Listening to "The Summing Up" is like sitting with Maugham in a dimly lit club room on a steamer slowly chugging across a distant sea. He is leisurely, even dilatory, in his deeply considered but gently offered reminiscences. His was the life of an artist--a self-conscious artist who intended to hone the skills of his art. He shares his thoughts on great writers of the past, and discusses the business of succeeding as a dramatist. The last section of this book is frankly philosophical. This book reminds one of an an autobiography written with the frankness of a man who thought it would never be read by others. Perhaps it feels so frank because it deals mostly with his thoughts, and so little with the events of his life. For example, this book never even mentions that he married and fathered a daughter, nor does it allude to the years he allegedly spent living with a homosexual lover.
As always, Charlton Griffin, who reads this book for us, is superb beyond description. He brings the perfect mixture of erudition and languor to the reading.
I highly recommend this recording for anyone who contemplates living the life of a writer.
Ah, Wodehouse! He has created England's most lovable nitwit, Bertie Wooster, and his most impeccable gentleman's gentleman, Jeeves. The machinations of the plot are the usual predictable romantic farce, but the point of the humor is the style (with Bertie as the voice of the author) and Bertie's frantic efforts to see his world as conforming to his preconceptions. Three characters spend most of the book impersonating each other, a dog named Samuel Goldwyn is nabbed by the village constable, and a gaggle of five aunts threaten to spoil the future of all the young lovers. The reader of this audiobook, Jonathan Cecil, is superb, effortlessly shifting between Bertie's joyful idiocy to Jeeves' formal deference. This book is not just good. It is jolly jolly good.
I suppose I shouldn't complain too much. The blurb on the web site warned us that the book consists of a collection of minutes-long snippets of history. It feels like the author is reading the index of a book, fleshed out with an occasional excursion. This audio book might be of use as an introduction to a student who knew absolutely nothing of ancient history. It's good at telling the "what" of history, but not the "why" of history. For readers with a taste for well-written history, or with some knowledge of the subject already, this book will prove to be a disappointment. The reader, too, sounds mechanical, with idiosyncratic (not to say "wrong") pronunciations leaving listeners perplexed.
What a disappointment! "Main Street" tells the story of Carol Kennicott, a city girl who marries a small town doctor, and finds her new life in Gopher Prairie unbearably stultifying. She tries scheme after scheme to spark some intellectual life into the backward village, only to find her efforts frustrated by the obdurate blockheads who comprise the town. She flirts with the idea of having an affair with a young tailor, but never really moves much beyond daydreaming about it. Later, she leaves her husband, taking a bureaucratic position in Washington during World War I. After a year or so of that, she returns to Gopher Prairie, proud of herself that she never really surrendered to its dullness.
That's the plot. Truthfully, it's hard to make an exciting novel out of a story whose theme is tedium. But the deficiencies of this novel go far deeper than the feeble story line. The fundamental defect is that the protagonist is a self-centered purblind twit. She rails against the narrow-mindedness of her husband, but doesn't see how omphalocentric is her own desire to recast the entire town in her own image.
Running throughout this novel, sometimes subtly, sometimes blatantly, is a dyspeptic view of America and Americans. It is more than satirical; it is misanthropic. Like other socialists, it seems that Lewis loved mankind but didn't like people, at least not his countrymen. The townsfolk of Gopher Prairie are portrayed as buffoons. Even Carol's husband, Dr. Will Kennicutt, is portrayed by Lewis as a stereotype, not a real person. Here is a man who can amputate a farmer's arm on a kitchen table by the light of a lantern, focusing on his duty rather than the too-real risk that the lantern flame might spark an explosion of the ether anesthetic. Yet, Carol--and apparently Lewis, too--finds him a dull character.
Lewis was the first American to win a Nobel prize in literature. He was the kind of American writer that chauvinistic Europeans could love.
This was my first exposure to Proust. I had mixed feelings. His writing was so finely done, the characters so realistically etched--but the plot seemed to go nowhere at all. I could not even identify the central question of the fiction--clearly a bad sign. Then the book ended abruptly, with no sense of closure. I realize the fault is not that of Proust nor the superb narrator. Rather, this is not a book to be read abridged, or at least not in this abridgement. I recommend skipping this abridged version, and listening to the unabridged.
"The Man Who Was Thursday" starts off as a spy novel set in Victorian England. The villains are the anarchists, a group of ruthless nihilists bent on destroying civilization and ultimately mankind. If one substitutes the concept of "terrorist" for that of "anarchist," the idea does not seem so outdated. Syme, the protagonist of the novel, is a poet, but also an undercover agent who infiltrates the secret cabal of the anarchists. One expects to find deeply conservative philosophical underpinnings in a Chesterton novel, and this book provides that bountifully.
But as the book progresses, the characters become less like individual people, and more like incarnations of philosophical concepts. The plot, too, becomes less credible, until finally it seems amateurish.
Most disappointing of all is the end of the book, in which the reader does not find a satisfactory tying together of the various strands of the story line. Having read most of the Father Brown mystery short stories, I had expected more and better from Chesterton.
Walter Covell's excellent narration is not enough to compensate for the shortcomings of this book. Chesteron, it seems, tried to write both a thriller and a philosophical tome in one book. Sadly, he succeeded at neither.
This is one of the few books from Audible that I abandoned after an hour's struggle. I had prepared to read this book by listening to twelve hours of lectures (from the Teaching Company) about the novel so that I could better appreciate it. Despite my eager anticipation, I could not bear to listen to this recording. The book switches between description and internal monologue. The narrator, to convey the difference, drops the amplitude and dampens the modulation of his voice for the internal monologue parts. Since I listen to these books in the car, I found that I simply could not hear that part of the story. When I turned up the volume of the car's sound system, the narrative parts of the story were painfully loud. Perhaps Marcella Riordan's rendition of Molly Bloom's famous soliloquy at the end of the book compensates for Jim Norton's mumbling. I don't know. I never got that far.
This is a heart-breaking story of the fall and destruction of Jerusalem. Josephus was an eye-witness, even a participant, in the tragic events that started this long and bitter exile. He describes how the Jews were engaged in a struggle of one faction against another: truly, causeless hatred led to the destruction of the Temple. Josephus was a Roman captive at the time. He tried to persuade his people to surrender, so as to avoid the destruction of the city, their lives, and the Temple. All to no avail. The reader can hear the sincerity of Josephus' plea, and also see how his words would seem to be those of a traitor to those who were defending the city against the merciless Romans. Of course we know how the story ends, and that makes the story all the more tragic to hear.
As an addendum to the story, Josephus brings the only classical account of the resistance and martyrdom at Massada. The Jews chose mass suicide rather than decimation and slavery at the hands of the Romans. A pottery shard now in a museum in Jerusalem bears the name of the leader of the Zealots who defended Massada. This was probably the token by which was chosen the man who would be the last to take his own life at Massada.
This is ideal reading for Jews who want to prepare themselves spiritually during the three weeks leading up to the observance of Tisha B'Av, the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple. Christians will find it an interesting account of the military and political scene in Jerusalem just a few decades after the ministry of Jesus. People of a more secular bent will also find this an interesting account of a major turning point in history.
This book on Hannibal is riveting. It gave the background and exciting details of the second Punic War, making understandable the actions of both the Roman and Carthaginian sides. The reader is superb, changing his voice as needed when he is quoting Hannibal. Even Scipio Africanus and Cato become more than stick figures from Latin history in this history. I highly recommend this book.
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