I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
When Randy Bragg, an aimless Korean war vet who has developed a taste for bourbon in his coffee while living in his hometown, Fort Repose, Florida, gets a telegram from his older brother Mark, a Colonel for Strategic Air Command, that closes with ???Alas, Babylon,??? Randy realizes that hydrogen bombs are about to start flying between the USSR and the USA. The rest of Pat Frank???s novel, Alas, Babylon (1959), depicts how Randy and his Fort Repose neighbors survive after ???the Day??? on which the bombs fell. Frank convincingly imagines the geo-politics that could lead to such a war, as well as the social and inter-personal dynamics of survival that would likely follow it.
Frank???s novel is a post-holocaust communal Robinsoniad, with key things (like an uncontaminated river, an ancestor???s journal, an unlimited source of salt, and even a well-equipped attic) in retrospect a little too convenient for ???island??? Fort Repose. But I let that pass because I respect and care so much for Frank???s characters as they are pushed to their limits to find ways to survive physically and emotionally, and the main thrust of his novel is to test his characters to see which ones will survive with humanity intact and which will not.
I like Frank???s attempt at a progressive vision of race (for its time and southern setting), but George Stewart???s earlier novel Earth Abides (1949) may be more radical in that respect. In general, Earth Abides is more philosophical, cyclical, beautiful, and moving than Alas, Babylon, which is more political, tactical, exciting, and martial. Alas, Babylon is an anti-nuclear war novel that nevertheless valorizes the heroic American male soldier/leader.
Will Patton???s reading of the novel is fine; his voice is appropriately manly and dry with undercurrents of emotion that bring the story to life.
In Tales of the Alhambra, Washington Irving recounts his 1829 sojourn from Seville to Granada and his stay in the marvelous Moorish castle-palace, the Alhambra. He engagingly describes the Spanish landscape and people and the Moorish civilization that played such a vital role in Spain for so many hundreds of years. Irving???s writing is vivid, imaginative, beautiful, and witty. And he clearly loved the enchanting courtyards, gardens, fountains, rooms, decorations, inscriptions, towers, walls, and vistas of the ???pile??? that epitomized the romantic heart of Spain for him: ???Perhaps there never was a monument more characteristic of an age and people than the Alhambra; a rugged fortress without, a voluptuous palace within; war frowning from its battlements; poetry breathing throughout the fairy architecture of its halls.???
In addition to telling the history of the Alhambra, Irving retells the tales set in or around it that he heard from local people or read in old manuscripts. The tales are humorous, eerie, or moving fantastic legends that feature Christian or Moorish characters from throughout the history of the Alhambra: ancient necromancers, chivalric knights, love-struck princes and princesses, talking birds, enchanted soldiers, phantom armies, foolish kings, sensual Padres, discreet duennas, spying barbers, punctilious governors, roguish bandits, proud poets, poor students, magical treasures, and more.
Reader Kevin Foley is professional, but almost too bland and metronomic, so that at times I wished that Ralph Cosham had read this book, the full, revised, 13.5 hour 1851 edition, instead of the 8.5 hour 1831 first edition. Foley does spark into life when he reads Spanish or English with Spanish or Moorish accents or English spoken by a hawk, an owl, a bat, a swallow, a dove, a raven, or a parrot. And Irving is so excellent that I do recommend this audiobook for anyone who has visited the Alhambra or who is thinking of doing so. And for anyone who likes travel literature and Arabian Nights-like tales or who is interested in the Moorish empire and its influence on Spanish culture.
I???ve never been in a war, but listening to Stephen Crane???s The Red Badge of Courage made me feel thrust into one. Crane???s horrific descriptions of the sights and sounds of a Civil War battle, as well as his unromantic depictions of the behavior of soldiers in such a fray (from raw recruits to erratic officers), and through it all his brutally honest account of the changing mental state of the naive northern farm-boy, Henry Fleming, all feel so authentic that I???m amazed that Crane had never experienced war when he wrote his short novel.
With his deep, gravelly voice, the reader, John Michaels, does a fine job of expressing Crane???s matter-of-fact, portentous, ironic, excited, and empathetic tone (though a few times he blurs some words so that I had to rewind to understand them).
Crane writes an appalling poetry of war. Bullets whistling and nipping among the trees, until ???Twigs and leaves came sailing down???. as if a thousand axes, wee and invisible, were being wielded.??? Artillery firing ???an interminable roar???. the whirring and thumping of gigantic machinery, complications among the smaller stars.??? Corpses, ???ghastly forms??? lying ???twisted in fantastic contortions??? as if ???dumped out upon the ground from the sky.??? The poetic descriptions contrast with the soldiers??? vernacular: "Oh, say, this is too much of a good thing!" Their morale is fragile: ???The slaves toiling in the temple of this god began to feel rebellion at his harsh tasks.???
Many war-is-hell stories revel in exciting battle scenes, and possibly one or two in Crane???s novel could be taken out of context to ignite the martial passions. But he really depicts war as a filthy, chaotic, brutal, and horrific ???devilment,??? which, if it does impel some men to become ???heroes,??? does so at a cost to their humanity and is fought for ultimately mysterious reasons for which nature cares nothing. Because we still haven???t been able to stop toiling in the temple of the god of war, this audiobook should be heard.
I've never been one to deplore my lack of quality education in public school. I figured that whatever I missed was likely due to inattentiveness and lack of inquisitiveness on my part; but after reading INVISIBLE MAN, I finally come away insensed! Angry and insensed that this book was not assigned to me as part of my upbringing. Even if I can forgive my public schools, then I must blame my private / public university and well-heeled graduate educations for not at least trying to make me aware that this great literature exploring MY American background exists. While I was raised in the most caucasion of caucasion communities, I feel I should still have been made aware--by somebody!--that I needed to read INVISIBLE MAN!
Well . .. now that I've raved a bit, I must admit that even in grad school I wasn't always the most attentive of students. I was deeply involved in whatever topics were discussed at hand, and I wrote stellar essays, I suppose . . . but I might have been daydreaming the day(s) that Ellison's profound influence on modern literature and social and racial issues was discussed . . . perhaps. What a masterpiece. I will read and study it again, and do all I can to influence persons whose education I hope for to read it and read it well.
By the way, if a reader orders this after reading my rant here, please make sure you listen to the introduction. It helps. The book is exquisitely performed and masterfully written. Not only does it provide an essential piece in one's education, but it's also a great, entertaining, riveting, and even humorous in many ways, read.