Taking What I Like by Linda Bamber

Title: Taking What I Like
Author: Linda Bamber

Genre: Fiction (Short Stories / Shakespeare / Literary Retelling / Academia / Teaching / Prisons / Jane Eyre)
Publisher/Publication Date: Black Sparrow Press (10/22/2013)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: Eight short stories play with Shakespeare, imagine teaching Jane Eyre interminably, and examine the emotional impact of a painting.

Do I like the cover?: I do -- it's bold and eye-catching.

I'm reminded of...: Margaret Atwood

First line: Not Jane Eyre again.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy if you like short stories that play with literature's greats (Shakespeare and Jane Eyre).

Why did I get this book?: I like Shakespeare and stories that mess with great stories.

Review: This collection of eight short stories touches upon, reimagines, wrestles with, and are inspired by Shakespeare, Jane Eyre, and Thomas Eakins' painting, The Gross Clinic.  Funny, emotional, knowing, meta, and geeky, they read quickly but invited meditation and musing, whether one is a casual reader of some of the greats of the Western canon or a devoted fan.

The opening story, 'Casting Call', has the characters of Othello reincarnated, in a way, as professors in an English Department at a small university. Juxtaposing their shared collective past with the process of hiring a new faculty member, the story is both outlandishly silly and sweetly poignant, as Desdemona is tasked with ensuring their new colleague is more 'diverse'. Iago can't resist some behind the scenes machinations, and Othello's jealousy is provoked, but this isn't merely a re-imagining of the famed play -- Bamber gives Desdemona chance to name the horror that happened to her, which I found especially satisfying.

Her 'Time to Teach Jane Eyre Again' had me cackling with delight; one of my best friends teaches Jane Eyre yearly to high school students, and it's a beloved favorite of hers.  (Sadly, not one of mine!)  The way Bamber describes the process -- the boredom and joy of going through the same text, year after year -- and the resulting conversation is fascinating and illuminating.  (It made me especially sure I'm going to read Jane Eyre this year.)

'An Incarnation of Hamlets' is another favorite piece, although I can't tell how fictional it is. Inspired by a real This American Life radio piece on the use of Shakespeare in prisons, Bamber's story includes Q&As with the play's characters, asides about the play's action, and biographical snippets and interviews with the prisoners involved.  Despite my loathing for Hamlet, it made me appreciate the play a little!

Delightfully, being unfamiliar with the source material isn't a hindrance to enjoying Bamber's stories as she includes enough background to understand where she's going. (For example, 'Playing Henry' is about a bunch of Shakespeare's history plays, which I've never read/seen, but I certainly understood the struggle Bamber's heroine had with working with her part, the tension with her father, the yearning to be really good at something.)

I think this volume would have wide appeal: English majors and lit geeks will find a kindred soul here, as well as readers who enjoy fiction that isn't neatly contained.  This would make a wonderful book club pick, too, especially if read in tandem with any of the works mentioned.  Needless to say, I want to read all the plays mentioned in this volume, if only to experiment myself with taking what I like from them.

Comments

  1. I'd never thought of this category before, short stories that play around with literature's greats - the stories sound like fun!

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    Replies
    1. I was nervous I'd be unsatisfied but actually, it works out wonderfully: punchy, pithy, and very fun!

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    2. Belle,

      I hope you get a kick out of running into old friends!

      Linda

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  2. I love this cover and the title! And I, too, was cracking up at the premise of Teaching Jane Eyre Again!

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    Replies
    1. I didn't mention this in the review, but a good number of the pieces focus on acting, too -- the craft of acting -- that made this triply interesting!

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    2. So glad you like the title! I like it a lot, but some of my friends think I should have chosen something with Shakespeare’s name in it. Hope you like the Jane Eyre story. Linda

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  3. My son would probably love this collection.

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    Replies
    1. This is one of those books that make me think of many people -- it really has wonderfully broad appeal!

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    2. Yes, do give it to him! We need to inveigle the next generation into reading the greats! Linda

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  4. This sounds great. Nothing like a book that appeals to my major in English and my one in theatre arts... :)

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    Replies
    1. Oh, this is practically made for you, then! If you get it, would love to know what you think!

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    2. Lindsey,

      English and theater?!? Compadre! You'll find much that's familiar in TWIL.

      Linda

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  5. I love retellings and books that reference other books. This sounds great!

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    Replies
    1. It really was great fun -- I hope you get it!

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    2. DoingDewey,

      Of course, Shakespeare himself was a shameless remake artist, borrowing his plots from everyone he read. Sometimes he lifted whole speeches intact. Enjoy! Linda

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  6. i will come back to read the full review as I'm also on the tour, but I'm glad to see that you liked it!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks -- I hope you enjoy it! I'll look for your review!

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    2. Serena, Thanks for your interest, catch you later! Linda

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  7. Thanks for being on the tour Audra. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

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  8. I'll have to read the list of works this references, it sounds a lot of fun!

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    Replies
    1. Charlie, The plays and novels I use are truly fabulous, but as Audra says, you don't have to read them first. Hope you have fun with it! Thanks, Linda

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  9. Audra,

    Thank you for this great review. I love what you say about "Playing Henry" -- both the quick summary of the issues and the perception that you don't need to know the plays in order to follow the stories! The whole review seems wonderfully intelligent and alive.

    I love it when people say they look forward to re-reading the stories from which mine are taken. I hope you do! And of course I agree that a book club who read it in conjunction with one of the plays would have a lot to talk about!

    Thanks again, Audra. This was a pleasure to read.

    Linda

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  10. It's taken me forever to get around to reading the other reviews from this tour, but I'm so glad I did! I'm adding you to my feedly right now; looking forward to reading your blog consistently in the future!

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