I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
I enjoyed Professor Michael D. C. Drout???s 14-lecture class on modern fantasy, which mainly focus on J. R. R. Tolkien, which is fine, because Tolkien is a major figure in modern fantasy. Professor Drout has a pleasing enthusiasm and a comprehensible clarity as he lectures.
After discussing the fantasy genre (a hybridization combining oral epics with novelistic techniques and concerns), Drout limns the origins of modern fantasy (Victorian works like the Alice books, The Waterbabies, and The Princess and the Goblin), and then dives into Tolkien, depicting relevant facts about his life and philological study before assessing The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, as well as difficult work like The Silmarillion and important scholarly essays on Beowulf and fantasy. Drout next covers two followers of Tolkien, Brooks the imitator and Donaldson the reactor, as well as two ???worthy inheritors??? who create fantasy as aesthetically and thematically consistent and compelling as that of Tolkien: Ursula K. Le Guin and Robert Holdstock. He then discusses children???s fantasy (Narnia, The Dark is Rising, Prydain, and a bit of Rowling and Pullman) and then the Arthurian genre (T. H. White, Mary Stewart, and Marion Zimmer Bradley). He concludes with a chapter on magical realism (Borges and Garcia-Marquez), arguing that, unlike most modern fantasy, it denies rather than provides healthy escape and is oriented around tragedy rather than Tolkieniean eucatastrophe.
I like the many insights that Drout provides as he lectures, like about Le Guin???s solution to death in The Other Wind or about class in The Hobbit or about the way in which Peter Jackson???s movies make Tolkien???s world smaller. Sure, I wish he???d have covered more authors (like L. Frank Baum, Lord Dunsany, E. R. Eddison, Robert E. Howard, Mervyn Peake, or Michael Swanwick) and to have gone into more detail in non-Tolkien chapters, but that only shows how much I enjoyed his ???class??? and wished it could have been twice as long.
I really enjoyed Herodotus' The Histories, about the background and main events of the epic wars between the ancient Persians and Greeks (translated by George Rawlinson). I was hooked by "the Father of History's" enthusiastic accounts of interesting historical and cultural information and impressed by his appealing balance of objectivity and subjectivity. And I savored his many digressions amplifying the historical context, as well as his detailed accounts of the different ancient exotic cultures (like the Egyptians shaving their eyebrows when their housecats died or the Scythians making capes from the scalps of their fallen enemies), which were in a sense all similar in their violence, heroism, treachery, brutality, ethnocentrism, and superstitious following of prodigies and omens and oracles. We haven't changed so much in 2000 plus years???
Despite some listeners complaining about the reader, Bernard Mayes, I quickly came to enjoy his handling of The Histories, easily imagining myself listening to an elderly, experienced, and decent Herodotus. I appreciated Mayes' subtle changes in tone to express a variety of moods, from Xerxes' waxing wroth at some unpleasant advice and the Athenians getting peeved by the Spartans worrying that they would ally with the Persians, to the suspenseful accounts of battles like those at Marathon, Thermopylae, and Salamis that helped decide the course of world history. I found Mayes always to be right on task, always speaking with effective clarity and rhythm, always perfectly expressing Herodotus' humor, disbelief, admiration, and criticism of his historical subjects.
The only flaw in the audiobook is the too frequent, sudden flash of a kind of static, which distracts from the overall experience to the point that I'm giving what should be a five star audiobook four stars. I highly recommend it.
I???d only ever read Joyce???s short story ???Araby,??? having been intimidated by the difficult reputation of his work (especially Ulysses and Finnegan???s Wake), so I was unprepared for how wonderful A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is???and how accessible.
It must partly be due to Jim Norton???s marvelous reading, so sensitive to and enhancing of the novel???s poetic rhythms and sounds, beautiful images, savory characters, and mix of comedy and tragedy. Norton, reading the base narration in an appealing and neutral English accent (to my American ear) and the dialogue in an impressively and appropriately varied range of Irish accents and personalities, helps to bring alive the cultural, personal, dramatic, and thematic meanings of every word in the novel. Many scenes have been imprinted on my mind: Stephen unfairly having his hands flogged in class and then screwing up his courage to visit the Rector about it; Stephen listening to a priest giving intense sermons on the physical and mental horrors of hell (Norton-priest had atheist me shaking my head and chuckling at the sadistic-masochistic Catholic imagination one moment and tremblingly thinking that I???d better go to confession the next); Stephen raptly watching a girl wading with her dress hiked up; Stephen talking with his friend Cranly about mothers and Catholicism???. And many more.
After finishing the audiobook, I didn???t want it to end, so started listening to it again??? I also visited a website with the text of the novel and read parts of that, realizing that Jim Norton had me understanding it just as well if not better than I would have had I read it myself.
This audiobook version of Joyce???s novel is filled with beauty, humor, sadness, love, lust, guilt, transcendence, and life. Next up: Dubliners and Ulysses read by Jim Norton!