2018: Shakespeare’s Lepidopterist

butterfly swarm

“There is differency between a grub and a butterfly;
yet your butterfly was a grub.” (Coriolanus, V, iv [a])

It would be too easy to blame my changed reading habits in 2018 on professional busy-ness, or on my health, but there’s no escaping a startling and depressing fact …

I’ve been documenting my reading journey in a ‘reading river‘ since the end 2012, and this is my lowest year yet, at only 35 books finished.  Not that quantity is better than quality; I’m aways suspicious – not jealous – of the reading experiences of those who claim more than about 75 books annually.  Unless of course they have the kind of time to devote to it that I can only hope to find in retirement.

Last year cemented two ongoing trends:

  • far more non-fiction; and
  • far fewer ‘re-reads’

This year, I might easily have doubled my score by listing the books I have read some of, but decided to stick to those I had finished.  They are more than outweighed by those I have flitted amongst, tasting chapters here and there as my hungry curiosity took me. I hope that’s not a sign of a reduced attention span! My ‘currently reading’ category would startle you …

Perhaps next year a more accurate measure might be a Bibliography of Primary and Secondary works, with an additional tick for any I manage to read cover to cover.

Anyway, here’s what I read (relevant to this blog) in 20187, in chronological order, with some recommendations at the end:

  1. Bernard Cornwell, Fools and Mortals *** Cornwell’s novel about Shakespeare’s brother and the theft of the Romeo and Juliet manuscript was well researched, but ultimately lacked excitement in the plot
  2. Michael K Jones, Bosworth 1485: Psychology of a Battle ***** I liked this: clearly and entertainingly written, with a different view on Richard’s actions at the fateful battle
  3. Germain Greer, Shakespeare (Past Masters series) **** overcoming an in-built resistance to Greer was rewarded with some fresh critical opinions, intelligently written
  4. JD Bernal, The World, The Flesh and the Devil *** some potentially useful philosophy on the past, present and future in amongst some fairly whacky meandering
  5. William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost ** my least favourite play so far.  I’ll probably only read it again if I revisit my Shakespeare read-through
  6. John Drakasis (ed.), Alternative Shakespeares **** a decent read, although perhaps too much of it was spent engaging with other critics viewpoints as opposed to the texts themselves
  7. William Shakespeare, A Midsummer NIght’s Dream **** I think I enjoyed this more than i thought I would, with a more critical hat on.  My first post-uni re-read of my first ever Shakespeare play
  8. Thomas Cogswell,  James I:  The Phoenix King *** interesting and well-written biography from Penguin Monarchs
  9. Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto **** always worth an occasional re-read, to add some edge to readings of the primary works
  10. AF Scott, Witch, Spirit, Devil **** this was a fascinating account that informed my knowledge of early modern superstitions
  11. William Shakespeare, King Richard II ***** an old favourite reappraised under the lens of the PonyTail Shakespeare project
  12. Matthew Beaumont, Nightwalking:  A Nocturnal History of London ****although this took in more than the EMP, it was full of interest and revealing detail
  13. Thomas B Macaulay, The History of England, 1485-1685 ***** I loved Macaulay’s rich, fruity writing style and his unabashed bias against various historical figures
  14. Helen Castor, Elizabeth I:  A Study in Insecurity **** Helen Castor produced a pithy biography for the Penguin Monarch’s series
  15. Michael Bogdanov, Shakespeare: The Director’s Cut ***** My favourite Shakespeare book of the year.  Fresh and challenging.
  16. Niccòlo Machiavelli:  Il Principe (The Prince) **** really thought-provoking, in the context particularly of the History plays and the Tragedies
  17. Stephen Greenblatt, Tyrant:  Shakespeare on Power **** the first half a wonderful satire on Donald Trump, but fell away towards the end
  18. Charles Nichol, The Reckoning:  The Murder of Christopher Marlowe *****  a forensic, careful examination of the seedy side of Marlowe’s life and death
  19. Brinda Charry, The Arden Guide to Renaissance Drama ***** a go-to volume for anyone studying a range of EMP at university level
  20. Kirk Melnikoff (ed), Edward II: A Critical Reader ***** an excellent in-depth resource, not least when it comes to critical adaptations of the play
  21. Jonathan Bate, The Genius of Shakespeare *****  erudite but very accessible search for what exactly makes Shakespeare so good, with an excellent chapter on the debt owed to Christopher Marlowe
  22. Annaliese Connolly, Richard III: A Critical Reader ***** I enjoyed the way this got stuck into the political nature of the play
  23. Lawrence Danson:  Shakespeare’s Dramatic Genres **** this work usefully examined the works as evolutions of existing traditions, rather than sticking to didactic categorisation


  • it’s a toss-up between Bogdanov and Bate: the former deals with the stories, the latter with the writing.  I’ll call it, narrowly, for Bate …


  • go for Nick Harkaway‘s Gnomon – a dizzying mix of Cloud Atlas and Terry Pratchett (GNU)


  • Neil Postman‘s Amusing Ourselves to Death is as prescient and relevant in the internet age as it was on publication, with it’s devastating critique on the effect of television on our cognitive abilities

Maybe foolishly, I have set myself a Goodreads target of 26 EMP titles this year, Primary and Secondary works …



[a] http://www.opensourceshakespeare.org


Author: Boar's Head, Eastcheap

Hyperactive English Teacher and Tutor; Shakespeare-obsessed 'Villainous abominable misleader of youth'; 'old white-bearded Satan'; Friend of the Orangutan

5 thoughts on “2018: Shakespeare’s Lepidopterist”

    1. Hi, Stella, thanks for checking in. The Bogdanov and Bate are very different books, but both well worth reading – one thing that came through very clearly was both authors’ enthusiasm and knowledge, in both cases it was infectious. Let me know if you read either, won’t you – or if there’s something I ought to buy and read ASAP!


  1. Here in the states, it always amazes me how much we misunderstand Marx and Engels and how much Lenin, Stalin, Mao, etc. basically bastardized communism as stated by M&E to fit their own agendas towards dictatorships. All the while the writings of Mussolini are ignored and most people here do not recognize/understand the differences between economic structures that affect our social structures.

    Liked by 1 person

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