Nonfiction Short Take: Sex with Shakespeare – Jillian Keenan

As so often happens, a bookseller put this one on my radar. The author is a freelance journalist who has been widely published in national periodicals like The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Slate, Marie Claire, The Atlantic, The Daily Beast…you get the idea: She can write.

This is a memoir whose thesis might, at first glance, look strained and overly artful: Keenan charts her evolving understanding of her sexuality by way of Shakespeare’s work. Kelsey O’Rourke at Literati in Ann Arbor, MI does a nice explication of the book. The advance reviews agree. And there will be a review in the NYTBR at on sale.

I picked up this book because I love memoirs that use a particular subject as a tool for self-discovery, especially when that subject is literary. What I got was a deeply personal account of the author’s connection with literature. Killian’s close readings of Shakespeare’s plays were accessible but really interesting, and her exploration of how his works have enriched her self-awareness was brilliant. At first glance, Killian’s sexual experiences may be shocking to some. However, if given the chance, Killian offers her readers a genuine and ultimately feminist insight into one woman’s sexuality. I found her descriptions of the BDSM community to be a fresh and multifaceted counterpoint to That Wildly Popular Other Series that features (and purportedly misrepresents) a BDSM relationship. Killian’s memoir explores modern love and sex in an intelligent way while also offering a unique view on the power of literature to help us more deeply understand ourselves.”
— Kelsey O’Rourke, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI

“When she writes about Shakespeare and gets her hands dirty with his text, Keenan is at her most confident. Her prose soars with a clarity of vision and purpose… Keenan writes a story of language and lust, and the pain of trying to get to that thing you want but you can’t quite put into words.”
— The New Republic

“An English major’s dream!…You may have studied Shakespeare in high school, but it’s almost guaranteed that your literary analysis wasn’t anything like this…The connection to Shakespeare is a fascinating foil for Keenan’s life…[Her] writing is clear, relatable, and steady, even when conveying painful events in her past.”
Library Journal (starred review)

“Moving and funny…Keenan’s original takes on Shakespeare are just as fascinating and insightful as her takes on sex, lust, and love. Fans (kinky or not) of Shakespeare will love reading this book, and anyone directing Shakespeare should be required to read it.”
— Dan Savage

Sex with Shakespeare: Here’s Much to Do with Pain, but More with Love (9780062378712) by Jillian Keenan. $25.99 hardcover. 4/26/16 on sale.

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