Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson

Does the world need yet another book about the life of Shakespeare? Probably not. As the author so deftly mentions at one point in this book, there are about 7,000 or so books in the Library of Congress alone on the famous bard. Some of those surely would serve the purpose. .

However, the follow-up question is Does the world need yet another book about the life of Shakespeare if it's by Bill Bryson? Here I would have to give a resounding "Yes". .

I make no excuses that Bill Bryson is one of my favorite authors. His style of writing captivated me from the firstbook I ever read by him, "Made in America". Anyone that can make the history and origins of words as readable as he did there is well worth reading. .

Here, as Bryson puts it, is the history of Shakespeare, his life and his inspirations, but only the parts that can be well documented. Much of what is written about the bard is pure speculation based on what fragmentary knowledge can be found. Bryson distills the fluff from what is fact and then writes in his usually engaging style to make what essentially could be dry and boring, into the interesting. .

I must admit I did find one part a little tedious, that on Shakespeare's sonnets, but this can probably be tied up in the fact that I don't care for Shakespeare's sonnets in the first place. I can't put the full blame on the author in this regard. Overall, though it was a good read..


Rate this one 8 stars.


Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

Over the years, I have read quite a few autobiographies by comedians. Unlike some dry, historical biography written by someone else who may or may not have even met the subject of the biography in person, the autobiography usually has the advantage of letting the style and wit of the comedian shine through. Take, for instance, an earlier review of mine of one by Don Rickles.

Not the case here. Steve Martin is without a doubt one of the most offbeat and funniest writers I have ever read. But here, in his autobiography, if you take out every quote from his stage act, is one of those dry historical biographies I previously mentioned. Sure, you get some insight into Martin's childhood, and how the need to perform became a drive in his life. But in 200+ pages, not one discernably funny comment that hasn't become familiar to anyone who has his albums or has seen his stage performance.

And that's another thing. Aside from finding the style so-so, he ends the book way too soon in his career. Virtually nothing of behind-the-scenes after his last stand-up tour. Of course, the title might have been a dead giveaway, but I would have been interested in the early part of his film career, even some background over the ensuing years, but aside from a mention of future projects that were inspired by the events Martin is describing at the time, there is nothing.

Overall I give this one a moderately disappointed 5½ stars.