The Shakespeare Series (1-5), Charlaine Harris

Okay, I don’t know what I was thinking, trying to combine reading a series and watching the Olympics. I barely have enough brain power for my paid work during the rest of the year, but this combination was a doozy. I admit that I may have pushed a few deadlines off in order to get through these books while simultaneously watching less popular events like judo, whitewater canoeing, and the marathon (multitasking for the win!).

I actually found that the combination worked well together, although that wasn’t why I chose to read Harris’ oldest series when I did. In fact, I don’t even know what prompted me to buy the first one on my Kindle, although I remember that I did it while waiting for my husband to get out of work. It must have been a blend of having enjoyed her work in the past and having no access to my “to-read” list, but here I am, four days later with five more books read and a fervent wish that my library had a better selection of kindle titles so I didn’t have to slowly drain my wallet 7.99 at a time…

It’s clear that reading her book series from most recent to oldest was a solid choice on my part because Harris’ writing has improved drastically over the years. Her plots have become more nuanced than they are in the Shakespeare books, and she clearly learned to write a subtler heroine. What interested me most though, was that even in these simpler books, she writes a protagonist who is compelling enough to keep me coming back for more. This is no easy feat, especially when the character she’s working with is so damaged to begin with that she exists almost entirely outside of the lives of those in her own small town. Harris goes on to explore the idea of the outsider even more intensely in the Harper Connelly mysteries, and she has finessed both the idea and the genre by the time she starts writing about Sookie Stackhouse.

I haven’t read any of her stand alone novels, so I can’t compare them, but it’s been fascinating for me to see what she does with three female leads. It’s a toss-up whether Lily Bard or Harper is the more damaged heroine, but both of them make Sookie look positively blessed in comparison. Harris clearly is interested in how women, especially women with the odds stacked against them, manage to survive violence and become tough, honorable, and respected. I love this idea, of course, because women’s empowerment is always on the menu for me, but what has moved me after reading this most recent series is how dedicated she’s been to this idea.

In none of her books are her characters in positions of power. They aren’t cops or detectives, and Lily, at least, doesn’t even have a special power to give her an edge in solving the violent and mysterious crimes that happen around her. Of the three, Harper is the only one who is paid to come to examine crime scenes, and even she is often considered a fraud (a lightning strike at fifteen caused her to develop the ability to sense dead bodies and the cause of their death). Without a doubt, Sookie’s innate ability to sense the emotional state of those around her is my favorite twist, but she inhabits a world of vampires and werewolves, whereas the other two women exist in an ordinary world (or as ordinary as the small-town deep South can seem to a Northerner like me).

Lily is the most vulnerable of Harris’ protagonists, but she’s also the one who puts the most effort into being invincible, and I admire her for that. In fact, between reading about her work in strength training and karate, and watching the powerful women at the Olympics, I’ve discovered a renewed desire to become as physically strong as I can. Reading about Bard has reminded me of one of my favorite tenets about reading:

A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.
– Henry David Thoreau

Although Harris’ books surely have their faults, her characters inspire me to want to be more brave, clever, fearless, to be resilient in the face of the worst hardships, and to be kind even when the world has taught me that others won’t always be.

To learn  more about Charlaine Harris, go here.

18 thoughts on “The Shakespeare Series (1-5), Charlaine Harris

    1. Not according to NBC (typical time slot for whitewater anything in the Olympics, 3:30am)! However, since almost all of my favorite vacations have been whitewater rafting, I agree that if not exactly popular, whitewater sports are at least awesome ;)

      1. Yah, I’m a bit biased being Canadian. We are born in canoes afterall… (surprisingly we always lose in those sports though…). Yah, NBC has been getting some flak for those time slots, but here on the West Coast everything starts at 1am, so we just tape it and watch it later, or we watch the primetime coverage and just admit it isn’t fake-live. Plus it skips all the boring parts! But yah, not quite like watching it live…

        1. You guys got a gold in trampoline! That’s something! In fact, Google says you have 16 medals so far in these games, so get out that maple leaf flag and wave it proudly from your canoe!

          1. Yah, that was cool to see her get gold! We had a couple of other surprise wins (usually a bronze) and a few surprise defeats (we still usually got silver) but everyone is loving it up here. Last summer games we didn’t get a single medal in the first week, this time so different! Too bad about the women’s soccer though, but we’re happy with our bronze!

      1. I hated to see both this AND the Harper Connelly series end! I’ve read 2-3 of the Sookie Stackhouse books, but haven’t been sucked in yet.

        1. That’s amazing – I started those books and went through all of them in about a week and a half. I just got hooked! I love Sookie’s sense of practicality and humor (admittedly, it’s a bit different from either of Harris’ other protagonists). I love that she’s not angsty, even if she doesn’t always make the choices I would ;)

          1. I blame my lack of enthusiasm for the Sookie Stackhouse series on the Twilight books. :-P I ended up reading 3 of 4 in the series, trying to “get it.” Turned me off on vampires. Bleh. Now I’m reading _A Discovery of Witches_. Like the witchy stuff, but don’t care for the vampire elements. It’s nearly 600 pages, and I’m a little more than half way through. Hope I can finish. :o)

  1. This post is unashamedly nothing to do with the bard (I do mention him in a comment I will post later) but

    Today (2012-08-13;Mon) is apparently International Left-handers’ Day (:-

    I am a few hours ahead of your blog date (maybe you can move this comment to whatever you write for today, or leave a reply asking me to repost it), and since I heard the above on my 06:30 radio wake-up call I thought I would pen a few words along these lines, but one thing led to the next …..

    In view of the physiological finding that the left hand is controller primarily by the right half of the brain, and vice versa for the right hand, we have the following corollaries

    Left-handers are in their right mind.
    Lefties have rights too.

    Are you left-handed? What about left-brain dominant? Left out? Left over?

    The left hemisphere of the brain seems to be the verbal genius, the logician, the part that focuses on the individual phenomenon. The left brain is the researcher, the mathematician, the scientist who looks to cause and effect. The right brain gets the credit for the opposite traits: not irrational or illogical, but nonrational or nonlogical. The right brain is the domain of intuition and holistic thinking, where the dreamer and the artist dwell, where creativity rules.

    I interviewed about 16 people recently. It was fascinating looking at what they did with their hands, and how they held their head position, during questions with which they felt confident or uncomfortable. (This data did go into my interview notes, together with the full set of panel assessments, as I had the opportunity to evaluate the interviewers at the same time too.)

    I must be a difficult interviewer, I have been strongly influenced by the other supposed emotional give-away, what you do with your eyes.
    I haven’t googled the claims below yet (they were separate sources I seem to remember), but I am inclined to believe they are true :-

    If you maintain eye contact with someone for 95% of the time, you are romantically attracted to them.
    A giveaway of aggression is 100% eye contact.

    I have always been very comfortable with protracted eye contact, but after finding out the above, I am now very careful to hold an unflinching gaze with male subjects, never to drop anywhere near the 95% mark. With women, I really don’t know if I do drop to 95%, but whatever the case, I guess this makes it difficult for interview subjects (interviewers too, for I do exactly the same when I am in the hotseat).

    “The test of first rate of intelligence is the ability to hold two opposite ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

    Yes please, put me down for that! F.F. also coined that most wonderfully passionate phrase, “Caressed by words”. Oh yeah, he also wrote “A road less travelled” I think, didn’t get to that – wonder if Gutenberg carry it. Maybe I should.

    Sorry to digress from left-handed day above, it’s a case of severe Olympic Game hangover and withdrawal symptoms already, but hey, help is in sight. There are only 1453 days to go to the next Olympics :-

    http:__www.rio2016.com_en 5-21 AUGUST 2016

    and the event schedule is already available here :-

    (I am being careful with URLs after my previous experience, replace _ with /)

    Interesting to see that swimming and athletics (my two favourite events) are in the same relative positions to the opening and closing ceremonies as the current games.I

    1. I remember in a play writing class, we once did an exercise where we were each assigned a level of agression and told to display that level with a certain amount of eye contact. Then we walked around and interacted with each other for about ten minutes, and afterward, the professor asked us about the experience. Those who were most agressive (and had made the most eye contact) dominated the conversation, even though many of them were quieter students in general. It was obvious that even pretending to be one way or another had an effect. The point of the exercise was to stretch us to write characters outside of our own natural comfort zone; I thought it was an interesting way to get us thinking outside the box at the very least!

      1. You must have seen the comfort zone effect creep into books – the author embeds part of their own personality, and life’s experiences, into one or more of the characters. And then further embellishes characters with how they would like to see themselves (Ian Fleming being a perfect example of this).

        Regarding the “fierce eyes” exercise you describe above, did your prof. qualify his instructions about level of aggression with a prescribed level of eye contact? There is a might small distance between 100% and 95% eye contact, so if the 95% rule (above) has even an iota of truth to it, there could be some unexpected results indeed.

        There was a related experiment (on a Discovery Science TV programme if my memory serves me) where subjects had to hold a pen sideways in their lips, drawing their expression into an involuntary smile. It apparently made the subjects register more amusement than expected at pretty weak jokes.

        1. I can’t remember whether or not he talked about what the experiment would prove before we did it. My gut says he did, because I remember being surprised that it could work even if you knew what was supposed to be happening, but that might be my memory playing tricks!

  2. Wow, I’ve never even heard of these, but they sound good :) Plus Shakespeare is kind of my thing – (Shameless self-promotion, I know, but I really did enjoy it!)

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