Shakespeare On The Coffee Table
When my wife and I were dating, I wanted to impress her with my scholarliness.
I owned this massive green, hardback book that included the entire work of Shakespeare. All of it. This thing was enormous. I don’t exaggerate when I say it weighed a few pounds. Each page must have been one-tenth the thickness of a normal page. The type was tiny.
After taking a 400 level Shakespeare class in college, I decided to keep “Mean Green,” as we affectionately called it, instead of selling it back because…you never know when I might need to beat an armed robber over the head with a little King Lear.
But a few years later, in the height of my bachelordom, I decided to pull Mean Green out of my bookcase and place it on the center of the coffee table in the den of my one-bedroom apartment.
So on one of those early dates with my future wife, I made sure the book was sitting on the coffee table, slightly off-center, and turned to a 45-degree angle. Nothing else was on the table. It was like a literary showpiece!
Oh, she’s going to be impressed, I thought. Yeah, that’s not GQ or People or Sports Illustrated on my coffee table, my dearest. That’s Shakespeare. That’s right. At night, I sit down and read Shakespeare just for kicks. You’re in the big time now, sweetheart.
My ragged SUV might not have air conditioning and smell like stale Taco Bell, and my wardrobe might consist of 17 t-shirts, 2 pairs of jeans, and 3 pairs of flip flops, but check it out—Shakespeare! On the coffee table!
What did I think she would say? “Oh, I just love a man who can quote Macbeth. That’s so dreamy. I wonder if he’s the president of a Shakespeare book club? Or maybe he’s the community manager of an online Shakespearean message board? Ooh, so sexy.”
What a cheeseball. I’d like to tell you that was a couple of decades ago, but it was only about eight years ago. I was such a tool.
But once a tool, always a tool, I guess. Somewhere in me still sits that desire to impress people with what I’m reading. I think a lot of us struggle with that to some degree.
We read crap we don’t want to read just to say we’ve read it. Or maybe we don’t read crap we don’t want to read, but we still say we’ve read it. We make sure we know what “the critics are saying” about a book before we develop our own opinion.
That’s twisted, isn’t it?
Isn’t the point of reading to stretch us intellectually and creatively, to take us beyond our own little world? Then how does it help us to lie about what we’ve read and exaggerate our interest in a topic (e.g. me and Shakespeare)?
All of that stems from just seeking approval, I think. But you’ll always have someone who disagrees with you, no matter what you say or how right you are. Sometimes I think I could say “Atticus Finch was a lawyer” and someone in the comments would say, “No! He was an accountant!”
For me, reading through this list has really helped me learn to develop my opinion and stand firm on it. It would be LITERALLY exhausting to keep up with the changing winds of popular opinion on all of these novels. You simply can’t please everyone.
So put the Shakespeare book away, unless you really are that into Bill that much. But if you are like me, quit trying to impress people with what you read—just go and read!