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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!

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50 Comments Post a comment
  1. Clearly, that’s why you’re anti-Kindle. You want an e-reader that gets thicker, heavier, and more unwieldy based on how many books are in it.

    Liked by 1 person

    June 14, 2012
    • Ah yes. Why must e-readers be so thin and discreet?

      Like

      June 14, 2012
  2. I read the post carefully, to be sure the word “wholeheartedly” applied. It does, I agree with you. My books are currently in the attic and people are not invited to see them for the sake of seeing them. Rarely invited into the attic at all tbh. An event years ago pointed me towords reading what I found “good” or enjoyable. As for being a tool? I do not believe it from what I have read – no more than any of us are. We have employed many different approaches to impress those we wanted close to us. Faint heart never won fair lady was what my motther said (faint heart never won fair tart was what my father once said). As for opposing opinions, let us be happy with being judged by our enemies. Still havn’t found Gatsby yet.

    Like

    June 14, 2012
  3. “We read crap we don’t want to read just to say we’ve read it.”
    That made me laugh out loud because that is so me and sometimes who I want to be. I want to find the time to read these great novels. I’ve saved various lists that define what great novels should be read thinking some day I’ll get to those. I think I’ll go delete those and read whatever I think is cool. Thanks!

    Like

    June 14, 2012
  4. RFL #

    So true–just read! I love the Mean Green story.

    Like

    June 14, 2012
  5. I often find “the crap we don’t want to read” to be rather informative. It may be a bit of a slog, and others in the meantime may have said it better, but often these difficult books, Shakespeare included, are well-known because they embody some important observations about the human condition, and often say it quite well. I’m not sure they always provide the most enjoyable reading, and I’m not sure they’re necessary reading. But in many cases, they do provide us with a more balanced view of human nature, if we are really that interested in knowing.

    Liked by 1 person

    June 14, 2012
    • I think it’s just motive. If you’re reading to learn, then I think that’s fine. But it’s different if you’re reading the book just to appear cool or tell your friends all about it.

      Like

      June 14, 2012
      • Yep. If you want to appear cool, I can think of easier ways (and much less time-consuming ways) to do it than reading Falkner or Milton.

        Like

        June 14, 2012
    • I found another word I hate “tool.”

      Like

      February 25, 2015
  6. Way to go man 😉

    Like

    June 14, 2012
  7. bba #

    I will not sit idly by and listen to you disparage The Rodeo, sirrah!

    Best part is thinking the Shakespeare would impress her while it sat 3 feet away from your 24th season of NCAA Dynasty mode.

    Like

    June 14, 2012
    • That’s funny. Never a truer word spoken.

      Like

      June 14, 2012
    • My husband thinks Shakespeare needs a definative pig latin translation. Now that would be impressive on the coffee table.

      Like

      February 25, 2015
  8. still waiting to hear “the rest of the story”. was your future bride impressed by mean green? is that what sealed the deal of wedded bliss? how did she react when you confessed your “toolness”? are you still possession of said book?

    in my circle of friends, the fact that I read is unique enough…

    Like

    June 14, 2012
    • Haha. She wasn’t. She noticed it and thought it was kind of weird. Glad she overlooked my toolness, though. And, yes, I do still own said book. I tried to find it to take a photo for this post but couldn’t find it anywhere. Mean Green has disappeared somewhere.

      Like

      June 14, 2012
      • katiemacbruce #

        I would say that I was impressed! I was finishing up college and was not used to guys that read anything except Sport Illustrated. It definitely helped seal the deal! 🙂 And I never thought that he was a “tool”, just a book snob!

        Liked by 1 person

        June 14, 2012
        • I guess I’d rather be a book snob than a tool.

          Like

          June 14, 2012
  9. I know what you mean. I’ve got two book cases in my apartment. The case in my bedroom is full of those “popular” books I read–the Star Wars novels, the massive fantasy series (Wheel of Time et. al.), the World of Warcraft tie-in novels. But the case in the living room, the place visitors are sure to see, is full of the classics I own: My C.S. Lewis books, 1984, Red Badge of Courage, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Jungle, etc. On my mantelpiece, standing proudly next to my TV rest a modest stack of other classics: A dictionary printed in the early 1900’s, The Collected Works of Shakespeare, War and Peace (definitely only purchased so I could show it off, though I have listened to 2/3s of an audio version).

    Like

    June 14, 2012
    • Yes, don’t we all have a “showy bookshelf” to some degree?

      Like

      June 14, 2012
  10. Blair #

    Hahahaha, I bet Taco Bell was the perfect snack to have whilst reading Mean Green. Love it.

    Like

    June 14, 2012
  11. Nel #

    You mean Atticus Finch *wasn’t* an accountant?

    Like

    June 14, 2012
  12. In my early twenties I lived in Philadelphia, PA an urban microcosm of higher learning. Thus I read what every liberal, lost, and lusting for a cause disillusioned twenty-something read in the early nineties. Shakespeare, honestly I hope your wife saw through that and saw the cool Robert. I wasn’t that disillusioned.lol. Now, On the Road, by Kerouac or Howl by Ginsburg or Junky by Burroughs would convince me to sit down and hang out for awhile to banter for the hell of it. If you knew who Wakowski was or liked Bukowski (as close to God as I imagined) we might talk the night out of its darkness and perhaps invent a new star. If you ever watched the movie Basketball Diaries the chronicle of Jim Carroll’s early Catholic prep school years followed by the deterioration of…if you holy moses had a poetry book of his work or a diary he published, OMG. I think you probably are getting my point. One more: If you saw the movie Naked Lunch fashioned after Burroughs book Naked Lunch (which he used his cut and paste method that no one understood.)I’m still a person who writes creatively with a certain pinache of freedom in my style. No need to borrow from their generation, good God the sh*t is getting deeper and an ambassador for this time period (not politition),a writer, an artist, a truth teller, their pen is their sword type thing,always emerges. Gosh, sorry. Topic traitor here.

    Like

    June 14, 2012
  13. Great post! I totally agree! I used to feel like my choices in reading where inferior and there is still a slight twinge when I post a negative review of a book tons of people like. But the more I mature, the more I realize that it just doesn’t matter and the most important thing is to read for yourself and not worry what others think. It’s a good reminder.

    Like

    June 14, 2012
    • That’s right. I often find when you speak what you truly feel about something you’ll find a lot more people out there agree with you than what you thought.

      Like

      June 14, 2012
  14. Haha! I find that I have the opposite problem. When I first started dating my husband, I tried desperately to HIDE my gigantic Encyclopedia of Fantasy and Science Fiction along with a lot of other nerdy things I owned. He eventually found it, but by then he knew how much of a nerd I was. He still finds it odd, though.

    Loved this, and I totally agree. I work hard to convince myself to read what I want and not what I “should” all the time.

    Like

    June 14, 2012
  15. So is the need to be cool or hip the reason why people are reading “Fifty Shades of Grey” of “The Help?”

    Like

    June 14, 2012
  16. I had a boyfriend who tried to impress me with his knowledge of the bard, as I was an english major and taking a masters course in Shakespeare- I thought it was endearing

    Like

    June 14, 2012
  17. I enjoyed your blog. I glad she liked you anyway. My poor husband has put up with my reading everything in site for 53 yrs bless him.

    Like

    June 14, 2012
    • Haha. Thank you! My mom has been reading for that long and my dad has put up with it too! I got my love of reading from her for sure.

      Like

      June 14, 2012
  18. OMG, I had that book! Though mine was brown. I have to admit, despite its bulk, I loved its efficiency. You want Shakespeare? Here he is. ALL of him. Whatever you want, just open it up and you shall find it.

    And if anyone’s words deserve literal weight, it is Shakespeare’s, I suppose.

    Like

    June 14, 2012
    • Mean Red. I’ve read almost all of it. It stays on the shelf under my coffee table.

      Like

      February 25, 2015
  19. Your post got me thinking about books that we might carry around with us through life – I still have some of my university text books from 30 plus years ago (how sad). Complete sets of Graham Greene, Hardy, collected poems from the Romantics etc are yellowing in a box and periodically I look at them and think its time to discard them. But someone I can’t do it because hey I might actually want to read some of them again and you never know, I might enjoy/appreciate them second time around. (faint hope with Huxley and Virgina Woolf I suspect). Do any of you have books from a past life you can’t bear to part with??

    Liked by 1 person

    June 15, 2012
    • I still have my History of Architecture by Sir Bannister Fletcher. I cannot seem to part with the $260 price tag after 30 years…

      Like

      June 15, 2012
    • I have moved a lot and books I loved got lost on the way. However, a couple of weeks ago at my mother’s house I found the copy of Thomas Pynchon’s V. that I read in 1978. I look forward to reading it again.

      Like

      February 25, 2015
  20. Rachel #

    This doesn’t have anything to do with Shakespeare on the coffee table…at least not overtly. I saw this post called Texts from Scarlett and it made me think of your blog and how much you enjoyed (not) Gone with the Wind:

    http://thehairpin.com/2012/06/texts-from-scarlett-ohara

    I really enjoy your blog!

    Like

    June 15, 2012
  21. Love it – that’s why I don’t do challenges, reading is a freedom and I like to change my mind about what I’m going to read next, I like making decisions that aren’t influenced by anyone because it took me years to arrive at that place and now that I’m here I like it, no I love it!

    I bought the one book contains them all Shakespeare and have never read it. I’ve turned some pages here and there and when my Uncle was designing a King Richard the something film I had a quick look, so an interesting reference for contemporary purposes, but the world of today beckons and I’m enjoying living it . 🙂

    Like

    June 18, 2012
  22. Had to come back and share this article I was just sent a link to on Flavorpill These Are the Books That Make You Totally Undateable. You will be relieved to learn that Shakespeare doesn’t feature. 🙂 Clearly.

    Like

    June 18, 2012
  23. “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.quit trying to impress people with what you read—just go and read!” Preach on man! THAT was convicting! It’s sad that this is true, but oh well it is!

    Like

    June 18, 2012

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. feature it friday: chalkboard coffee table from Junk in the Trunk! « ipinterest
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