Adam Gopnik bugs me. I expect it's the thing where someone is super-similar to you so you see your own flaws writ large in them and HATE them. He's so smug and so "my experience is universal" about his upper-middle New-York etc etc and it grates. I'll be reading an article and start feeling myself getting irritated and look back and aha! it is Adam Gopnik, of course.
So okay, just out the gate we have problems, Adam and I. But the Shakespeare article in the recent (okay, it's not recent; it's from April. I was busy!) New Yorker was just so uhhhhhn. The article is ostensibly about a book that Shakespeare might have owned and a portrait that might be of Shakespeare. Gopnik interviews the owners of both objects and presents opinions supporting and refuting their claims. Fine. He also goes into excruciating detail about oh, everything. What Manhattan used to be like twenty years ago vs. how it is now is a long little bit of meander for an opening paragraph, citing Jane Jacobs and broad-shouldered strollers, and it's nice I guess but what has it to do with Shakespeare? Uhm nothing, just a piece of pretty prose.
And then and THEN, he really gets going. He casts Wallace Shawn and Paul Giametti as the book dealers, he describes accents in such detail that I suspect he's been reading a book on accents and wanted to show off, he's got sentences like "They find a great deal of nourishment in this word salad" where you just KNOW he's getting up and patting himself on the back after he writes them. In this he reminds me of Michael Chabon, who also yanks on my nerves with his excessive cleverness. Yes, you are very smart, now go and get mama a plot of some sort. I mean because... meanwhile, back at Shakespeare? Can we...?
Alright. Gopnik's main point (I think) is that we are fascinated not only with Shakespeare's writing, but with him as a person, with the world that he inhabited and the objects and people that surrounded him. We want to believe we can better understand the masterpieces if we know the master. And so in service of this sort of celebrity-crush hunger for knowledge, Gopnik is offering up a similar details-rich portrait of the two objects. That's kind of elegant, conceptually. I don't like how he did it because for example there was a particularly straining sentence about "the tallest mountains produce the most abominable of snowmen", seriously. BUT if I am right (and I hope I am right) and all the flourishes were meant to create a frame for the objects in the same way that the objects are hoped to create a frame for Shakespeare, then at least I can say that I admire the idea.
You can still skip the article, though. Adam Gopnik has had enough attention for one day.