I've just been introduced to a new (to me) book on Shakespeare... The clearest, most concise, and most pleasurable such I've come across. A good starting place for anyone interested in the man behind the words: Shakespeare by Bill Bryson.
I particularly like the sanityof his discussion of much-argued-over aspects of the Bard, like"Was Shakespeare really Shakespeare?" (I fought this battle with a relative every Christmas until we agreed to hang up our arguments unresolved.) There's a great review of Bryson's book at Shakespeare Geek. Here I'll quote Shakespeare Geek, quoting Bryson: "There's no evidence that Shakespeare owned any books!" is countered with "Then he must not have owned any pants, because there's no evidence of that either!" There's something wonderfully sensible and funny about that pants rebuttal - sense and humor fill Bryson's Shakespeare.
Other Bard books? Here's the short stack from my library, filed under "S" for "Swan of Avon":
Shakespeare After All by Marjorie Garber, which talks about the life-n-times and scholarly arguments, then goes through each play, discussing, among other things, difficulties for directors in interpretation.
Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human by Harold Bloom. Bloom is a literary scholarship freight train... plowing his way, heavily laden, through miles literary debate. I suspect he's a bit old fashioned now in his own interpretations, but tough to argue with the 2:20 Express, ya know? Interesting, opinionated reading.
The Friendly Shakespeare by Norrie Epstein. All things Bardish in quick, quippy sections with illustrations. Fun and informative.
Exit Pursued by a Bear by Louise McConnell. A companion volume where you can look up terms, actors, facts. Handy reference. (And great title! Also the a title for a new play Kitchen Dog Theater just Read... earlier post here.)
Will In The World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt. Best described as a speculative or fictional biography - in fact, there's so little documented of the real Shakespeare and so much, um, interpolated here, let's just call it a novel, huh? A fun read that gives a feel for the period. As likely to be strictly accurate as the film Shakespeare in Love. Both are fun though.