Thursday, June 25, 2015

Wibbley-wobbly, plotty-wotty thing

Dear anybody who ever gives me books for any reason: I really want to like the books that people give to me. I like liking books, and I especially like liking books that other people think I will like. But sometimes I just can't do it and that usually makes me feel terrible.

So I'm sorry, little sister, I didn't like The Shakespeare Notebooks, which you gave me for Christmas. In fact I really disliked it and ended up being pretty fucking angry at the whole thing by the end.

I really WANTED to like this book. So much! And I know exactly why she gave it to me as a present - I raved about the Ian Doescher William Shakespeare's Star Wars books, I'm a huge Shakespeare nerd, and my sister knows that I'm a newbie Whovian who is a big fan of the twelfth Doctor - but the combination of elements in play here just made The Shakespeare Notebooks awful.

The reason that Star Wars worked in a modern-pop-culture-meets-Shakespearean-drama mashup is that it was a whole, complete story full of Shakespeare-ready characters. Luke is a clear hero, Han and Leia are a perfect bickering couple, Yoda and Obi-Wan are sages, and the entire dark side is all ready to go for Hamlet-like introspection and Richard III-like outright evil. Doescher spent a lot of time and effort on building up his interpretation, working the characters' conflicts into stunning dialogue and having a lot of fun playing with the language.

The people who wrote The Shakespeare Notebooks didn't do that. They said "well, what if there were sonnets about Daleks?" then wrote those sonnets and called it a day.

The format of this thing is really hard to explain. There are several selections that are supposed to be deleted scenes from plays that Shakespeare was supposed to have written the Doctor into. A couple pieces are supposed to be from a journal of Shakespeare's. One section is supposedly written in a grad student's footnotes on Julius Caesar. Another bit is a "transcription" of a time-traveling Alexander Pope having an argument while watching the premiere of a lost play. Both of those last two, by the way, include complaints about how the imbic pentameter isn't perfect enough to have really been Shakespeare - 'perfect' meter is much more rare in Shakespeare's writing than 'imperfect' meter, which is a thing you learn in Shakespeare 101 and NOT something that either a grad student or Pope would ever fucking say.

Does this seem a little disjointed? It is. It should be. That's how the damned book is.

There is one part that I liked, a short story at the end of the book. It doesn't pretend to have been written by the Bard, it's not supposed to be historical, it's not giving high-fives to itself. It's just a short story about the Doctor, the Bard, and a Bed. And it's not bad, really.

But the rest of the book is kind of shit.

     - Alli

Gross, James; Jonathan Morris, Julian Richards, Justin Richards, and Matthew Sweet.
     Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Notebooks. Harper Design. New York: New York. 2014.

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