An enjoyable memoir of late-life crisis, spiritual awakening, close reading, and all sorts of matters Shakespearean.
This is, at heart, a fan’s notes on rereading the works of William Shakespeare, an unpretentious rejoinder to David Denby’s Great Books (1996) and the collected essays of Sven Birkerts. Before getting to the Bard, though, Gollob gives us an extended background tour of the book-publishing business in its glory days, with a little well-deserved horn-tooting; after all, he edited Wright Morris, Donald Barthelme, and James Clavell and worked in some of the best literary houses in the land. Leaving publishing in 1995 just in advance of burnout (“why was I being asked to consider yet another lame and halt manuscript that would have been better served had it been placed into the hands of a faith healer?”), Gollob chanced to see a performance of Hamlet featuring the British actor Ralph Fiennes, enough to send him on a mind-altering romp through the collected works of Shakespeare, bringing all his life experiences to bear on plays and poems that he thought he knew, but of which, as he puts it, he really had only “a smattering of ignorance.” The result is a true pleasure: bookish without being academic, smart without being smart-alecky, always with an eye on the original work and not on its interpreter’s cleverness. Gollob’s tone is that of an ardent convert addressing an audience of graybeards (the narrative has its origins in an Elderhostel course Gollob teaches at Caldwell College in New Jersey), a friendly companion urging the reader to share his passion for the Bard, with just a couple of crabby moments. (He hates the film Shakespeare in Love, for one, and isn’t afraid to say so.) Throughout, the author offers some refreshing takes on a writer who has been much studied but perhaps little understood; his reading of King Lear as a Jewish text is a knockout, and entirely convincing.
Good fun—and an inspiration for readers to return to Shakespeare on their own.