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Darwin8u

A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.

Mesa, AZ, United States

ratings
401
REVIEWS
397
FOLLOWING
15
FOLLOWERS
1280
HELPFUL VOTES
7652

  • The Once and Future King

    • UNABRIDGED (33 hrs and 3 mins)
    • By T. H. White
    • Narrated By Neville Jason
    Overall
    (1344)
    Performance
    (1124)
    Story
    (1123)

    The complete "box set" of T. H. White's epic fantasy novel of the Arthurian legend. The novel is made up of five parts: "The Sword in the Stone", "The Witch in the Wood", "The Ill-Made Knight", "The Candle in the Wind", and "The Book of Merlyn".

    Bookoholics Anon says: "Fabulous reading, epic story and a new chapter!"
    "One of the Greatest Fantasy Novels EVER!"
    Overall
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    *** First a preamble:

    Just so you know, this audiobook contains Books 1 -4 of The Once and Future King AND Book #5 (The Book of Merlin). I didn't know #5 was included, but was thrilled to discover it came with the rest.

    *** OK, preambulations are done, on with the real review:

    I loved it and my two brats (11 & 13) absolutely enjoyed it, even if many of the jokes, the funky anachronistic blending of the Medieval with the Modern, might have floated a bit over their tiny wee heads.

    Anyway, I think White perfectly captured the magic, power, fears and the joy of both youth and myth with this retelling of early Arthurian legend. White's theme of power and justice ("Might Makes Right") seem to perfectly capture the political Zeitgiest of now. Perhaps, White like Merlin was just writing through time backwards and wanted to capture the queer contradictions of Imperial Democracy in the global 21st century, but wanted to write it in the 1930s so Disney would be around to animate it (ugh) in the 60s and thus make his point resonate better in the early 21st century.

    You might think a novel that basically focuses on a love-triangle (a quadrilateral if you include God), several affairs, a man's struggle between his love for a woman, love for God, love for his best friend, would not hold the interest of a 13 and an 11-year old for long, but this is T.H. White. The characters are so human, so filled with frailties, heroics, and insecurities that White could have written about cooking for 300 pages and my kids would have been rapt from page 1 to the end.

    The story turns, about half-way through, solidly to Lancelot. It is impossible to understand Lancelot without looking at Arthur, Guinevere, Elaine & Galahad. And White digresses throughout TO&FK to capture these stories. The middle of the book pivots as Camelot, under Arthur's leadership, undergoes a change from physical quests (Round Table v. Might makes Right) to spiritual ones (Round Table > Grail quest). This change captures/mirrors the dynamic of Lancelot's own story (the vacillation between the physical and spiritual).

    Finally, the weight of the conspiracies, the betrayals, the killings, and the expulsions are all there pushing against the King (I love when T.H. White calls Arthur - England) and his faith in man and justice. It just isn't to be. Do I need to hide the ending? Am I going to spoil the book for you? Come now, we are all mostly adults here. Camelot fails, but T.H. White explores the failure almost as beautifully as he does the magic of Camelot. He captures the magic of Camelot by focusing on the humanity of the people. He isn't satisfied with making (or keeping rather) Lancelot, King A, Guinevere, and even Mordred locked up in the stale symbols they often become. The trite shadows of type is not T.H. White's jam. He wants to humanize everybody. He wants to show the motives, the nuances of character that makes the reader LOVE these figures not because they symbolize things like bravery, chivalry, or justice ... but because they remind the reader of elements, times, moods and flaws found buried within. T.H. White started with a fantasy novel, but ended with an exploration of war, humanity, love, and hope.

    Look, I'm skeptical of fantasy novels. They aren't my thing. I want literature. I want something that pushes you against the wall of your own head and dares you to think bigger. I think T.H. White was aiming for that -- and holy anachronisms - he nailed it.

    22 of 24 people found this review helpful
  • The Bone Clocks

    • UNABRIDGED (24 hrs and 30 mins)
    • By David Mitchell
    • Narrated By Jessica Ball, Leon Williams, Colin Mace, and others
    Overall
    (33)
    Performance
    (29)
    Story
    (29)

    Following a scalding row with her mother, 15-year-old Holly Sykes slams the door on her old life. But Holly is no typical teenage runaway: A sensitive child once contacted by voices she knew only as "the radio people," Holly is a lightning rod for psychic phenomena. Now, as she wanders deeper into the English countryside, visions and coincidences reorder her reality until they assume the aura of a nightmare brought to life.

    Darwin8u says: "Brilliant at ventriloquism and style-jumping"
    "Brilliant at ventriloquism and style-jumping"
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    It is hard to not like David Mitchell. He is literary, just not too literary. He is funky, just not too funky. He is hip, just not too hip. He is political, just not too political. He is spiritual, but also seems to leave room for a bit of humanist doubt. I can't think of another writer who captures the energy or direction of the slick, urban, cosmopolitan, educated, 21st century global zeitgeist.

    David Mitchell is brilliant at ventriloquism and style-jumping. His books are filled with multiple narrative and style incarnations (the stacking-doll Cloud Atlas, or narrative leaping number9dream, or his most recent The Bone Clocks), but sometime I feel like he is starting to eat his own tail here. I want to see Mitchell do a Peter Carey and jump out of his slick, crowd-pleasing novels into something a bit different.

    Do I know exactly what I want? No. I just see this author who I've liked enough to read everything he's ever published, and fear that we might just get two or three more of these books. I like them. Don't get me wrong. I liked 'The Bone Clocks' enough to give it four stars and review and read it. I just don't want to see Mitchell begin to get so comfortable in his archipelago of interconnected narratives that he doesn't push his talent into dark, rough, and uncomfortable places.

    Anyway, Mitchell hasn't written a novel YET that I'm very disappointed with and Bone Clocks is no exception. There might be a couple slower chapters and the ending might have been a bit predictable, but I had a hard time putting the novel down while reading and was sad to put it down when I finished. That isn't rare for me, but it is a pretty good indication that the novel is on solid ground. People keep claiming to see the death of the novel around the corner, but Mitchell's talent and narrative slickness is at least one star that keeps consistently reappearing.

    A point on the narration. A couple of the narrations (Jessica Ball, etc) were a tad difficult for me. They worked, but they were so heavily accented that I couldn't listen to it faster than 1.5 speed without losing the thread of what was being said. Not a huge critique, but just my two pence.

    13 of 13 people found this review helpful
  • Uncommon Carriers

    • UNABRIDGED (9 hrs and 32 mins)
    • By John McPhee
    • Narrated By John McPhee
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (86)
    Performance
    (36)
    Story
    (36)

    From Pulitzer Prize-winner John McPhee, author of The Founding Fish, comes the fascinating story of an often overlooked, yet vitally important part of America. This first-hand account of the transportation sector features evocative portraits of the men and women who deliver our consumer and industrial goods.

    Darwin8u says: "A Geologist's Curiosity/Patience and a Poet's Pen"
    "A Geologist's Curiosity/Patience and a Poet's Pen"
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    McPhee is one of my favorites. I think his strongest form is the long-essay and I love his collections that are thematic. 'Uncommon Carriers' delivered exactly what I wanted with a bunch of surprises. Like always, McPhee is able to mix together great characters, fantastic observations, and a real sense of space and place and tell a story that illuminates some place or time that you have probably driven past without noticing a hundred times before.

    McPhee has a a geologist's curiosity and patience (and a poet's pen) that allows him to spend an inordinate amount of time with a story to get that one detail that turns a good essay about boats into a fantastic essay about the craft of work, the beauty of place, the magnificence of the ordinary. The magic of McPhee isn't just that he writes new journalism almost better than anyone else on the planet, it is that he does more of it than almost anyone else. Up McPhee's other sleeve is his ability to make you want to follow him on his explorations. He isn't going to chase down your interests (rock stars, movies, money). Instead, McPhee is going to carefully let you follow him down his rabbit holes and help you onto his hobby-horses.

    I would also be remiss if I didn't include a part of one of my favorite paragraphs. A barge McPhee is on, is flashed by a woman on a pleasure boat on the Missouri river. Here is McPhee's response:

    ...She has golden hair. She has the sort of body you go to see in marble. She holds her poise without retreat. In her ample presentation there is a defiance of gravity. There is no angle of repose. She is a siren and these are her songs. She is Henry Moore's "Oval with Points".

    9 of 9 people found this review helpful
  • The Twenty-Seventh City

    • UNABRIDGED (20 hrs and 47 mins)
    • By Jonathan Franzen
    • Narrated By Meetu Chilana
    Overall
    (15)
    Performance
    (15)
    Story
    (15)

    St. Louis, Missouri, is a quietly dying river city until it hires a new police chief: a charismatic young woman from Bombay, India, named S. Jammu. No sooner has Jammu been installed, though, than the city's leading citizens become embroiled in an all-pervasive political conspiracy. A classic of contemporary fiction, The Twenty-Seventh City shows us an ordinary metropolis turned inside out, and the American dream unraveling into terror and dark comedy.

    Darwin8u says: "A messy, ambitious, prognostic American novel"
    "A messy, ambitious, prognostic American novel"
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    Franzen's freshman effort is striking. First, just gazing at the picture of Franzen on the back of the original novel and it makes me think this kid must have been gnawing on ideas for this book in his mother's womb. Seriously, he looks like he might be wearing the same deodorant his dad gave him at puberty.

    Anyway, I was inspired to read this book because I was heading to St. Louis for a couple days and figured given the recent Ferguson-inspired race tensions, there might never be a more appropriate time to crack Franzen's novel about an Indian woman who takes over as the St. Louis chief of police. There is sex, violence, politics, intrigue, etc.. It is a thriller that aspires to be literary, or a thriller written by someone who is simply writing in the wrong genre.

    The book is ambitious, messy (plot threads abandoned all over the place), inventive, cracked in places, but destined to stick around. I say that knowing that there are some serious Franzen haters out there. I also say that knowing this isn't his best work (by far). But in 1988, Franzen wrote a novel that seems to have almost perfectly captured the paranoid, xenophobic, social and race conflict that surrounds President Obama (birth certificate, etc). Imagine while reading this novel that Obama is Jammu and the United States is St. Louis and let the details slide from Ferguson to the Gateway Arch and there you are.

    Franzen's fixation on the American family (both in its function and disfunction) is in pupae form here. Family dinners, tensions between spouses, extra-marital encounters, spoiled children, holiday tensions, they all germ here. His prose is great, if a bit uneven (brilliant in parts and boring in others). His plot is complicated. His setting masterful. Again, this isn't a masterpiece, but it was a clear indication of his future ambition and trajectory.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  • Coach: Lessons on the Game of Life

    • UNABRIDGED (57 mins)
    • By Michael Lewis
    • Narrated By Michael Lewis
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (78)
    Performance
    (27)
    Story
    (26)

    There was a turning point in Michael Lewis' life, in a baseball game when he was 14 years old. The irascible and often terrifying Coach Fitz put the ball in his hand with the game on the line and managed to convey such confident trust in Lewis's ability that the boy had no choice but to live up to it. "I didn't have words for it then, but I do now: I am about to show the world, and myself, what I can do."

    Darwin8u says: "A Nostalgia Tour of a Great Man"
    "A Nostalgia Tour of a Great Man"
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    More of a tribute/essay/paean than a book, Coach is a relic. It is a reflection on Billy "Fitz" Fitzgerald, one of those influential and transformative men who through their character, courage and strength affect a large number of boys. Lewis recalls his memories of Coach Fitz and details the way both parents and children have changed (at least in the milieu of New Orleans and the Isidore Newman School). At heart it is a nostalgia tour of a great man and how lessons about adversity, strength, practice, resolve, respect and focus taught the right way to the right children can help children concur both fear and failure on the road to adulthood.

    9 of 10 people found this review helpful
  • Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 9 mins)
    • By Haruki Murakami, Philip Gabriel (translator)
    • Narrated By Bruce Locke
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (87)
    Performance
    (81)
    Story
    (80)

    The new novel - a book that sold more than a million copies the first week it went on sale in Japan - from the internationally acclaimed author, his first since IQ84. Here he gives us the remarkable story of Tsukuru Tazaki, a young man haunted by a great loss; of dreams and nightmares that have unintended consequences for the world around us; and of a journey into the past that is necessary to mend the present. It is a story of love, friendship, and heartbreak for the ages.

    Darwin8u says: "Just below the Surface"
    "Just below the Surface"
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    A slow soak in a bath of music, color, friends, loneliness, philosophy, creation and death. Murakami is a genius at writing with emotions swirling beneath the text. He gets the importance of the notes AND the silence of prose; of the unsaid, dreamy place that is both recognized and strange.

    This isn't his most exciting work, but it is clearly not a throw-away either. It brings all the usual suspects to the Murakami table. Murakami writes best when he makes the reader feel like they are just near the surface of wakefulness. He bends the reader into a zone where it feels like a strange contractive tendency of the surface between sleep and wakefulness between musical, lucid dreams and surreal, philosophical nightmares.

    It feels like you are balancing blind on the edge of a train platform; you feel the sound of the train and feel the compression of his words, but don't know if the Murakami train is going to hit you from the left or the right.

    16 of 19 people found this review helpful
  • The Decameron

    • UNABRIDGED (30 hrs and 1 min)
    • By Giovanni Boccaccio
    • Narrated By Frederick Davidson
    Overall
    (56)
    Performance
    (25)
    Story
    (25)

    Giovanni Boccaccio, Dante, and Petrarch were the leading lights in a century that is considered the beginning of the Italian Renaissance. The Decameron, or Ten Days' Entertainment, is his most famous work, a collection of stories considered representative of the Middle Ages, as well as a product of the Renaissance.

    Darwin8u says: "Everyone is dying: Let's bawdy!"
    "Everyone is dying: Let's bawdy!"
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    Like 'The Canterbury Tales', 'The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman', 'The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights', etc., 'The Decameron' is an early masterpiece of European literature. It is one of those books I've previously avoided because I thought it would be stilted and boring. Hells NASTY Bells was I wrong. Boccaccio is funny, flippant, irreverent, libidinous, provocative, inspiring, insulting, crazy and always -- always entertaining.

    100 stories told during the the summer of 1348 as the Black Death is ravaging Florence (and Europe). Ten aristocratic youths take to the country to escape the death, stink and bodies of the City and to hang out and amuse themselves on stories of love and adventure and sex and trickery. Bad priests, evil princes, saints, sinners, and various twists and turns paints a detailed picture of Italy from over 660 years ago that seems just as modern and funky as today. Things have certainly changed, but lords and ladies it is incredible just how many things have stayed the same.

    14 of 15 people found this review helpful
  • The Metamorphoses

    • UNABRIDGED (16 hrs and 16 mins)
    • By Ovid
    • Narrated By Charlton Griffin
    Overall
    (228)
    Performance
    (108)
    Story
    (111)

    An undeniable masterpiece of Western Civilization, The Metamorphoses is a continuous narrative that covers all the Olympian legends, seamlessly moving from one story to another in a splendid panorama of savage beauty, charm, and wit. All of the gods and heroes familiar to us are represented. Such familiar legends as Hercules, Perseus and Medusa, Daedelus and Icarus, Diana and Actaeon, and many others, are breathtakingly recreated.

    J. J. Kuzma says: "Desert Island Download"
    "Cha-cha-cha-Changes"
    Overall
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    Ovid -- the David Bowie of Latin literature. I chewed on this book of myth-poems the entire time I was tramping around Rome. I was looking for the right words to describe my feelings about it. It isn't that I didn't like it. It is an unequivocal masterpiece. I'm amazed by it. I see Ovid's genes in everything (paintings, sculptures, poems and prose). He is both modern and classic, reverent and wicked, lovely and obscene all at once. It is just hard to wrestle him down. To pin my thoughts about 'the Metamorphoses' into words. Structure really fails me.

    That I guess is the sign for me of a book's depth or success with me. It makes me wish I could read it in the original form. I'm not satisfied with Dante in English. I want him in Italian. I'm not satisfied with Ovid in English. I want to experience his poetry, his playfulness, his wit in Latin.

    I still prefer the poetry of Homer and Dante, but Ovid isn't embarrassed by the company of the greats; so not Zeus or Neptune, but maybe Apollo.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  • The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy

    • UNABRIDGED (14 hrs and 12 mins)
    • By Jacob Burckhardt
    • Narrated By Geoffrey Howard
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (35)
    Performance
    (10)
    Story
    (9)

    In this landmark study of Italy from the 14th through the early 16th centuries, Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt chronicles the rise of Florence and Venice as powerful city-states, the breakup of the medieval worldview that came with the rediscovery of Greek and Roman culture, and the new emphasis on the role of the individual. All these, Burckhardt explains, went hand in hand with the explorations of science and the more naturalistic depiction of the world in art and literature.

    Darwin8u says: "A nest as beautiful as the bird(s) it bore"
    "A nest as beautiful as the bird(s) it bore"
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    Often, when writing about the Renaissance there is tendency among experts/writers/historians to focus on the well-plumed bird and ignore the nest. Burckhardt spends nearly 400 pages carefully detailing the Tuscan nest of the Renaissance that embraced, protected, and incubated the great Italian artists of the Rinascimento (Giotto to Michelangelo, etc).

    Burckhardt first describes the state in Italy and carefully describes the rise of the despots, the energy of the republics, and the push and the pull of the papacy. He builds on this, describing the development of the individual, Italy's relationship with its Classical past. Finally, Burckhardt details the science, society and religion of Italy during those impressive years between 1350 and 1550.

    I think Daniel J. Boorstin summarized it best when he said Burckhardt "offered a classic portrait of the men and institutions that gave the era its characters and made it the mother of modern European civilization."

    Like Gibbon's fantastic 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' it is tempting to gloss over how drastically the craft of history was changed by this book. Burckhardt wasn't interested in a stale or utilitarian history. He wanted a nest that was just as beautiful as the bird it bore.

    12 of 14 people found this review helpful
  • The Stalin Epigram: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 27 mins)
    • By Robert Littell
    • Narrated By John Lee, Anne Flosnik
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (69)
    Performance
    (17)
    Story
    (17)

    The Stalin Epigram is a masterful rendering of the life of Osip Mandelstam, one of Russia's greatest poets of the 20th century. His heroic protest against the Stalin regime---particularly his outspoken criticism of the collectivization that drove millions of Russian peasants to starvation---finally reached its apex in 1934. When he composed a searing indictment of Stalin in a 16-line poem, secretly passed from person to person through recitation, the poet was arrested.

    Darwin8u says: "An Espionage Artist Smuggling Art into his Oeuvre"
    "An Espionage Artist Smuggling Art into his Oeuvre"
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    'The Stalin Epigram' is unlike any Littell novel I've read. It is sad, beautiful, complex. It is a writer not playing with words to earn a living, or to impress, or to get laid, or to sell one stupid book. It is a lonely poet casting a stone into a cave, writing a love note to a dead lover, or telling Stalin to take a flying leap. It is art and art is always a little mad.

    11 of 13 people found this review helpful
  • The Chill

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 23 mins)
    • By Ross MacDonald
    • Narrated By Tom Parker
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (41)
    Performance
    (24)
    Story
    (24)

    Lew Archer knew he shouldn't have taken the case, but Alex Kincaid seemed so desperate. Kincaid's loving new bride, Dolly, had just inexplicably walked out on him, leaving Kincaid more than a little fearful for her sanity and her safety. So Archer reluctantly agreed to help Kincaid find his wife.

    Darwin8u says: "Ross MacDonald is the high king of hard-boiled"
    "Ross MacDonald is the high king of hard-boiled"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Ross Macdonald might write Chandleresque noir as good or better than Chandler. Some of the lines from 'The Chill' were so sharp they could cut a day into dark chocolate, bite-sized hours. 'The Chill' had a pretty good twist at the end. The only downside to the novel was it almost needed an overcoat with extra pockets for all the characters. By the end, I needed a small pocket book to keep all femme fatales and dead women straight.

    Like most Macdonald novels, the dénouement of 'the Chill' seems to snake into your pants, squirm and bite you before you are quite ready for the book to end. That is one thing about Macdonald: he ties up ALL the snakes at the end.

    There is a popular trope (often attributed to Brian Eno) that the Velvet Underground's first album only sold 30,000 copies during its first five years but that “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.” I think the same thing can be said about Macdonald. He was one of those writers who probably sold less than his talent deserved, but whose influence on the modern-day detective novel is practically unsurpassed. He was a writer's writer, the professor of pulp, the high king of hard-boiled, the prophet of classic myths retold as California crime fiction. He was a god and you bet you ass every single word was a sacred creation.

    9 of 11 people found this review helpful

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