Of all the themes we’ve been reading together for this year’s Reading Challenge, so far I’ve been most excited about planning April’s–poems and plays. April is national poetry month, and it’s also the birth month of William Shakespeare, the greatest playwright in English literature. That’s why I selected this theme for our 2018 reading journey! I’ve got a huge list of about 30 books on Amazon to share with you, but first I thought I’d break down the poets and plays I included on the list here so you know how to shop for the month ahead.
Books on Reading/Writing Poetry:
- A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver: I found this book incredibly useful as a teacher and as an aspiring poet. If you don’t remember anything about poetry from your English classes, this short manual will be a great re-introduction.
- The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry: A funnier, lighter introduction to poetry that will get you writing with some fun exercises in rhythm and meter.
Looking for some good, old poems?
- Try Homer’s Odyssey, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Shakespeare’s sonnets, or John Donne’s poetry–especially his holy sonnets.
In the mood for romance?
- Try an anthology of romantic poetry from Keats to Coleridge and everyone in between. An anthology will be the best way to hit the high points of this literary movement.
Aiming something for a little more recent, but not quite modern?
- I love Yeats for Irish poetry, Whitman for American sensibilities, and Gerard Manley Hopkins for a unique sense of rhythm and sound.
Old poetry just not doing it for you? Here are some of my favorite modern poets:
- Wendell Berry tops the list because of his nature poems and his calming language. I love all of his work, but I especially enjoy his sabbath poems, all written on Sundays.
- Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time, also dabbled in poetry, and her poems are interesting in form and topic.
- Billy Collins is the king of accessible poetry, and you can’t go wrong with any of his collections.
- Mary Oliver has an eye for detail in her poetry that many modern poets don’t. I love her work! If you’re a dog person, you can’t miss Dog Songs, which is the perfect poetic depiction of what it’s like to own and love a dog.
When it comes to plays, you know my favorite playwright of all time is William Shakespeare–that’s why most of the books I’ve mentioned below relate to his life or works. But if you’re really tired of The Bard, keep scrolling, because I’ve got some other suggestions just for you!
Reading and Understanding Shakespeare:
- Shakespeare by Bill Bryson: This short, excellently-written biography of Shakey is the best place to start if you’re new to his works. Bryson’s sense of humor will help you through the historical bits.
- Shakespeare Basics for Grown-ups: Sort of like a Sparknotes for adults, this book will walk you through everything you might have missed about Shakespeare in your high school and college English classes.
- How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig: This book is an excellent primer on memorizing Shakespeare. Though the title says “children,” it’s good for adults, too!
Miss Cook’s Top Five Plays by William Shakespeare:
- Don’t worry, there will be a blog post coming your way about this topic, but if you want a jump start, here are the five Shakespeare plays I think everyone should read–in the correct order:
- Romeo and Juliet
- Twelfth Night
- Henry V
Other Plays You Might Enjoy:
- The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde: Lighthearted and funny, with miscommunication and misperceptions being the name of the game.
- Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw: Looking for the source text of My Fair Lady? You found it with this British classic.
- W;t by Margaret Edson: Pulitzer Prize winning play that pairs nicely with John Donne’s Holy Sonnets.
- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard: Hamlet spin-off meets Waiting for Godot absurditiy. Try this one if you’re not a fan of Shakespeare or if you want to see his works reimagined.
You can shop everything I’ve mentioned here and more on Amazon, just use this link to access the entire list. I hope there’s something fun on this list for you to enjoy! Let me know which poets and playwrights you’ll be reading this month–I can’t wait to hear.
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