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For Those Who Hate Shakespeare: A Variety of Works to Change the Mind of the Reluctant Reader about the Bard

6 Jul

Through the years as a librarian and an avid reader, I’ve often encountered others who despite also being fond of the written word confess that they hate Shakespeare (often in hushed tones as if their library card may be revoked due to this fact–it won’t be, I promise). Often their encounter with the Bard began and ended with a high school English class where they struggled to get through Shakespeare’s rich, but antiquated writing.  Some of what keeps people from Shakespeare is the language or the sense of not being able to connect with the time period; these works take away some of those barriers.  Hopefully they will inspire you to take a look at Shakespeare’s work again with new eyes.

The Hogarth Shakespeare Project: The Gap of Time and Vinegar Girl

The Hogarth Shakespeare Project which debuted in October of 2015 includes works by bestselling authors retelling the works of Shakespeare in novel form.  You can check out one of my favorite authors, Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time, her take on The Winter’s Tale.  I’m looking forward to checking out the newly available Vinegar Girl, Anne Tyler’s spin on my favorite of Shakespeare’s comedies, The Taming of the Shrew in which Kate, a preschool teacher who hates kids, agrees to marry her zany scientist father’s lab assistant so he can get a green card.  Fans of Margaret Atwood have her retelling of The Tempest to look forward to in October.

The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606 by James Shapiro

If you are fascinated by history, read this recent work by esteemed Shakespeare historian, James Shapiro, where he explores how the events of 1606 influenced Shakespeare to write three of his great tragedies King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra.  Although there is a timelessness to Shakespeare’s work understanding the political climate and beliefs of the time adds another layer to the material.

Tales from Shakespeare

Written for teens and kids Tales from Shakespeare includes ten of Shakespeare’s popular works including Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet retold in prose format by Tina Packer.  Each story is stunningly brought to life by a different well known artist including P.J. Lynch and Barbara McClintock.

YOLO Juliet by Brett Wright (and William Shakespeare)

If your attitude toward Shakespeare is TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) then you may change your mind with this quirky retelling of Romeo and Juliet using text speak and emojis, part of the OMG Shakespeare! series.  The work is recommended for grades 8 and up.

Much Ado About Nothing

If you are a Joss Whedon fan like me, how can you resist his contemporary retelling of the classic romance starring Angel’s Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof, and Firefly’s Nathan Fillion?

Throne of Blood

Think Shakespeare is boring?  This retelling of Macbeth set in feudal Japan featuring a samurai lord may change your mind.

Why Shakespeare?
If you still aren’t convinced about Shakespeare check out this documentary that answers the question of Why Shakespeare? Why Shakespeare? includes interviews with actors and celebrities like Christina Applegate along with inner city kids whose lives were transformed by Shakespeare and the world of live theater.

A Theatergoer’s Guide to Shakespeare by Robert Thomas Fallon

As with all plays the best way to enjoy Shakespeare is as live theater so check out Shakespeare in the Park or if it too hot out borrow a DVD of Macbeth or The Tempest to watch inside with the air conditioner turned up.  Fallon’s A Theatergoer’s Guide to Shakespeare gives you critical, historical, and plot details that will have you prepped to enjoy some of Shakespeare’s most frequently staged works without confusion due to the language or allusions that you are unfamiliar with.

-Written by Aimee Harris, Head of Reference

Inspired By: The Dixie Chicks

22 Jun

Last week I saw the Dixie Chicks at Madison Square Garden. This was a concert I have been waiting to see for more than a decade!

The show was excellent and I was thrilled to hear and sing along to my favorite Dixie Chicks songs. I left the show humming “Cowboy Take Me Away”, and carrying a souvenir tote bag printed with a line from the song “Not Ready To Make Nice”.

I also left inspired to write about my favorite tracks from the Dixie Chicks’ catalog, as well as some other related music inspired by the concert.


How did a girl born and raised in Hudson County where “Wide Open Spaces” are a foreign concept come to love the Dixie Chicks? MTV, of course! The year was 1999 and I saw the music video for “Goodbye Earl” from the Chicks’ sophomore album Fly (available on CD and streaming in Freegal).


Mary Ann and Wanda getting the ultimate revenge on the Wanda’s abusive* ex-husband Earl appealed to me as a baby feminist.

You can watch the video on YouTube of course and Freegal, sans commercials. Dear reader, please don’t try anything from the video at home–poisoning people is never a good idea.

Some other choice tracks from Fly:

  • “Cowboy Take Me Away”
  • “Cold Day In July”
  • “Hole In My Head”
  • “Sin Wagon”
  • “If I Fall You’re Going Down With Me”–my very favorite. I had hoped to hear this at the concert, but sadly it wasn’t on the set list. 😦

Wide Open Spaces


The Dixie Chicks’ first album was Wide Open Spaces, released in 1998. (CD and Freegal) The title track of this record is now an anthem for women who want to spread their wings and leave home, but I am partial to “There’s Your Trouble”.



The album Home (CD and Freegal) came out in 2002, and includes a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide”. There are some sadder, more introspective songs on this record, such as “Traveling Soldier” and “Top of the World”, but “White Trash Wedding” brings levity. I think that the brash “Truth No. 2” was a precursor to the music the Dixie Chicks would make on Taking the Long Way.

Shut Up & Sing


The Dixie Chicks found controversy in 2004 when lead singer Natalie Maines made a negative statement about then President George W. Bush, which brought intense criticism and backlash from the country music community. The documentary Shut Up & Sing covers this period of the Chicks’ history.

Taking the Long Way


From that turmoil came the Grammy-winning Taking the Long Way (CD and Freegal). This album was a game changer, and it is my favorite. This is a rare album I can listen to all the way through without skipping around.

Excellent tracks:

  • “Not Ready To Make Nice”
  • “Taking the Long Way”
  • “Easy Silence”
  • “Baby Hold On”
  • “Everybody Knows”

Sing “Lullaby” to your loved one, your baby, your teenager, your bae, your pet, or whomever you please.

Whenever anyone asks me, “Kerry, why haven’t you [insert milestone that others think I should have reached by now] yet?” I answer that I’m “Taking the Long Way”. Thank you, Dixie Chicks, for helping me answer that nosy but usually well meaning question!

Dixie Chicks Miscellany

If you want to dive deeper into the Dixie Chicks’ music, I recommend borrowing on DVD their VH1 Storytellers episode, where they tell the origin stories of some of their songs. I love to hear about artists’ inspirations for their work. Check out Top of the World Live (CD and Freegal) if you want to experience the Chicks in concert.

This New York Times piece about the Dixie Chicks and Kacey Musgraves as “Country Rebels” prompted me to borrow Kacey Musgraves’s recent release Pageant Material (CD and Hoopla) and savor the title track, “Late to the Party”, and “Biscuits”.

With the line “…mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy…”, “Biscuits” can serve as a good response to any nosy yet usually well meaning questions.

Are you going to any concerts this summer? Do you use song lyrics to respond to questions you’d rather not answer?

-Written by Kerry Weinstein, Reference Librarian

*Click here for resources on domestic violence.

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