As we all know so well, this year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, which is being commemorated all over the world. No book could better illustrate his influence than this month’s top pick Shakespeare in Swahililand: adventures with the ever-living poet. Also featured are two volumes of New Zealand poetry, a book on the importance of reading even when time-pressed, and two graduation speeches which attracted world-wide attention.
Shakespeare in Swahililand : adventures with the ever-living poet / Edward Wilson-Lee.
“Shakespeare in Swahihiland explores the Bard’s global legacy like no other book before it. In these pages explorers stagger through Africa’s interior accompanied by Shakespeare; eccentrics live out their dreams on the African savannah with Shakespeare by their side; decadent emigres, railway labourers, Indian settler communities, all turned to Shakespeare and adapted his plays to fit their needs. The book examines how Shakespeare influenced the first African leaders of independent nations, Cold War intrigues and even Che Guevara.” (Syndetics summary)
Poems that make grown women cry / edited by Anthony and Ben Holden.
“Following the success of their anthology Poems That Make Grown Men Cry, father-and-son team Anthony and Ben Holden, working with Amnesty International, have asked the same revealing question of 100 remarkable women. What poem has moved you to tears? The poems chosen range from the eighth century to today, from Rumi and Shakespeare to Sylvia Plath, W.H. Auden to Carol Ann Duffy, Pablo Neruda and Derek Walcott to Imtiaz Dharker and Warsan Shire. Their themes range from love and loss, through mortality and mystery, war and peace, to the beauty and variety of nature.” (Syndetics summary)
Pleasures of nature : a literary anthology / selected by Christina Hardyment.
“From Leonardo da Vinci on the shifting colors of the sky to Charlotte Brontë on the wild moors of Yorkshire, and from DH Lawrence inhabiting the mind of the indomitable tortoise to the intrepid Isabella Bird climbing a Hawaiian volcano, the anthology showcases many voices–lyrical, awestruck, often deeply reflective. The texts gathered here, many accompanied by rarely seen artwork from early editions, are all grounded in close observation and real love of the landscape, and reveal the tradition of nature writing to be deep-rooted and infinitely varied.” (Syndetics summary)
The Penguin book of English song : seven centuries of poetry from Chaucer to Auden / Richard Stokes.
“The Penguin Book of English Song anthologizes the work of 100 English poets who have inspired a host of different composers (some English, some not) to write vocal music. Each of the chapters, arranged chronologically from Chaucer to Auden, opens with a precis of the poet’s life, work and, often, approach to music. Richard Stokes’s notes and commentaries constantly illuminate the language and themes of the poems and their settings in unexpected ways. An awareness of how Ben Jonson based his famous poem ‘Drinke to me, only, with thine eyes’ on a Greek original, for example, increases our enjoyment of both the poem and the traditional song.” (Syndetics summary)
The year of reading dangerously : how fifty great books (and two not-so-great ones) saved my life / Andy Miller.
“A working father whose life no longer feels like his own discovers the transforming powers of great (and downright terrible) literature in this laugh-out-loud memoir. Andy Miller had a job he quite liked, a family he loved and no time at all for reading. Or so he kept telling himself. But, no matter how busy or tired he was, something kept niggling at him. Books. Books he’d always wanted to read. Books he’d said he’d read, when he hadn’t. Books that whispered the promise of escape from the 6.44.” (Syndetics summary)
This change in the light : a collection of poems / Fiona Kidman.
“Fiona Kidman’s exquisite and adroit poetry invites the reader into her life, introducing us to her family, friends and places she has loved. In turn it touches our own experiences, offering universal relevance and insight.” (Publisher information)
Show me a story! : why picture books matter : conversations with 21 of the world’s most celebrated illustrators / compiled and edited by Leonard S. Marcus ; with a foreword by David Wiesner.
“In compelling interviews by the acclaimed Leonard S. Marcus, twenty-one top authors and illustrators reveal their inside stories on the art of creating picture books. Max and Mickey; Miss Nelson; Pack, Quack, and Mrs. Mallard; Pigeon; Sylvester; John Henry; and a very hungry caterpillar — these are just a few of the beloved picture book characters discussed in Show Me a Story.” (Syndetics summary)
And so it is : new poems / Vincent O’Sullivan.
“Hot on the heels of Being Here, O’Sullivan’s capacious selected poems, which many chose as one of the poetry highlights of the year, comes a collection of 75 new poems. They show a mature poet, full of experience, still with the capacity to dazzle.” (Syndetics summary)
And two inspirational speeches:
Very good lives : the fringe benefits of failure and the importance of imagination / J. K. Rowling.
“In 2008, J.K. Rowling delivered a deeply affecting commencement speech at Harvard University. Now published for the first time in book form, VERY GOOD LIVES presents J.K. Rowling’s words of wisdom for anyone at a turning point in life. How can we embrace failure? And how can we use our imagination to better both ourselves and others? Drawing from stories of her own post-graduate years, the world famous author addresses some of life’s most important questions with acuity and emotional force.” (Syndetics summary)
Now go out there (and get curious) / Mary Karr.
““Being smart and rich are lucky, but being curious & compassionate will save your ass.” Every year there are one or two commencement speeches that strike a chord with audiences far greater than the student bodies for which they are intended. In 2015 Mary Karr’s speech to the graduating class of Syracuse University caught fire, hailed across the Internet as one of the most memorable in recent years, and lighting up the Twittersphere.” (Syndetics summary)