|The Bookman's Tale|
The book begins with Peter Byerly trying to follow his therapist's advice to get out and meet new people, get back to work as a bookseller, and reconnect with friends after his wife's death. Because he suffers from a pretty crippling social anxiety, it's hard for him to leave his cottage in Kingham, England. He gets a call from a local man who wants to sells some of his family's books to help pay for the upkeep on the ancestral home. In a box marked "Never to Be Sold," Peter discovers a book that might change English literature forever.
Lovett tells that story of Peter and that book, a complete copy of poet Robert Greene's Pandosto, in three parts. First is Peter's attempts to trace the history of Pandosto, because it's covered in marginalia possibly written by William Shakespeare--proving that the Shakspere of Stratford and the Shakespeare of London were the same people. Second, Lovett shows us the history of Pandosto as it changed hands over the course of 400 years. Third, we also get the story of Peter and his wife Amanda. So, I got a story about an attempt to resolve the Authorship Question. I got a love story, and a I got a historical mystery.
In addition to all that, Lovett wrote beautifully about rare books and book preservation. One of my favorite passages in the book was a long description of Peter rebinding a book for Amanda in blue leather with gilded lettering. Seriously, it made me want to go run my fingertips over eighteenth century paper. (Yeah, I know.) It got me to thinking about books as objects instead of just stories. I've made my peace with ebooks, but I still love printed books--as long as they're well done. I wish books were still bound to last centuries like they used to be. I used to see so many copies of the Harry Potter books that just fell apart after a few dozen readings when I worked for a public library.
I really enjoyed reading this book. It was so well written and the main character could have been my twin. As I read the book, I remembered a visit I made to a rare books collection and getting gobsmacked by a copy of All the Year Round that had Charles Dickens' signature in it. Considering my reaction to that, I'm sure I couldn't handle something that Shakespeare actually wrote on.