Ok, this is a fun one. Is it a geeklet story if the geeklets aren’t actually in it?
Ever since I’ve had Shakespeare Geek merchandise, I’ve jokingly said that “the goal” is to bump into a stranger wearing my merchandise. That’s when I’ll know I’ve made it. You see where this story is going.
My daughter’s off to college. Perusing Facebook one night I see a group for parents of students at that college, and send a request to join. It gets approved, followed by a message. Which I assume is just an automatic “Your request has been accepted” type of thing. Nope!
“I am!” I reply, “Though I’m sure by now there are a number of knockoffs, but yes, that is definitely one of my designs.” The nature of Amazon is that brain dead “sellers” with no ideas of their own will just steal the originality of others. We deal with it, and we move on. It’s definitely not winning the game if you bump into somebody wearing a knock off of one of your shirts. That’s negative points.
“Yup it’s you!” she replied, posting an image of the shirt. Turns out her daughter’s in the college’s Shakespeare group. I concede that while I’d love that, I know my daughter’s a math/space geek and wouldn’t want her to feel forced to follow in my footsteps.
But, still! Maybe this doesn’t count as me randomly bumping into somebody with my merch. But my daughter might! Now I’ve got this whole vision in my head where this woman’s daughter has one of my shirts, and all the other people in her club are all, “Oh, whoa, where’d you get that? I must have it!” so there’s really dozens of people wandering around my daughter’s college wearing Shakespeare Geek merchandise, and one day she’s going to stroll out onto the quad and be surrounded :). I can’t wait for that phone call!
Once upon a time, when my kids were still young, I searched the bookstore Shakespeare baby books, not expecting to find any, but still hopeful. Never did. Yeah, there was the brief “Baby Mozart / Baby Shakespeare” craze, but we don’t speak of that.
This is the story of one young William Shakespeare, who opens his window one morning and words (“To thine own self be true”) just come flying in. Well, he thinks, if that’s not just the coolest thing in the whole wide world. I must have those words. He starts chasing them, but they’re slippery little devils, tumbling down the stairs and out the door. So begins the adventure of the story as he chases an ever growing string of words through town.
Every page is decorated in enough Shakespeare quotes to keep geeks like us happy. Over the years, when I have found books similar to this that claim to include Shakespeare’s words, they usually don’t go much beyond “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” and “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” But here we’ve got “Boldness be my friend” and “Words without thoughts never to heaven go” and that’s just on page 3.
The illustrations are big and colorful, making the story obvious as young Shakespeare adventures through town, bumping into interesting new characters, while still leaving plenty of room for the wonderful words to decorate the pages. I have to wonder if the font may prove a challenge for children attempting to read, though. The story itself is told is standard text, but the decorative Shakespearean in the scenes is often scattered randomly, and most likely going to be read by an adult pointing out words with their finger to young readers. But hey, if that helps the kids jump more quickly into a world where the letters don’t always have to be the same size, or in a straight horizontal line? That works, too!
The author has also included a simple “life of William Shakespeare” bio page, as well as citations for all of the quotes included. I love that. I don’t know the exact age that’s going to be the audience for this book, it’s been too long for me. But if the kids are old enough to wonder where the quotes came from? There’s a great opportunity to do so, especially if the parent doesn’t immediately recognize all of them.
Overall there’s a word that came to me while I was reading this book, and that word is wistful. This book catapults me back in time sixteen years to those days of wandering the children’s section of the bookstore with my wife, pregnant with our second and shopping for our first, me scanning the shelves for Shakespeare references like a child racing to the toy department. And, just like that child among those toys, I’d see a book like this, my eyes would go wide, I’d grab it and flip through it and hug it to my chest and wheel around to my wife with my biggest puppy dog eyes and “Please can we get this?” face. Then we’d head home and I’d read it to my daughter over and over again over the days and weeks to come (sorry Dr. Seuss!), pointing out the quotes, asking her to repeat them when she’d heard it enough times to memorize, following up with ridiculously advanced questions like “And what play is that from?” that she couldn’t possibly answer (she’s two years old for heaven’s sake) but patiently waiting for the day when she does answer, because I know that Shakespeare is going to make her life better.
I, we, didn’t get that. Because books like this one didn’t exist yet. Now it does, and now others do get that experience. Lucky. To steal a phrase from my oldest daughter (via Schitt’s Creek), “Love that for them.”
Now I look forward to the future, when someday I’m a grandfather (“Grampy”, in my family), and I get to open this book again and read, “One morning, William opened his window and the words flew in …”
I don’t think have to reintroduce Scott Newstok every time I write about him. Back in 2008 when I was just getting started he sent me a copy of his book on Kenneth Burke and my honest response was, “I don’t know who that is.”
My ignorance of things at Scott’s academic level has not turned him off, however, and he’s continued to keep in touch and send me his work over the years, including Wayward Macbeth a few years later.
Which leads me to his latest, How To Think Like Shakespeare, which started out as a convocation address he gave and is now available in book form. I actually received the book back in April and am ashamed that I have only now gotten around to writing about it.
There’s a reason for that. I have tried and tried to complete this book, and I hate to say that I can’t. It’s not for the source material or the subject. I love the idea – see the linked post above for how I raved about the idea when I originally heard it.
My problem is with the book itself. Everbody’s life is busy. During pandemic, doubly so. So we all find ways to organize our time, our priorities and our lives. For years I had a commute to work that lasted about an hour and a half each way and I learned to live on audio books. Used to go through 50+ of them a year. On the flip side, my “Sit down with an actual paper book” time has approached zero over the years. When I was in the car I had no choice what to do with my time. When I’m home and find myself with time to read a book I am plagued with thoughts of, “What other things do you need to be doing right now?” It is very, very hard to find the attention span. So if a book does not hook me right away and become something I simply can’t put down, I’m going to struggle.
What’s killing me here is the editorial structure of the book. Literally every single page is loaded with footnotes, call outs, quotes, italicized and/or emphasized words … and probably a few other flow-breaking constructs I’ve forgotten about. I tried to scan a page to give an example:
Imagine all the pages like this. Maybe it’s just what my reading style has become, maybe I’ve developed focus or attention issues as I’ve gotten older, but I simply can’t pick up any momentum reading like this. Every time the font changes or the paragraph breaks unexpectedly that voice in my head says “Whoa hey wait we just got sidetracked” and I’m left with each page feeling like a jumble of separate thoughts rather than a complete whole.
If you’re used to reading books like this, don’t let me stop you. I still love the topic, as shown by my post from a few years ago. I’m just not the best person, for whatever reason, to offer a review. My apologies to Scott and his publisher.
One of the cool things about switching to RedBubble as the source for my Shakespeare Geek Merchandise – beyond the fact that face masks have far and away become my best seller and Amazon still doesn’t offer them – is that RedBubble tells me where my products are going, not just what I’ve sold. I always knew it did that, I just never really stopped and paid attention to it until last night. And it’s so cool.
I’ve said before that “the dream” is to bump into someone on the street wearing Shakespeare merchandise that I designed. I’m a big fan of the small universe philosophy, and that we are all potentially connected in a myriad of ways we simply haven’t discovered yet.
But one look at my sales report was a reminder of just how important that philosophy is. It’s a big big world and I’m just a small piece of it, so every connection is a big deal. You’ll see what I mean in a second.
So let’s get to the statistics! I was trying to figure out how to do this without giving away all my good insider secrets about my sales numbers, and I figured that percentages were the way to go.
77% of my sales come from inside the US. That makes total sense. Most from California, which also makes sense given the size and population of that state, but Virginia was a pleasant surprise in the top 3. Lot of Shakespeare lovers in Virginia!
About 13% from the UK. Again, totally makes sense. Where else are you going to find a strong concentration of Shakespeare Geeks but in the land of the man himself?
Little under 5% from Canada. Thanks, Canada! I’m going to bank on this one being related to them simply seeing the RedBubble site come up more often in their Google results :). I am totally ok with that.
Here’s where it gets interesting! Ready? The remaining countries that are now the proud home to Shakespeare Geek merchandise are, in no particular order…
I’m in the United States. New England to be more specific. Get a globe. Put your finger on New England. Now spin it all most all the way around, wave at Australia, keep going…New Zealand! Somebody in New Zealand is wearing one of my t-shirts! Just think, I could find myself in New Zealand one day, turn my head and be staring at a fellow Shakespeare Geek. All the world’s a stage, indeed.
That’s it, that’s the post. Sorry for the giddiness, I’m just all excited at the realization of just how far around the world my ideas have gone. If you are reading and are from one of those countries, do check in and say hello! Or Hola or Guten Morgen or G’Day or whatever else it is you might say where you come from!
It’s been a long time since I did a “Not By Shakespeare”. But I’ve been looking around for material to put on t-shirts and merchandise and spotted this one, which just didn’t feel right.
The easiest way to tell a Not By Shakespeare is to ask, “Ok, what’s the citation?” What play or sonnet or poem does it come from? Surely when it’s so popular that there’s pages upon pages of Google results, one of them will have a source attribution. Once you have that, you can head to Open Source Shakespeare or something and check.
As you can imagine, I found none. Everywhere I find is just attributed to William Shakespeare.
Ok, second approach – look for the more interesting words in the quote, and search the text for those words. This is a little trickier because we have to allow for quotes to evolve over time, and take Shakespeare’s original spelling into account. First I went looking for “verbal“, which is easy – Shakespeare only used the word four times. None in a context that could be construed as the source for this quote.
Then I tried “language” and that’s trickier with 41 hits. But again, nothing useful. It’s at this point that I judge this quote Not By Shakespeare.
But then we have to ask, “Can we figure out where the quote does come from?” That’s where Google does sometimes help. I originally searched “women speak two languages” and found this:
“All women speak two languages: the language of men and the language of silent suffering. Some women speak a third, the language of queens.”
Mohja Kahf, “E-Mails from Scheherazad”
Cool. This appears to be dated 2003. Then we ask, “Were people using this quote before 2003?” If so, maybe the poet got her inspiration from that. If not, maybe the reverse. The quote here isn’t exactly the same thing as the one attributed to Shakespeare, but it’s the closest we’ve got to a lead.
Which leads us here, to a “fortune file” – ancient Unix speak for “quote file”. Google dates this file in 2000 but right in the URL it says 2013 so I’m doubtful. However, it attributes the quote to a Steve Rubenstein so now I have something else to Google.