The New York Times
The Book of William: How Shakespeares First Folio Conquered the Worldby Paul Collins
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The first complete collection of Shakespeares plays was almost never printed. Only the machinations of several wealthy donors and publishers brought it into existence, and even then it was practically unnoticed. Many of the original 750 copies of Shakespeares First Folio were gone before the turn of the 18th century. But a hundred years later, the greatest plays in English were rediscovered, revamped, and re-publicized, beginning the long and surprising process that secured the legacy of Shakespeare.
Broken down into five sections, each tied to a different location and century, The Book of William explores the curious rise of the First Folio: Frankfurt (17th century), Fleet Street (18th century), the British Museum (19th century), the Folger Shakespeare Library (20th century), and Meisei University of Tokyo (21st century). It recounts the books remarkable journey, as it lies undiscovered for decades, burns, sinks, is bought and sold, and ultimately, becomes untouchable. Finally, Collins speculates on Shakespeares cross-cultural future as more and more Folios migrate to Japanese buyers, who are entering their contents into the electronic ether.
The New York Times
Undoubtedly, the Bard himself would be amused to learn all about the fate of the book compiled after his death by fellow actors and colleagues John Heminge and Henry Condell. It was, a collector said recently, "the most important secular work of all time." Collins (Sixpence House), an English professor and NPR regular, is passionate, knowledgeable and sassy in bringing this story to glorious life. Collins divides his work into five acts, leading his reader on a whirlwind trip through the Four Folios eventually printed, into feuds between Alexander Pope and Lewis Theobald and to the opportunistic reach of a financially desperate Dr. Johnson. Over the next 200 years, there are the stories of Henry Clay Folger as well as an ingenious collating machine and related technologies for today's textual scholars. Collins's remarkable voyage through time and across the globe leads to Japan, where the most obsessive collectors of "Sheikusupia" reside. This is for anyone with an interest in how Shakespeare has come down to us, the nature of the book business, the art of editing and the evolution of copyright law. A 20-page "Further Readings" section is by itself a sheer delight. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Collins (Banvard's Folly; Not Even Wrong) has done it again. This historyspanning the globe and 400 years in the life and fortunes of one of the most famous books in the English languageis not the dry province of historians, bibliophiles, and antiquarians. Collins relates the series of near-disasters of the folios' inception (lack of intact manuscripts left by the Bard; Heminge and Condell's blind printer) and continued existence (folios stolen, burned, lost at sea, left to molder in ruined estates, ripped apart and used to wrap fish), which gives readers a renewed appreciation for the rarity and value of the folio. VERDICT There are other authoritative works on Shakespeare's folios, including W.W. Greg's The Shakespeare First Folio and Edwin Eliott Willoughby's The Printing of the First Folio of Shakespeare, but Collins's is a welcome addition to this group. Witty, detailed, and highly entertaining, it will be appreciated by fans of Shakespeare, history, or human folly.Felicity D. Walsh, Emory Univ., Decatur, GA
Felicity D. Walsh
An entertaining consideration arranged in five acts of the serendipitous social life the [first folio] has experienced over the four centuries of its existence.
Gleefully astonishing... Collins provides one of the most enjoyable examples of a most enjoyable genre, the book biography, as he tells the stories of individual Shakespeare first folios, their owners, their uses, and their travels. It's a supremely enlightening journey that Collins' convivial manner makes thoroughly gratifying.
Collins' journey is that of a man stirred by ancient callings: Here is a tireless time traveler and researcher, focusing our attention on the beauty inherent in obscure and sacred objects.
Paul Collins gives bookishness a good name... The Book of William...follows his obsession to the root of all bibliomania - Shakespeare's exceedingly rare, ultra-collectible First Folio... The author proves himself to be an amusing, if unlikely guide... Collins' purpose here [is] not to sing Shakespeare's praises (as if they still need to be sung), but to show, through the quintessential example, how much we humans can invest in the printed word.
[A] delightful literary ramble... Full of humor, history and travel, The Book of William is an excellent summer read.
[A] lively and entertaining history of one of the most important books in English literature.
[The First Folio's] 386-year history is perfect for Collins' peripatetic narrative style... Collins is pleasant company on these journeys through musty and scholarly byways; fans of Bill Bryson... might find the style similar... This is great, informative fun.
Smashing…[Collins] is an enthusiastic and amusing writer -- a good companion… an adept and committed bibliophile, and in the course of his journey into the history of the Folio's individual copies, he comes to a not-so-startling realization; books outlive even the greatest of us.
Collins knows his way around a good literary mystery, and knows how to milk the bizarre and wonderful detail... The Book of William is filled with geeky delights...Collins pours all of the mountainous curiosity and good-hearted wit he showed in his last book, The Trouble with Tom, into The Book of William. Not only is he a first-rate storyteller, he has a keen eye for useful marginalia... It would be easy to say that this is a book for bibliophiles, or theater lovers, and it is. But as far as what some of us want out of our summer reading--to get lost, to learn something, to laugh--we'd make the case for this as the perfect beach read.
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Meet the Author
Paul Collins is the author of The Trouble with Tom, Not Even Wrong: Adventures in Autism, Sixpence House, and Banvards Folly: Thirteen Tales of Renowned Obscurity, Famous Anonymity, and Rotten Luck. He edits the Collins Library for McSweeneys Books, and his work has appeared in McSweeneys, Lingua Franca, Cabinet, and Business 2.0.
Paul Collins is the author of Sixpence House and Not Even Wrong: A Fathers Journey into the Lost History of Autism. He edits the Collins Library for McSweeneys Books, and his work has appeared in New Scientist, the Village Voice, and Business 2.0.
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