is happening—the good and the bad—for generations to come.

          The Nazis gathered art and burned books to erase and control a culture. Books and art are touchstones. Most of us have not seen the “Mona Lisa” by Leonardo Da Vinci in person, but we all know about it as well as Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”. And who can’t recognize the Peanuts characters by Charles Schultz?

          Writers and artists can also change civilizations:

Where would we be without the Constitution and The Bill of Rights?

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe changed America.

Charles Dickens’ depictions of the poor in England helped end the horrible conditions at orphanages and poor houses.

Journalists ended a presidency.

Political cartoonists make us think.


When writers tell the truth, reveal it to readers, there are repercussions. Even in fiction, truths are revealed. Once seen, truth is difficult to forget.

We are free to write what we wish. Not everyone is so keep writing.

Thank you to all the police departments and the members of the Armed Services that protect us and our freedom. They put their lives on the line every day. Thank you for your service. We respect and honor those who died bravely doing their duty. Freedom is not free.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Out of Routine

From Kate’s Writing Crate...

          The holiday season has ended. Company has come and gone. I have visited and returned. Now I need to get back into my regular routine, but I haven’t done so yet.

          I just realized I have a post deadline tonight at midnight. How could that be? Knowing I had lots of company and holiday plans, I wrote six posts in advance. Six weeks have gone by? Didn’t feel like it, but the time did pass and I now have nothing ready to post.

          This is a funny situation for me as I am a procrastinator by nature—except when it comes to writing deadlines for my assignments and this blog. I plan ahead. I interview with time left to write the articles. If something falls through, I can replace the piece last minute, too. And I write my posts days, sometimes weeks, ahead. I don’t miss deadlines—which is why I’m amazed to find myself with so little time to prepare my post.

          This week, I wrote in my notebook; I wrote on the back of an envelope; I even scribbled on the inside back cover of a book I was reading, but I didn’t write any posts.

          I have a list of topics for my posts sketched out for  the next five weeks, but instead I’m writing about not writing my post for my post. Heck of a way to start a new year.

          I lost track of time—easy to do this time of year—but no excuse.

          Routines are essential for me to accomplish my writing goals. Out of routine: Out of sorts. Out of time.

          Back on track next week!