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I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.
Persuasion was the only Jane Austen novel I had not read so I recently decided to remedy that. Juliet Stevenson had cracked me up as the neurotic mother in Bend It Like Beckham, so I was sure I could count on her to bring out the comical side of the story (and Jane Austen always offers up some comedy). But I had no idea Stevenson was such a subtle and talented actress. As the omniscient narrator she sounds sensible, measured, and lovely. She delivers the story while not allowing the listener to get bogged down in Austen’s sometimes antiquated language. She successfully confers masculinity to the male voices without attempting to impersonate. And the women who are meant to be laughable, such as Anne’s sister Mary, with them she is ruthless. And it’s delightful. In terms of the story – this is probably Jane Austen’s best. Pride and Prejudice will always be my long-standing favorite, having been the first book in my life that I couldn't put down, but Persuasion is Austen's smartest work, and you can sense her own maturity in it (it was her last completed novel). It takes the kind of characters we meet in her other novels and fast-forwards them ten years. These are grown women – not girls – dealing with love and loss, and learning about second chances.
When I first read Brave New World it gave me nightmares. I was hooked. It might be strange to say that a book that gave me bad dreams is a good thing, but I was intrigued that a story could worm its way so powerfully into my psyche. It was really my first encounter with dystopian speculative fiction and I ultimately credit Huxley with sending me on my recent nosedive into YA lit. He probably wouldn’t appreciate this association, or the one I’m about to make, which is that I think this book is one of the most powerful and accessible works of dystopia ever created, and can be seen as a forebear to much of today’s hottest literature. Sometimes when I’m not sure what I want to listen to next I’ll return to a book that I loved fervently in print and check it out in audio, and that’s what I did with Brave New World. I’m so glad that I did. Michael York is an excellent narrator and he captures the different characters admirably. But what I found most impressive is how he handles dialogue. Brave New World is more than dystopian sci-fi; it’s a novel of ideas and discussion. There’s a lengthy rapid-fire debate that takes place between John the Savage and Mustapha Mond near the end of the book that is generously peppered with obscure Shakespearian references. When reading you can gloss over anything you do not get immediately because you understand the merit of their discussion: is it better to be happy and controlled, or is the freedom to be unhappy the greatest of human liberties? But I found while listening that Michael York carried me along through their debate and the individual Shakespearian references sang clearly. Just as seeing a play acted out on stage is easier than reading it, I really feel that listening to this book was a heightened experience, and an improvement on the print version. Now when I recommend Brave New World to people I suggest they listen to it first. And I’m going to recommend it again now: There’s a reason this is a classic, and read by most freshman English students. If somehow you’ve missed it, now is the time to pick this one up.
Ok I’m only halfway through The End of the Affair, but I’ve been talking everyone’s ears off about it around the office and just had to go ahead and write a review before finishing it (something I’m generally opposed to doing). I’m not sure quite how to capture just how exceptional Firth’s performance is, but I'll give you two good examples. Graham Greene writes a lot about how close together love and hate are (apathy being the true opposite of both), and Colin Firth totally connects with his meaning. When Firth says the word “hate” you really feel rapture simmering beneath the surface. When he utters the word “love” he spits it out like venom. The two are irreparably intertwined. The subject matter is there - this being, in essence, a record of great passion gone wrong - and Colin Firth does it justice. Every word is impassioned without ever being too much or over the top. Narrators have to be careful to walk this fine line when dealing with emotionally heavy material and Firth succeeds perfectly. But Bendrix, the protagonist isn’t just a man of great feeling – he’s also a curmudgeon, he’s difficult, he’s maybe a little cruel – but Firth makes you care for him despite the fact that you really don’t like him. Another vocal juggling act performed without flaw. I have never read The End of the Affair before and only have a vague memory of seeing the movie, so I don’t really know where the book is going to end up – but I just hope I can somehow elongate the delicious few hours left that I have with it. Seriously, seriously, seriously – don’t miss this performance.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s novella is one of those stories that reminds me to be thankful that I live when I do. It's about a woman who is suffering from postpartum depression before postpartum depression existed. Instead, women suffered from “exhaustion,” “a case of nerves,” or (the best gender-specific illness of all time) “hysteria.” She submits to the forced regime of rest prescribed by her doctor husband, and the inactivity and removal from her child throws her headfirst into a depressive spiral. Especially strong in audio - the narration here is gentle, real, and creepy all at once. Jo Myddleton’s voice begins calm and rises in desperation as the protagonist descends into madness. The panic and claustrophobia is tangible. You’ll get angry. You’ll want to protest something. Your inner-feminist (guys too - you know she’s in there) will awaken. It’s awesome.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Literature, Margaret Mitchell's great novel of the South is one of the most popular books ever written. Within six months of its publication in 1936, Gone With the Wind had sold a million copies. To date, it has been translated into 25 languages, and more than 28 million copies have been sold. Here are the characters that have become symbols of passion and desire....
"not to miss audible experience"
Ulysses is regarded by many as the single most important novel of the 20th century. It tells the story of one day in Dublin, June 16th 1904, largely through the eyes of Stephen Dedalus (Joyce's alter ego from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) and Leopold Bloom, an advertising salesman. Both begin a normal day, and both set off on a journey around the streets of Dublin, which eventually brings them into contact with one another.