As Lewis Carroll’s Alice so aptly points out, “What is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?” Welcome to Readers’ Advisory (RA) Crossroads, where books, movies, music, and other media converge, and whole-collection RA service goes where it may. In this column, William Shakespeare leads me down a winding path.
Tyler, Anne. Vinegar Girl. Hogarth. 2016. 240p. ISBN 9780804141260. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780804141277. F
The Hogarth Shakespeare project, launched in 2015 by Penguin Random House, adapts the Bard’s plays into novels written by contemporary authors, here tackling one of the playwright’s most problematic comedies, The Taming of the Shrew. Pulitzer Prize winner Tyler, known for her deft characterizations, insightful language, and illuminating detail, imagines the story anew, downplaying the battle of wills and eliminating the “taming” to instead focus on the way Kate, an underappreciated, plain-spoken woman living far under her potential, finds fulfillment. The Petruchio to her Katherina is Pyotr, a brilliant Russian scientist currently under threat of deportation, who works with Kate’s father in a Johns Hopkins lab. The simple if bumbling plan her father hatches to keep Pyotr in the country is to marry him off to Kate. Engaging, sprightly, and fun, this slim, quickly paced novel derives many of its pleasures from the many twists and associations Tyler makes; those who have yet to read the play will not be hampered from enjoying this reimagining on its own.
Lipman, Elinor. The Pursuit of Alice Thrift. Vintage. 2004. 304p. ISBN 9780375724596. pap. $13.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307429230. F
Lipman’s novel of a woman finding her way creates a solid companion to Tyler’s retelling as both books offer empathetic characterizations and wry observations, detailing the romantic relationships of quirky female leads and adroitly commenting on contemporary culture. Alice Thrift, like Kate, often feels at odds and on the outs as a socially maladroit intern at a Boston hospital. She keeps busy with satisfying work and extremely unsatisfying office politics, which constantly leave her at sea. Kate’s already fraught life gets even zanier, however, when Ray Russo, a traveling fudge salesman, bursts into her world with a set of smarmy plans. Thankfully, Alice’s charming roommate Leo Frawley is standing nearby to help. Combining an entertaining story that moves swiftly with a lovely sensibility, Lipman employs sharp humor that shines.
Moulin, Jules. Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes. Dutton. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9781101984246. pap. $10.67; ebk. ISBN 9780698405691. F
This modern romance offers a similar feeling of vitality and wit as Tyler’s adaption and is equally agile reading. The two novels also share an equal mix of addictive vigor and a deeper, albeit easygoing point. Moulin’s story shifts between two time periods: the end of a semester at Brown University and ten years after that summer. In the first part, professor Ally Hughes, single mother to ten-year-old Lizzie, has a brief fling with a recent graduate, the intriguing and deeply appealing Jake Bean. Later, the grown-up Lizzie brings Jake, now a movie star, home for dinner. The plot spins along between the two points, delivering an effervescent and beguiling tale of mothers and daughters and the promise of happy-ever-after, even if somewhat delayed.
Sittenfeld, Curtis. Eligible. Random. 2016. 512p. ISBN 9781400068326. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780812997613. F
Another revamp project is the reenvisioning of Jane Austen’s novels in a current vein. As with the Hogarth endeavor, the Austen Project asks celebrated, present-day authors to rework the stories of the 19th-century novelist. So far, there have been three modernizations: Joanna Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility, Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey, and Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma. Sittenfeld offers the newest with her take on Austen’s 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice. For readers interested in the process of retellings, the pairing of Tyler and Sittenfeld is a rewarding one and a nice way to combine the two adaptive series. This take on the famous romantic duel between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy is set in Cincinnati and realizes a witty tale full of satire, allure, and social observation. Liz Bennet, working as a magazine writer, is having an affair with the married Jasper Wick but soon meets the aggravating Dr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, who is decidedly not married, as luck would have it.
Shakespeare, William. The Taming of the Shrew. Penguin. 2016. 160p. ISBN 9780143128625. pap. $9; ebk. ISBN 9780698410824. COMEDY
Reading Shakespeare’s 16th-century play for the first time or anew creates added dimension when placed alongside Tyler’s novel, which, of course, is the entire point of the Hogarth project and fittingly commemorates the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death. The story involves multiple couples, but the central plot follows the “courtship” of the strong-willed Katherina by the fortune hunter Petruchio. He determines to “tame” her through a series of abusive actions that render her an obedient bride—to the extent that she abandons her own reality for his. He proves his dominion over her to the other men in the play by enacting a final bet in which she yields to his way of thinking and subsequently castigates other women for failing to do so as well. Counted as one of Shakespeare’s comedies, this work has been controversial since it was first staged, with scholars arguing even now over the Bard’s intent.
Doescher, Ian. William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope. Quirk. (William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, Bk. 4). 2013. 176p. illus. ISBN 9781594746376. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781594746550. F
Those interested in Shakespeare have many resources to explore, including Stephen Greenblatt’s deeply engaging Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare and Bill Bryson’s companionable Shakespeare: The World as Stage. However, if readers are in the mood for more adaptive works and are willing to follow that path as it converges, naturally, with Star Wars, then suggest Doescher’s geeky wonder of a mashup, converting the Jedi quest into a play rich with iambic pentameter and Elizabethan vocabulary. Smart and delightfully quirky, this is a work in which even the stage directions are a riot. Well-crafted illustrations support the text, adding dimension and interest. Doescher has gone on to adapt more of the George Lucas films, producing a delightful series. Also excellent on audio, with a full cast and dramatized production.
Shakespeare, William. The Taming of the Shrew. 2 CDs. 2.3 hrs. AudioGo: Blackstone. (Arkangel Complete Shakespeare). 2003. ISBN 9781483013046. $14.95. COMEDY
Listening to Shakespeare’s work can often be a more edifying experience than reading it, a fact the “Arkangel Complete Shakespeare” series creators clearly understand. In their fully dramatized recordings of all 38 plays (which won an Audie Award for Best Audio Drama), hundreds of actors (most members of the Royal Shakespeare Company) act out the works backed by sound effects and music. The productions are almost universally excellent and full of verve. In this production, Frances Barber (Mapp and Lucia; Doctor Who) and Roger Allam (The Queen; Game of Thrones) play Kate and Petruchio. The series uses The Complete Pelican Shakespeare as the reading text. Following along while listening adds even more illumination.
Sweeney, Cynthia D’Aprix. The Nest. 9 CDs. 11 hrs. Harper. 2016. ISBN 9780062443847. $39.99. F
Mia Barron reads this finely articulated debut about family dysfunction and a reunion, set in a brilliantly evoked New York City, with great exuberance and a warmhearted perspective, attitudes that echo the novel nicely. The story revolves around four siblings, none of whom have made their lives what they hoped, and each of whom is relying upon an unexpectedly large trust fund called the nest, which they believe is the ticket to a better life. There is only one problem: the nest is empty, drained in an effort to shore up the fate of the eldest brother, a scoundrel whose reckless behavior has ruined his siblings. Or so it seems. Sweeney, in a manner similar to Tyler, shows how chance, fate, revelation, and friendship can alter a life as much as money.
Kiss Me, Kate. color. 109 min. George Sidney, Warner Bros. 2015. Blu-ray UPC 883929444915. $19.98. F/MUSICAL
This 1953 musical film adapts the Broadway production of the same name and stars Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Bob Fosse, and Ann Miller. It features music by Cole Porter, including such classics as “Too Darn Hot” and “So in Love.” The layered story tells of Katherina and Petruchio through the framing device of a traveling theater group putting on a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew. Much unfolds behind the scenes among the troupe members, including lots of misunderstandings, fights, gambling debts, and more. Intermixed is the actual performance of Shakespeare’s adapted play. The Broadway performance has won a number of Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Original Score the year it first ran in 1949, as well as Best Revival of a Musical in 1999.
10 Things I Hate About You. color. 97 min. Gil Junger, Touchstone. 2010. DVD UPC 786936808964. $9.99. COMEDY
This 1999 film adaptation starring Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger did for The Taming of the Shrew what Clueless had previously done so successfully to Jane Austen’s Emma: transferred the story to an American high school and turned it into a teen romantic comedy. Here, in what became their breakout roles, Ledger and Stiles play versions of Katherina and Petruchio. Bad boy tough Patrick Verona (Ledger) attends Padua High School as does Kat (Stiles), an antisocial girl who cannot wait to leave home and attend Sarah Lawrence College. Her controlling father is not only against her plan, he dictates that her younger sister Bianca can only date when Kat does—an event he thinks nearly impossible. Taking money to court Kat in order to clear the way for other guys to date Bianca, Patrick tries to woo the uninterested girl, only to lead them both into an emotional revelation.
Hogarth offers a chart of current and upcoming modernizations. Margaret Atwood’s take on The Tempest—Hag-Seed—is due out in October; also look for books by Gillian Flynn, Tracy Chevalier, and Jo Nesbø.