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Shakespeare & Beyond

New Ideas for Summer Reading

hand holding a flower
hand holding a flower

As the long, sunlit days of summer arrive, most lovers of reading look forward to enjoying recent or new books. Whether book lovers are on vacation or at home, the season can be a refreshing, reviving time for exploring the works of different authors as well as catching up with old favorites. This year, of course, we are also hoping that you will spend some of that time, if you happen to be in the Washington, DC, area, at the Folger Shakespeare Library, which is reopening on June 21 after a four-year renovation. With two new exhibition halls, the Folger is displaying more of its collection than ever before, including numerous rare and stunning books and its most famous holding: 82 copies of the 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare. (If you come, we encourage you to reserve a timed-entry pass in advance, so you can be sure to enter at a time of your choosing.)

But when it comes to your summer reading, where to begin? The world’s publishers offer an unending abundance of books—both fiction and nonfiction—that are about or inspired by Shakespeare, his works, his world, and other related topics. To help you find what might appeal to you, our Folger website includes a wealth of online resources on recent books, from this blog to the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast to our virtual Folger Book Club. While all three resources cover the current crop of Shakespeare books, the Folger website includes their previous content, too, adding still more alternatives. To sort through these options and offer a few highlights, we will be sharing some ideas and resources in our “Summer Reading” series.

“Off the Shelf” book excerpts

Some posts on this blog offer the simplest guidance of all—short sections from different books that let you check them out for yourself. Just look for blog posts with the tag “Off the Shelf.”

Book covers for Julius Caesar and Me by Paterson Joseph, A Fine Madness (a Christopher Marlowe mystery) by Alan Judd, The Oxford Handbook of Shakespere and Race, Shakespeare and Latinidad, and Hunting the Falcon: Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, and the Marriage that Shook Europe

Find the “Off the Shelf” book excerpts for the volumes above here: Julius Caesar and Me: Exploring Shakespeare’s African Play; A Fine Madness (A Christopher Marlowe Murder Mystery); The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Race; Shakespeare and Latinidad; and Hunting the Falcon: Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, and the Marriage That Shook Europe.

These posts include self-contained excerpts from an incredible range of books. The books we have excerpted include cookbooks, histories, memoirs by actors, directors, or scholars, profiles of well-known or less familiar figures, and more. And some, of course, defy every category—including, back in 2022, Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Avengers: The Complete Works.

Keep an eye out as we share additional book excerpts, or look through the more than 100 “Off the Shelf” blog posts to date, which include a few bonus posts that explore books from other perspectives, too.

Author interviews

Listen as well for our frequent interviews with authors on the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast, represented online by more than 200 past episodes; transcripts are also provided. These include interviews with actors, directors, and others who have published their memoirs and other authors, too: scholars, researchers, historians, novelists, essayists, and more, including a number of young adult (YA) novelists. Some recent author interviews are listed below.

We often like to tackle a new book from two angles at once—sharing an excerpt and also publishing an in-depth interview with the author on the podcast. We recently did just that for Judi Dench’s new book Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays the Rent, which is both the subject of our interview with her on Shakespeare Unlimited and an excerpt on this blog, which tells the story of Dench’s take on Viola from Twelfth Night.

Book cover for

Recent Shakespeare Unlimited interviews you might enjoy

Michelle Ephraim on Discovering Shakespeare and Reevaluating The Merchant of Venice
Shakespeare Unlimited

Michelle Ephraim on Discovering Shakespeare and Reevaluating The Merchant of Venice

Posted

Michelle Ephraim’s memoir Green World refracts The Merchant of Venice through the changing dynamics of her own family, as her Holocaust-survivor parents age and she becomes a mother herself.

Isabelle Schuler on Lady Macbeth and Queen Hereafter
Shakespeare Unlimited

Isabelle Schuler on Lady Macbeth and Queen Hereafter

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Isabelle Schuler tells us about her new novel, Queen Hereafter.

Patrick Stewart on a Life Shaped by Shakespeare
Shakespeare Unlimited

Patrick Stewart on a Life Shaped by Shakespeare

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We talk to Sir Patrick Stewart about his Yorkshire youth, auditioning for the RSC, and his most famous roles on the stage and screen.

Isabella Hammad on Enter Ghost
Shakespeare Unlimited

Isabella Hammad on Enter Ghost

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A Palestinian production of Hamlet in the West Bank is the backdrop for Isabella Hammad’s new novel, Enter Ghost.

Mat Osman's The Ghost Theatre Imagines the Lives of Elizabethan London's Child Actors
Shakespeare Unlimited

Mat Osman's The Ghost Theatre Imagines the Lives of Elizabethan London's Child Actors

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The novelist and Suede bass player takes us flying over the rooftops of Elizabethan London and down into the gritty lives of its child actors.

Margo Hendricks on Shakespeare, Race, and Romance
Shakespeare Unlimited

Margo Hendricks on Shakespeare, Race, and Romance

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Margo Hendricks joins us for a wide-ranging conversation about her research in pre-modern race studies and her romance and mystery novels.

Virtual Folger Book Club

If you have an interest in recent novels and sharing ideas with others, consider our in-depth and extremely engaging virtual Folger Book Club. The book club offers monthly selections with discussions on Zoom and supplemental materials related to the Folger collection. It also partners with local book stores. This Tuesday, the Folger Book Club announced the fall season for next year’s book list, including works by Geraldine Brooks, Edward Carey, Nisha Sharma, and Leigh Bardugo. It all begins in August with Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton, a gripping psychological thriller from the Booker Prize–winning author of The Luminaries, inspired by Macbeth. Registration begins on July 9.

The Folger Book Club’s selections are generally linked to the Folger collection, which not only explores Shakespeare’s life and works, but also the plays’ historical context, sources, critical and performance histories, how they inspire and are adapted by contemporary novelists, and much more. This allows the club to share and discuss a wide range of extraordinary works, such as Yaa Gyasi’s 2016 novel Homegoing, a story that spans generations.

We hope these online tools—and this online Summer Reading series—give you some interesting and fun ideas. And in the meantime, whichever books you decide to read and whether or not you spotted them here, we wish you a wonderful summer of reading. There’s nothing else quite like it.