After a four day weekend, it's back to the salt mines today. But these beauties are waiting for me to come home to them!
Have a good week, everyone.
Just as Larry Newton, one of the most notorious inmates at Indiana Federal Prison, was trying to break out of jail, Dr. Laura Bates was trying to break in. She had created the world’s first Shakespeare class in supermax – the solitary confinement unit.
Many people told Laura that maximum-security prisoners are “beyond rehabilitation." But Laura wanted to find out for herself. She started with the prison's most notorious inmate: Larry Newton. When he was 17 years old, Larry was indicted for murder and sentenced to life with no possibility of parole. When he met Laura, he had been in isolation for 10 years.
Larry had never heard of Shakespeare. But in the characters he read, he recognized himself.
In this profound illustration of the enduring lessons of Shakespeare through the ten-year relationship of Bates and Newton, an amazing testament to the power of literature emerges. But it's not just the prisoners who are transformed. It is a starkly engaging tale, one that will be embraced by anyone who has ever been changed by a book.
My inspiration to read this book was Margaret Atwood’s fiction Hag-Seed (and secondarily The Heart Goes Last), as well as a memoir by former prisoner, Stephen Reid (A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden). Additionally, I had just finished If We Were Villains, in which Shakespearean plays may have played a role in sending the main character to prison, the very opposite of this memoir.
Now, I am predisposed to enjoy a memoir of the redemptive value of literature, particularly Shakespeare, for whom I have an abiding love. Add to that the fact that I have considered doing literacy work with prisoners (although I have not yet taken the plunge) and I appreciated Laura Bates’ description of the perils and the pluses of doing such work.
This is real-life, not fiction, so I didn’t get exactly the story that I hoped for. There is no ending, really, because Larry Newton will never get out of prison. All projects must come to an end eventually, and the author is no longer teaching Shakespeare to prisoners. Still, it was very readable and inspirational. If nothing else, I am encouraged to study the works of the Bard more closely myself.
Enter the players. There were seven of us then, seven bright young things with wide precious futures ahead of us. Until that year, we saw no further than the books in front of our faces.
On the day Oliver Marks is released from jail, the man who put him there is waiting at the door. Detective Colborne wants to know the truth, and after ten years, Oliver is finally ready to tell it.
Ten years ago: Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extra. But in their fourth and final year, the balance of power begins to shift, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students’ world of make believe. In the morning, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent.
Part coming-of-age story, part confession, If We Were Villains explores the magical and dangerous boundary between art and life. In this tale of loyalty and betrayal, madness and ecstasy, the players must choose what roles to play before the curtain falls.
Wow, that was a first novel? For me, it was perfection. A good twisty mystery, lots of Shakespeare, and THAT ENDING.
Dellecher Classical Conservatory is like Hogwarts for Arts students and this novel focuses on the fourth year Drama students. They’ve been marinating in Shakespearean drama for four years and have maybe absorbed more than they think. The narrator, Oliver, is most often cast as a supporting character and the others agree that he is a giving actor and a giving person. Despite that, the reader realizes that he seems to be pretty clueless—not very observant, he makes some of his most important realizations during performances of the Shakespearean tragedies.
The little that we see of Oliver’s family indicates that there is something desperately wrong—Oliver doesn’t want to go home to them and can hardly wait to leave. One of his sisters has a serious eating disorder and Oliver resents that his family can’t pay for her treatment AND his tuition. There is a serious attitude of entitlement, not only in Oliver, but in all of these students. I didn’t like a single one of them, but I loved the story!
I would love to be able to conduct conversations in Shakespeare quotes! That level of expertise in the plays would delight me. If nothing else, this book has certainly inspired me to continue with my project to see all of Shakespeare’s plays.
So, I am once again overwhelmed with library books and I have to get cracking!
I should be finished If We Were Villains in one more evening, if the cat lets me and I can stay awake. (Mr. Cat leaped on me in bed this morning at 5:45 a.m. to let me know he was ready for me to get up. And he'd been such a polite bed-partner until then).
Maid of the North is an interlibrary loan which can't be renewed, but it reads fast. I will finish it this weekend for sure. Same thing with The Vampire Defanged.
Shadow Games has been put on hold far too frequently and I really want to finish it up quickly, too.
Then the next 2 library books to tackle are Shakespeare Saved My Life and The Three Musketeers. I've renewed them both on at least a couple of occasions and I'll soon not be able to renew again. Gotta get cracking!
My mission is clear.