2016 POPSUGAR Challenge · Book Review

Book Review: Pop Sonnets

Overview

Pop Sonnets

Pop Sonnets: Shakespearean Spins on Your Favorite Songs by Erik Didriksen is exactly what it sounds like: pop and rock songs written as though the Bard himself penned them. The introduction farcically claims most pop hits from the past sixty-five years are based on lesser-known Shakespeare sonnets, and this book is a collection of those lost sonnets.

The book is divided into five parts:

  1. Sonnets of Love
  2. Sonnets of Despair
  3. Songs of Time and Mortality
  4. Rogues, Rascals, and Wanton Women
  5. Ballads of Heroes

This collection includes songs such as “Respect” by Aretha Franklin, “My Way” by Frank Sinatra, “Oops! I Did It Again” by Britney Spears, and “#SELFIE” by The Chainsmokers. The sonnets run the full gamut of the pop-rock spectrum from the 1950s up to 2015. The pop sonnets aren’t line-by-line “translations” into Shakespearean verse: some lines are faithful copies, but usually the sonnets capture the main theme of the song instead of transcribing every word and throwing in “thou” and “thine”. Didriksen does an impressive job of re-wording lyrics into Elizabethan terms, but some modern references remain in certain sonnets. For example, the Buddy Holly sonnet includes:

“Reflection’s image shows me the trouvère

who sang how Peggy Sue his heart beguiled;”

Didriksen makes remarkable use of classically Shakespearean techniques such as iambic pentameter and rhyming couplets, which begin to convince the reader that maybe Will Shakespeare actually did write these sonnets.

My Thoughts

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I love books that are fun, easy reads, and this book fit the criteria. I usually enjoyed reading Shakespeare in high school (except for Julius Caesar, blech) and I love pop rock, so I found the sonnets both fun and interesting to read. Halfway through the book I decided to cover the names of the artist and song for each sonnet and tried to guess what each song was by reading each sonnet. I probably had a 92% accuracy rate. Some of the sonnets had me giggling at how adeptly Didriksen turned pop lyrics into Elizabethan verse while retaining the message of the original song. I’m seriously jealous of his skill.

Something that struck me was Didriksen’s explanation of how Shakespeare used rhyme and rhythm not only to make it easier for his actors to memorize their lines, but also to make the messages and themes of his plays more accessible to the common person. Today, pop songs can do the same thing. Studies have shown that connecting learning to music makes knowledge easier to recall and retain. You might not hear a song in ten years but as soon as it comes on the radio, you instantly remember all the words. Heck, I still remember the multiplication table songs I learned twenty-one years ago in school. The ability of songs to transmit opinions, ideas, and concepts is widely used by artists who want to educate the masses about both the injustices and the triumphs of the world we live in. “99 Luftballons”, “We Didn’t Start the Fire”, and “American Idiot” were all written to comment on the social, cultural, and political movements of the time. Like me, you may sometimes catch yourself mid-sing-along as the message of a song finally clicks. “Oh my God, THAT’S what they were talking about?” frequently leaves my mouth as I have one of these epiphanies. Pop songs and the works of Shakespeare leave an indelible print on human culture, and Didriksen has done an inventive job of melding the two. If you’re looking for a fun, fast read you’ll want to add to your shelf for frequent perusal, this would be a great addition to your home library.

Rating: 5 out of 5 rhyming couplets

2016 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge Categories: A Book That’s Under 150 Pages, A Book You Can Finish In A Day, A Book of Poetry

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