As a president of Standard Oil, Henry Folger made millions but borrowed constantly to buy rare books and relics related to Shakespeare. He and his wife Emily, whose Vassar Master’s thesis analyzed Shakespearean texts, lived frugally aside from the odd $50,000 or $35,000 shelled out for quartos or lutes. For the Folgers, Collecting Shakespeare (Johns Hopkins Univ., $29.95) was a passion. Henry began his collection in 1889 with a 1685 Fourth Folio; he spent $107.50. Eventually the couple behind D.C.’s Shakespeare Library acquired 92,000 books; eighty-two of these were First Folios, printed in 1623. But numbers tell only one story; Stephen H. Grant’s chronicle relates many others—as do those First Folios, each with its unique provenance and marginalia. In a plaint familiar to all bibliophiles, Folger lamented not having time to read his books; he pored over more auction catalogs than plays, and until the library was built in 1932, his acquisitions stayed in storage. But the Folgers always intended their collection to serve scholars, and if Henry died before he wrote his own book, his collection--“his gift to the nation”—has been invaluable for thousands of researchers.
To go somewhere with Brian Benson is a downhill coast, albeit winding, complete with diesel exhaust and all the saddle cramps one can endure in a two-thousand-mile bike trek—all the while trying to find the meaning of place and the where, how, and why we fit in with it. Going Somewhere (Plume, $16) is part memoir, part American travelogue, part summer explosion of twenty-something love, and all soul-searching life-quest that propels us to move forward, to reassess, and to reclaim, our own ambitions. Pedal by pedal. In this ode to visceral storytelling, we journey with Brian and Rachel from Wisconsin to Portland on the seats of two Fuji road bikes. The couple’s exploration of path and place challenges the notion of what it means to be a cliché millennial—that restlessness and commitment, travel and aspiration, tenderness and love are perpetual and also unattainable. Rather, this embodiment is steady to the course. Their course, a millennial course, is all the readier to be made.
The Sea Inside (Melville House, $27.99) takes up Ishmael’s project of seeking out the meaning of “that marvelous painting,” the ocean. Philip Hoare, author of the definitive The Whale, has written a book shimmering with sea scenes, sea-faring legends, personal experiences, science, history—and even action shots of breaching whales and charming pen-and-ink drawings. Hoare explores oceans worldwide, starting with exuberant pre-dawn swims (in all seasons) in the industrial waters off his native Southampton, and moves on to dives close by the blue whales of Sri Lanka and amid pods of dolphins near New Zealand. His fascination with all things aquatic leads to dazzling essays on the largest of leviathans and the smallest of porpoises, as well as devastating accounts of the many creatures we’ve driven into extinction. There are also lively profiles of islands and islanders, particularly the Maori, who recognize “no demarcation between the life of the land and that of the ocean”; it’s all home, as it is also for Hoare.