Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Taking What I Like - Linda Bamber

Taking What I Like
Today marks new territory for me! Taking What I Like by Linda Bamber might be the first book of short stories I have ever read - at least in my adult life.

It seems crazy, I know, but I have always been drawn to full length novels. Being the sucker for character development that I am, short stories sometimes irritate me; they leave me wanting more information on the characters' journeys.

That being said, when I received the opportunity to read Bamber's collection, I hesitated initially. The concept interested me, but I wasn't sure I could overcome my indifference to the medium. In the end, I obviously decided to give it a try. I figured it was about time I gave short stories a real chance.

Taking What I Like was initially described to me as "eight short stories that playfully respond to and reinterpret classics." As you know, I am all about the classics lately. Bamber's stories focus mainly on Shakespeare, although she swings briefly by Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and also the artist Thomas Eakins.

Some stories focus on characters of Bamber's own creation. In my favorite story, perhaps because I can relate to is so well, a college professor laments teaching Jane Eyre to yet another cohort of students. In another, an actress works issues while playing Henry IV. Bamber spends a great deal of time representing Shakespeare characters. Some stories and unique retellings of Shakespeare's plays. Others place his characters into new situations. For instance, the opening story finds the cast of Othello serving as the English department of a northeastern college.

I found Bamber's approach to these characters and stories refreshing. She has created something thoroughly unique. She has clearly put much thought into the motivations of Shakespeare's stars. Her own experience as a professor shines through with several stories set in the academic world. She did a great job gradually giving her reader the information they needed about the original work, just in case they were unfamiliar with it or needed a refresher at times (like I did).

I had the unique experience to do a short Q&A with Bamber about the book. Thanks to Trish at TLC Book Tours for coordinating that!

Q & A with Linda Bamber

RWR: Taking What I Like is so unique. Where did you find the inspiration for this book?
LB: My mission in life seems to be to show other people some piece of art or literature  I love and say, Look at that!  Is that fabulous or what?  That's what I do when I teach, but as a scholar I wasn't able to.  So I began writing these stories, taking what I liked from Shakespeare (and others) and putting it in a context where it would shine.  My favorite comment, and one I hear with some frequency, is, "I can't wait to re-read that play!"

RWR: Several of your stories revolve around academic life, particularly from the professor's perspective. If you had a job in a department populated with literary characters, Shakespearean or not, who would you want to work with?
LB: What's most important to me about  a colleague is whether or not I can recommend him or her to students at registration time; but of course congeniality is also a consideration.  I think Rosalind (As You Like It) would be a great teacher and seriously fun to have around.  Hamlet would also be great, but he might not show up for office hours.  Henry V would excel in a big lecture course, which I do not.  Prospero (The Tempest) would be a wonderful teacher if he were willing to teach.  He's more comfortable controlling huge psychic and historical forces, renouncing things and talking to Ariel.  Iago is super-smart, but, as I say in "Casting Call," a slime-bucket, so not him.

RWR: Taking What I Like draws from many of Shakespeare's plays. What made you choose the ones you did (Othello, the history plays, etc.), rather than some of the more "classic" options (Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, etc.)?
LB: I did write a story about The Tempest . . . in fact, that's where this all began;  but I thought the plot was weak, so I left it out.  Romeo and Juliet is a bit overexposed, in my opinion.  Hamlet and Othello, both very well known, are included.

My scholarly book on Shakespeare, Comic Women, Tragic Men, was a discussion of gender and genre, and systematically dealt with the genres Shakespeare used:  comedy, tragedy, history and something called "romance" (which has nothing to do with romantic love).  When I found myself writing these Shakespeare stories, I decided to go through all four genres as a sort of update or echo of that book.  You could call it a private joke.  As You Like It is my favorite of Shakespeare's comedies (along with A Midsummer Night's Dream) and Richard II  is my favorite of the history plays, so I focused on those.

RWR: What is your favorite piece in the book?
LB: I seem to like whatever my latest reader has most vigorously praised (while feeling slightly unhappy she or he hasn't also mentioned the rest.)  But . . . sometimes I favor "Cleopatra and Antony."

RWR: Not including your own work, do you have a book recommendation for myself and my readers?
LB: Ben Fountain's novel, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is brilliant, laugh-out-loud funny and the last word on the Iraq war.  Amazing writing; fierce and absorbing.

Thanks so much to Linda Bamber for taking time to answer my questions! It adds so much to have the author's perspective on their work. If you want to learn more about Bamber, check out her website.

Taking What I Like was a great reintroduction to short stories for me. Bamber's work is simultaneously fun and carefully crafted. If you enjoy Shakespeare or creative retellings of old stories, you will certainly enjoy this book.

Pages: 256
Date Completed: January 1, 2014

*to read others' thoughts on Taking What I Like, check out the full tour schedule*


  1. I love her inspiration behind these stories! Thanks for doing the interview and for being a part of the tour.

  2. Thanks for saying the stories are both fun and well-made! I'm glad you were willing to try short fiction, a genre I love because if emphasizes form, structure and shape.

    I'm curious what you found to relate to in the "Jane Eyre" story. Do you have experience teaching?

    All the best, Linda

    1. I do, actually! I teach an Intro to Humanities course at the university I graduated from. I love it and am headed back to school for my master's so I can keep teaching. As much as I love it now, I can easily see my future in "Jane Eyre."

    2. No, no . . . I still love teaching! Do get your master's and I hope you get as much out of it as I do!