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Virginia Cobden, Australia

A Peek at Jefferson's Bookshelf

Fukuoka, Japan 22 REVIEWS / 22 ratings Member Since 2010 85 Followers / Following 1
Jefferson's greatest hits:
  • Brave New World

    "“Oh, Ford, Ford Ford, I Wish I Had My Soma!”"


    Brave New World is a bitterly funny and humorously tragic dystopian novel in which Aldous Huxley satirizes modern civilization’s obsession with consumerism, sensual pleasure, popular culture entertainment, mass production, and eugenics. His far future world limits individual freedom in exchange for communal happiness via mass culture arts like “feelies” (movies with sensual immersion), the state-produced feel-good drug soma, sex-hormone gum, popular sports like “obstacle golf,” and the assembly line chemical manipulation of ova and fetuses so as to decant from their bottles babies perfectly suited for their destined castes and jobs, babies who are then mentally conditioned to become satisfied workers and consumers who believe that everyone belongs to everyone. In a way it’s more horrible than the more obviously brutal and violent repression of individuals by totalitarian systems in dystopias like George Orwell’s 1984, because Huxley’s novel implies that people are happy being mindless cogs in the wheels of economic production as long as they get their entertainments and new goods.

    Michael York does a great job reading the novel, his voice oozing satire for the long opening tour of the Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, and then modifying in timbre and dialect for the various characters, among them the self-centered brooder Bernard Marx, the budding intellectual poet Helmholtz Howard, the sexy, sensitive, and increasingly confused Lenina Crowne, the spookily understanding Resident World Controller of Western Europe Mustapha Mond, and especially the good-natured, sad, and conflicted Shakespearean quoting “savage” John.

    I had never read this classic of dystopian science fiction, so I’m glad to have listened to this excellent audiobook, because it is entertaining and devastating in its depiction of human nature and modern civilization, especially timely in our own brave new Facebook world.

  • Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus

    "What's a Lonely Creature to Do?"


    The three readers are well-suited to their roles. Simon Templeman is sensitive and vigorous as the frame-narrator, the idealistic and lonely explorer Walton, Anthony Heald is fragile and feverish as the self-pitying, obsessed, and played-out Frankenstein, and Stefan Rudnicki is baritone and bare as the rational, wronged, and vengeful Creature.

    And what a fascinating, nightmarish, sublime, melodramatic, elegant, and surprising novel it is! Told by letters and interviews and by narratives inside narratives, glossing over the science and diving into the morality of the creation of artificial life, exploring the glories and dangers of the heroic (and tragic) quests for knowledge and discovery, expressing the best and worst of human nature, laying bare the sadness of loss and alienation. If, at times, I feel like slapping Frankenstein out of his self-centered wallows in guilty misery, the Creature's autobiography is compelling, and the scenes on the Arctic ice are terrific. And Mary Shelley often effectively builds up and then thwarts or shocks reader expectations. The novel has little in common with most movie adaptations of it, but it is well worth listening to so as to experience the source of so much popular culture Frankenstein material, as well as a representative example of the Romantic era.

  • The Story of King Arthur and His Knights

    "An Entertaining Account of Arthur’s Early Days"


    For a complete adult telling of the stories of King Arthur, listen to Malory or T. H. White, because Pyle’s The Story of King Arthur and His Knights is only the first of his books about Arthur, recounting Arthur’s birth and youth and winning of Excalibur and Guinevere, and then Merlin’s fate and the stories of Sir Pellias and Sir Gawaine. Moreover, Pyle moralizes after the episodes, telling us, for example, that although we may not literally become knights with swords, we may wield truth (Excalibur) and faith (its scabbard).

    As for David Thorn’s reading, his nearly tongue-in-cheek delivery was perfect for Jonathan Stroud’s Heroes of the Valley, but almost seems out of place here, for Pyle reveres Arthur, “the most honorable, gentle Knight who ever lived in all the world,” and his knights, while Thorn’s heroes often sound nasally arrogant. And a woman reads Pyle’s chapter titles and descriptions with an American accent and syrupy manner, jarring next to Thorn’s British English. And each chapter closes with repetitive pseudo medieval music fit for a cheap computer game.

    Nonetheless, there is much to enjoy and admire in this audiobook. Pyle assumes a vivid and muscular “medieval” style, as when Arthur jousts a knight “out of his saddle like a windmill—whirling in the air and smiting the earth so that the ground shuddered beneath him.” Or as when Arthur delivers some justice: “At this, the face of that knight fell all pale, like to ashes, and he emitted a sound similar to the sound made by a hare when the hound lays hold upon it. Then King Arthur catched him very violently by the arm, and he catched the locket and brake it away from about the knight's neck, and upon that the knight shrieked very loud, and fell down upon his knees and besought mercy of the King, and there was great uproar in that place.”

    And the Story of King Arthur has plenty of exciting and humorous moments and scenes of sublime wonder and beauty. And knights, wizards, faeries, dastards, damsels, hermits, quests, enchantments, disguises, combats, loves, hates, oaths, betrayals, humiliations, machinations, and glorifications. Despite Pyle’s exaltation of Arthur and company, they are often humanly proud, foolish, seducible, and violent. And Thorn reads all with energy and accuracy.

  • The Story of the Volsungs: The Volsunga Saga

    "Passionate, Poetic, Bloody, Heroic, & Tragic Saga"


    The Story of the Volsungs is a classic Icelandic saga, written in the 13th century from much older oral fragments of songs. Eirikr Magnusson and William Morris’ 1888 translation of the saga is fast-paced, coherent, heroic, tragic, and darkly beautiful. It is mostly prose, but includes many passages of poetry or songs. It influenced H. Rider Haggard’s The Saga of Eric Brighteyes, J. R. R. Tolkien’s oeuvre (especially the Silmarillion), and Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword. If you like such tragic fantastic adventure fiction, if you are interested in Norsemen (Vikings!), or if you enjoy reading epics for their insights into human nature and their windows into different cultures, you should listen to this audiobook.

    It begins with a useful 48-minute introduction by H. Halliday Sparling about the historical, religious, political, and cultural context of the Norsemen and of their sagas, which is followed by an 8-minute preface by Magnusson and Morris about their translation.

    The saga depicts the interrelated fates of two great Norse families, the Volsungs and the Guikings. From the opening sequence, in which Sigi, grandfather of Volsung, kills a thrall who outperforms him in hunting and then hides his body in a snowdrift, the people in the saga are prey to overwhelming ambition, pride, envy, love, and hate. So there are plenty of battles, with kings killing kings and heroes dealing death till their arms are “red with blood, even to the shoulders,” and murders, brothers killing brothers, sons fathers, and mothers children, with poison, sword, or fire. The Norns have already decided the people’s dooms.

    There are also fantastic elements aplenty: men change into wolves, nightmares reveal disastrous futures, magic potions make men forget, magical swords are re-forged, Odin interferes with advice, boon, or doom, and so on. There are many great scenes, like Sigurd talking with a dragon about its cursed treasure or finding the sleep-spelled shield-maiden, Brynhild, “clad in a byrny as closely set on her as though it had grown to her flesh.” The characters are compelling because they’re so heroic and flawed. Any character might be loathsome one moment and admirable the next, or vice versa.

    The saga is not an easy listen, because many characters’ names sound similar and because of the archaic Malory-esque language used by Morris to evoke a timeless and heroic age (so the free online text might be helpful). But there is a dark, spare, grand, and beautiful poetry in his translation, and reader Antony Ferguson treats the text with restraint and fluency, subtly highlighting its terse turns and beautiful flights and rich alliteration, as in the following excerpt:

    "So Regin makes a sword, and gives it into Sigurd’s hands. He took the sword, and said—'Behold thy smithying, Regin!' and therewith smote it into the anvil, and the sword brake; so he cast down the brand, and bade him forge a better."

    I am very glad to have listened to this saga.

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