Between the Covers
FactsYou Probably Didn't Know
• Maya Angelou called Charlie Lovett’s earlier work, “Love, Ruth,” a book about the author’s mother, “tender, sensitive and true.”
• Lovett wrote his first play at the request of his teacher-wife, Janice, who noted a dearth of good material for elementary school performances. Since that time, the author has written 14 published plays, including the first, “Twinderella,” which won the Shubert Fendrich Playwriting Award.
• “Ridgefield University” and its rare book library, which are at the heart of “The Bookman’s Tale” don’t exist in North Carolina, or anywhere else. The author created the university as an amalgam of North Carolina institutions: Wake Forest University, Davidson College and Duke University. The “Deveraux Collection” at Ridgefield was inspired by rare book collections at Princeton University, Harvard University, New York University, Emory University and the New York Public Library.
• While the major publishing house, Viking, has named “The Bookman’s Tale” as Lovett’s fiction debut, the author published “The Program,” a 2008 novel about an evil weight loss clinic by a micro-press, and a young adult novel, “The Fat Lady Sings,” by the same press.
• “The Bookman’s Tale” debuted at No. 24 on the New York Times extended best-seller list, is No. 9 on Parade Magazine’s list of summer fiction reads; and has been chosen as the newest “Barnes and Noble Recommends” title for 2013.
• Lovett is currently working on the novel, “First Impressions,” a follow-up to “The Bookman’s Tale” that replaces a story centered on William Shakespeare with one about Jane Austen.
In play and sonnet, Shakespeare is no stranger to a story that
attempts to unravel the mystery of love. But a love story that attempts to unravel the mystery of
Shakespeare is strange, indeed — and that’s the task Winston-Salem author Charlie Lovett undertakes
in his major fiction debut, “The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession” (Viking, $27.95).
Two passions define the life of erstwhile introvert Peter Byerly: rare books and his wife, Amanda. But as the story opens, Amanda has been dead nine months, “buried in the red clay of North Carolina,” and the grief-stricken Byerly can gain no traction in overcoming his loss.
An attempt to flee his grief finds the antiquarian bookseller relocating from North Carolina to the English countryside. Hoping to find the joy he once knew in collecting and restoring old and rare books, Byerly finds himself in a bookshop in Hay-on-Wye. Combing through ancient titles, he discovers the impossible — a miniature portrait of his dead wife that can’t be. His wife died in 1994, and the painting is obviously Victorian.
A desperate search to resolve the mystery of the watercolor leads Byerly deep into a literary thriller, a thriller that finds him framed for murder following his discovery of a book that appears to have marginalia written by William Shakespeare. That discovery, if authentic, would positively settle the debate over the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays.
For added intrigue, Lovett tells his tale along three timelines — an interesting journey to late 16th-century London involving an unscrupulous bookseller and the bard himself, Byerly’s life with Amanda and the current trail of clues that Byerly must follow from across the centuries.
Lovett makes much of Byerly’s literary “Holy Grail” quest to discover the truth behind the book he has found, but the conclusion to his story is not so much the revelation of Shakespeare’s authorship as it is a deeper and more important personal Grail question: Is a man who has lost everything in the woman he loved forever lost himself?
Lovett’s tale sparkles with seasoned storytelling, and although he borders on including too much in 347 pages — multiple and connected plots, a murder mystery and even the ghost of Amanda — the story is deftly handled by an author whose playwright roots and sense of scene showcase the skill to keep the reader turning pages.
“The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession” will appeal to fans of literary adventure, bibliophiles and Shakespeare buffs both here and across the pond.
Meet the Author
Nearing the end of a national book tour, the author will take questions and showcase a selection of rare books for examination at 6:30 p.m. July 16 at Southside Branch Library, 3185 Buchanan St., Winston-Salem. Books will be available for sale, and Lovett will sign books. Call (336) 703-2985 for more information.