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My daughter is two.  Already sounding out letters, she’s learning the concept of reading, taking pleasure in memorizing  shapes and sounds, proudly scrawling the first few letters of her name.  On the night before “take-a-book-to-school” day a few weeks ago at her daycare, she had difficulty choosing from her favorites. Three feet tall, chubby-faced, she towered over the picture books she’d spread on the living room floor like a colorful hopscotch grid, her dirty blonde hair frizzing around her head in wild curls, her glasses cockeyed. “This one,” she kept saying. “No, this one!”

When do we begin to decide what books we love? At what point do we start choosing to read books about one subject, but not another?

Neurosyphilis. Recently, in an attempt to keep my brain occupied (read: prevent utter mental paralysis) while my agent shops my novel, I decided to begin researching my next project. So now, instead of lying awake in bed at night, staring at the ceiling, pondering the terrible economy and my dumb luck to finish writing my book this of all Novembers, I am lying awake in bed at night, staring at the ceiling, pondering my awesome luck at being born in twenty-first-century America where no one ever gets neurosyphilis.1

That’s right. Neurosyphilis. I teach early British literature at the local college, and after another semester of teaching Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets, for some reason I’m finding myself inexplicably fascinated with the darker side of Tudor England. Picture it. Turn-of-the-seventeenth-century London. A place without antibiotics. Southwark, the red light district.  Where a man strolling out of one of Shakespeare’s plays could walk into a brothel and purchase a woman’s attentions, along with the disease which was known at this time in London as the “French welcome” for the low low price of (that’s right, sir, step right up, sir, she can be yours for) only ten shillings.