Posted by: montclairlibrary | April 23, 2016

Shakespeare’s birthday

6 Books that Retell Shakespeare, a list by the Friends of Montclair Library

Happy birthday to William Shakespeare, who, according to custom, was both born and died on April 23. Today marks the 400th anniversary of his death.

For an introduction to Shakespeare’s life and world, you can’t do better than Bill Bryson’s excellent Shakespeare: The World as Stage (BIO SHAKESPEA), an easy to read, entertaining and enlightening book, filled with Bryson’s trademark humor and eye for interesting minutiae.

However, as the Bard himself said, the play’s the thing. Shakespeare’s timeless plots and themes lend themselves to seemingly endless adapation. Which seems appropriate, since “Shakespeare himself was a notorious mooch who borrowed liberally from other people’s plots, raiding Greek tragedies and British
history as well as works by his rivals,” as Alexandra Alter put it in the New York Times.

Over the last few centuries, Shakespeare’s works have given rise to retellings, backstories of secondary characters from the plays, even Shakespeare himself as a character.

Here are 6 novels that spin Shakespeare’s eternal characters and storylines into modern settings:

The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson (FIC WINTERSON) – A modern retelling of Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” moves from London after the 2008 financial crisis to the storm-ravaged American city of New Bohemia, in a story of the destructive effect of jealousy and the redemptive power of love. Part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series of books being written by modern authors based on Shakespeare’s plays.

The Great Night by Chris Adrian (FIC ADRIAN – not at Montclair) –
On Midsummer’s Eve 2008, three people, each on the run from a failed relationship, become trapped in San Francisco’s Buena Vista Park, the secret home of Titania, Oberon, and their court in this take on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Titania has set loose an ancient menace, and the chaos that ensues threatens the lives of immortals and mortals alike.

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley (FIC SMILEY) – “A successful Iowa farmer decides to divide his farm between his three daughters. When the youngest objects, she is cut out of his will. This sets off a chain of events that brings dark truths to light and explodes long-suppressed emotions. An ambitious reimagining of Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear‘ cast upon a typical American community in the late twentieth century, A Thousand Acres takes on themes of truth, justice, love, and pride, and reveals the beautiful yet treacherous topography of humanity.” (Amazon)

Juliet: A Novel by Anne Fortier (FIC FORTIER) – When Julie Jacobs leaves for Italy per the instructions of her late aunt’s will, she never imagines that she’ll be thrust into a centuries-old feud, not to mention one of the most legendary romances of all time, in this centuries-spanning story inspired by “Romeo & Juliet.”

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski (FIC WROBLEWSK) – “Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet‘ provides the foundation for Wroblewski’s…compelling coming-of-age-tale set in 1970s Wisconsin. Edgar, a mute boy who helps his parents run their dog-breeding business, has a remarkable ability to bond with and train canines….[When his father] dies under mysterious circumstances,…Edgar feels certain that his uncle is somehow responsible.” (BookPage)

The Madness of Love by Katharine Davies (FIC DAVIES – not at Montclair) – Inspired by “Twelfth Night.” “Think Shakespeare but with bookstore clerks, English teachers, and gardeners. Katherine Davies weaves together the lives of these enchanting characters in a hilarious, mischievous, and romantic novel about a woman trying to get over the loss of her brother by masquerading as an entirely new man, a man trying to win the love of a woman he’s lost, and the love triangles that ensue.” (

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