I grew up on Golden Age Radio, and while I love to read, I typically consume more books via audio thanks to a job that lets me listen while I work. As an aspiring writer, I try to read a great deal of non-fiction in addition to a variety of fictional genres. I especially love history, historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and old-style gothic horror.
I write that title with a caveat, which I'll explain. This book is geared to the idea that perhaps you know just a little about the world of opera and feel like maybe you're ready to be dangerous and don't know where to start. Mr. Plotkin offers his credentials as to why he's the right man to be your guide to this strange world, which are impressive, and then he leads you through the basics just as he says he will. He's one part tour guide, one part college professor, and he clearly loves opera. And he hopes you will too.
The history of opera is offered at Wikipedia speed, broken down for you in sections so you can see how it evolved into what it's become today. He'll even give you pointers on how to attend a performance and get the most out of it, which that alone is invaluable information. Where it gets dicey is that sometimes he forgets he's talking to a beginner when it comes to the actual operas, but he does bring it back down to beginner level sooner or later. A lot of the times, though, you will be expected to rise to the next level up without warning, and where this subject is concerned, that's not a bad thing if you're truly interested. He covers a handful of operas within this tome and explains why he picked them. His insights are well worth it for anyone who wants to dig deep. The thing is, and he'll tell you this up front, he's working from very specific recordings of these works that you will have to hunt down on your own, either in a library or online. Some of his explanation is specific to those recordings. Don't let that disuade you. If you can't find that recording, try another and compare it to what you learn in this book. The point of this entire thing is to help you make the leap from novice to enthusiast with confidence enough to discover more, and where you go from there is up to you. I've heard it said that for some beginners, it's many years - if ever - before they go from hearing an aria or two to listening to an entire opera with anything close to understanding. This book connects the dots if you're willing to meet the author halfway.
Maybe I'm biased. Like so many others like me, Christopher Reeve has been a role model for me since Superman first hit the big screen. As I grew up, I got to learn about the man behind the Man of Steel, and his "can do" attitude continued to inspire. Between the accident that left him paralyzed and his death years later, Reeve's inner strength proved the title of this book to be true. Nothing is impossible.
So many years later, it's still heart-wrenching to hear him speak about his experiences in his own words, so it's no surprise this book packs quite the punch. At the same time, this is one of those stories that only he could tell with all of the humanity and personal conviction he could bring to bear. There's nothing sugar-coated here; the tragedy and the optimism are both as genuine as the man himself. This audiobook is written and presented in such a way that he's speaking directly to you.
Before the end of his life, Reeve was able to walk again, with assistance, and only a few steps at a time. But it did happen. The force of will to do that is unquestioningly great, and it's something few of us can fathom. This book helps to fill in the picture a bit, and to show that this level of commitment to an idea is not only human, it's within us all. Whatever the situation, whatever the misfortune, we are gifted with untold reserves that help us to adapt and to (as Reeve himself has said) "go forward." This is the legacy of Christopher Reeve. It's a message all of us deserve to hear.
This might be the most heartbreaking review I ever write. I discovered the golden age of radio, The War of the Worlds, and The Shadow through Orson Welles. I discovered Welles at the end of his life when I was 12, when he performed the voice of the monster planet Unicron in Transformers: The Movie. It's not Citizen Kane, and it would never be anything remotely close. I get that, but that's how I came to appreciate one of the greatest geniuses the entertainment world has ever known. My love of radio happened because of this man. This man changed my life and expanded my world.
This biography is truly something special because it has something that other biographies don't have: Welles himself. Author Barbara Learning was able to contact and collaborate with Welles on this biography through means that typifies Welles' life story, and he gave her free reign and resources because he understood that there is Welles the man, Welles the legend, and his own memory, none of which were in alignment. He was curious to learn about all three aspects. More insightful than the story of Welles' life are the inserted dialogues between Welles and Learning, which adds both gravitas and that personal flourish that makes all the difference. Welles was an extraordinary man by any measure, and his life was as equally bizarre.
On a personal note... the epilogue shattered my childhood. After going through the highs and lows, after getting the personal reminiscences from greatness to virtual unemployment, the hardest part was hearing him refer to my first experience with him as "that horrible little project about Japanese robots that transform into vehicles and such" and how at least it'll help him to buy groceries or something. It was one of the last things he performed before he passed, and he didn't live long enough to see it released. I knew all along he wasn't pleased with it, and I get it, I really do. I can see how a man of Welles' star caliber might think that a string of voiceovers in commercials and cartoons would be something terrible, even after a long stretch of failure and unemployment. But to have his own commentary on it is rough. I like to think that it's little projects like this that will ultimately lead people of later generations to find his work through the back alleys when they might otherwise not seek out the likes of Citizen Kane. After all, that's how I discovered his work. And just like nobody could have predicted something like that, nobody could have predicted the kind of twists and turns Welles' life would take. I thought I knew about Welles before. This book expanded on so much I only thought I knew. As biographies go, this one's a treasure.