Shelby Foote's trilogy comprises 132.5 hours on Audible and took me most of 5 months of short errands and a couple of long drives in my car to listen to in its entirety. It was fascinating. At first the narrator's voice and quirks annoyed me, but by the fifth or sixth hour I had adapted to his voice and found it well suited to the narrative. The battle of Gettysburg takes up a large portion of this volume, as it should. I found maps online and in the physical copies of this book so that I could better follow the action of this battle. I was moved by sorrow at many points and kept thinking of all the futile charges resulting in death for so many. Both sides believed so strongly in their cause, and both suffered greatly as a result. Foote quotes from letters, diaries, speeches, and personal reminiscences written after the war to paint a vivid picture of the generals and ordinary soldiers who fought these battles and slogged through these long, muddy marches with little food and often no shoes. The devastation of the countryside is hard to imagine as I drive, hike and bicycle through many of the peaceful eastern battlefields today. Foote has allowed me to understand what these places and the people of a different, not so distant time experienced and why. Listening to this long audiobook is a huge investment but so well worth it.
Wonderfully wrought essays took me back to the 60's, thanks to Didion's sharp eyed portraits and ear for dialogue. However, what is Diane Keaton's excuse?? She mispronounces so many words so consistently it's as if she has a speech impediment (maybe she does). She omits any interior syllable with an "er" sound: "San Berdino;" "vetinarian." This happened so often it was distracting. I actually had to check to see if all these years I had misread San Bernardino CA and it really didn't have that interior "nar" syllable. I have recently read Didion's essays about the deaths of her husband and daughter, and reading her first collection after her latest was an interesting juxtaposition. For all the dystopia she noticed and chronicled in the 60's, she has nevertheless been able to live a good, productive and creative life. She is a treasure.
Colin Firth does an amazing job enlivening a very boring tale of a love affair ended by a silly promise to God made during a bombing in WWII London. I could not wait for this story to be over, and I have read and enjoyed many many novels that many find horribly boring (e.g., Moby Dick, Remembrance of Things Past). Daydreaming while listening to Firth's mellifluous voice and cadence, I recognized Ian McEwan in this story, and even O'Henry in the ironic twists that develop, but none of this was enough to pull this book out of the depths of dreariness. The characters are all insipid, and the plot is inane, but Firth is wonderful to listen to. Find something else he's read. I cannot recommend this novel.
The structure and methods of this book were really novel and interesting--like one reviewer said, a four-part piece for typewriter or a Tom Stoppard play in two voices. I enjoyed Lipsky's account of a 5-day road trip with DFW, but the flirtation and flattery and mutual masturbation got a bit tiresome. Maybe I tired of the one-upmanship and competitiveness evident in the interview because I'm female and just don't function this way in conversation, even conversaton with a brilliant and talented person (not that I've had that many of those). I thought the two narrators' voices were excellent and helped to flesh out the give and take and the involuted recursiveness of DFW's thinking. He was very guarded about his biographical details (DT Max's recent bio contradicts several assertions made by DFW in this interview) and obviously wanted to control the essay Lipsky planned to write for Rolling Stone (the essay was never published). But I was surprised at the seeming need to impress his interviewer and convince him that he was just like him, when in fact DFW is like no one else I've ever read or heard speak. To his credit, Lipsky acknowledges the flirtation and flattery going on, with little editorial asides, and I guess this is just the way intellectual males talk to one another, with both trying to establish the pecking order without openly engaging in feats of strength. I wouldn't have guessed DFW had such a need to please! or be admired. In the end, this is an interesting interview done in a novel way, but is probably only going to appeal to completist fans of DFW's work. The DT Max biography is more informative and less irritating.
DT Max has done a wonderful job recounting the basic facts of DF Wallace's childhood, youth and young adulthood as a Midwestern genius struggling to express himself, understand and be understood. Wallace's thoughts and imagination are so complex it's amazing he did as good a job as he did making himself understood to us lay people, even the really smart ones he met and befriended at Amherst as an undergraduate. The quality of his undergraduate papers is just astounding; more than one professor called him the best student he'd ever had. The toll his severe depression took on his creativity, energy, and productivity is hard to read about. Why wasn't there a better treatment available? What more would this great mind have been able to give us had he not been so grievously afflicted with a severe and unrelenting mental illness? I've listened to two audiobooks (Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and Consider the Lobster) read by DFW himself, and imagined that I was getting a glimpse into the author's powerful mind simply by hearing his voice reading his own words. DT Max's story of DFW's life--his studies, his interests, his girlfriends, his addictions and recovery, his struggles to finish writing the two "long things" he worked on--provides another glimpse. Wallace died at 46, his last "long thing" (The Pale King) unfinished but organized enough that his editor published it anyway. His life was not easy but he seems to have found peaceful places from time to time, and he left us with an amazingly rich body of work, both in fiction and essays, despite his troubles. Thanks to DT Max for explaining some of the circumstances of Wallace's journey and giving a context for some of his best-known and best-loved work. I'm going to listen to David Lipsky's account of a road trip with DFW next.
The plot devices in this thriller stretch credulity far too much to merit a good recommendation. A woman finds a drugged 3-year-old boy inside a suitcase that a friend asked her to retrieve from a locker in a railroad station. Instead of calling: the police, her friend, her husband, another friend, or anyone else who could possibly help her, she decides to drive around with the boy in her Fiat. She stumbles on a murder scene, at which she: handles the body, puts her hand in the victim's bloody head wound, pukes at the scene, and drops her cell phone, then dashes away in her Fiat again. Still she doesn't call the police, her husband, etc. having now heavily implicated herself in the murder thanks to her puke DNA, fingerprints, fibers etc that she has left all over the scene. I just couldn't get past this idiotic set-up to enjoy the book. I like Nordic noir, but these authors need to get their act together before they collaborate on another attempt to join this trendy genre. Also I found the female narrator irritating beyond belief. She frequently uses a shrill, sarcastic tone that is extremely off-putting. She needs to modulate her voice and just speak neutrally unless there is actually some exciting event happening.
I just could not ever get into this book and I love Annie Proulx's work, including her short stories and memoir Bird Cloud. But this one just seemed like a creative writing excercise where the author goes through a ton of research into the Panhandle area of Oklahoma and Texas and puts her thoughts on the history, geography, architecture, weather patterns, farming history, and photographic record into the mouths of various extremely oddly named characters. These people serve no function but exposition. They orate the facts Proulx has learned in conducting her extensive research on this region. I would like to look at the old photos her characters describe, and see some of the downtrodden eccentric old towns and settlements, but I just do not want to keep reading this book. Also--I find the narrator's voice and accent ridiculous. He is a huge distraction, something I don't need when the book itself is so hard to latch onto.
I bought this lengthy (37+ hrs) history as one of my very first purchases on Audible back in 2005 but only finally began listening to it about 7 weeks ago. My local newpaper (the Washington Post) has been having big colorful inserts about the Civil War and all our local battlefields during this 150th anniversary of that war, and I remembererd that I still hadn't "read" my Shelby Foote history. I also own the books, so I started listening to vol. I of the history (in five Audible parts), sometimes consulting the actual book to view maps and reread some of the names I wasn't familiar with. By the second part of vol. I I was hooked. I have now listened to two of the three volumes. The narrator is not great, but he grows on you. For some reason when I bought this book, I had thought Shelby Foote would be reading his own work. I loved his witty, knowledgeable clips on the Ken Burns documentary of the Civil War. This narrator is no Shelby Foote, but after a few hours I had grown used to his voice and appreciated his understanding of where to pause for punctuation and emphasis in a lengthy narrative of what could have become mind-numbing details in the hands of a less capable author or narrator. Foote puts you on the battlefield or in Congress and the white houses of both Presidents for every day of this long and bloody war. I was amazed at the amount of intrigue, back-stabbing, misinformation campaigns, and gossip in which the military leaders of both sides engaged. Knowing nothing of military strategy or tactics, I was shocked at the level of trickery and guesswork involved in planning troop movements, transporting food and supplies, and fighting battles in the days before radios and telephones and paved roads. I was astounded at the poor condition of the soldiers in the field, especially the rebels, who were often barefoot, starving and in rags but, surprisingly, nevertheless did not desert en masse as a result. The soldiers of both sides believed in their cause and their rights, as they saw them, but also recognized that they were fighting against friends and neighbors. During lulls in the great battles, they would trade for coffee or biscuits and exchange news of home. It's hard to fathom that just 150 years ago citizens of this country actually went to war against one another. I couldn't help but wonder how much more it would take for the divisions that polarize us so bitterly today to erupt in another war between regional neighbors, escalating from our normal screaming and sniping at each other on Fox news, protest gatherings, and the internet. Listening to this gripping account of the bloody battles we fought in almost every state 150 years ago when political solutions failed emphasizes the need to tone down the rhetoric and vitriol lest we ever go there again.
I have seen the BBC Wallender series with Kenneth Branagh and have been listening to lots of "Nordic noir" this winter on Audible--authors like Jo Nesbo, Lars Kepler, Arnaldur Indridason, and Camilla Lackberg--so I was in the mood for one of legendary Swedish author Henning Mankell's crime thrillers. Be forewarned: this is not that book. There is a crime (mass murder in a tiny snowbound Swedish village) and a detective (Bibi Sundberg), but after the first 45 minutes or so they become almost irrelevant to what is actually a treatise on Chinese communism, past, present and future. I was not interested in this subject and do not feel enlightened by what I was told about it. As other reviewers have noted, the African detour is ridiculous and adds nothing to the story, and the Confucian epigrams the Chinese characters keep uttering are absurd. I don't understand what Mankell was doing in this book, or why it is touted as another one of his thrilling murder mysteries. This is not a crime procedural; very little detective work is done, and the person doing it is not the detective assigned to the case but instead a female judge with marital problems and stresses. The crime/mystery aspect of the novel is actually just an afterthought. I persevered and finished the book but will not buy another Mankell. Watch the BBC series with Branagh if you want a true Nordic crime procedural.
I am not a reader of mysteries or crime novels but so enjoyed the Stieg Larsson movies (the Swedish versions), the Icelandic crime thriller Jar City, and the Wallender detective stories on BBC (with Kenneth Branagh) that I thought I'd try another Nordic crime writer. Jo Nesbo is fantastic! This guy can really put together a thrilling plot, full of horrifying twists and turns and normal-seeming characters who turn into monsters. I actually took this audiobook in from my car four nights in a row so I could continue listening through headphones at night because I couldn't put it down when my drive home from work was over. BAD idea! I had trouble sleeping and kept imagining I was hearing things in my house in the dark. I will definitely listen to some more Jo Nesbo novels. I've also put Nordic crime writers Camilla Lackberg and Lars Kepler in my queue on Audible. If they ever go on the $4.95 sale I'll buy a bunch! Highly recommended, but only for daytime listening. A comment on the narrator: his thick English accented voice took some getting used to for this American listener, but my ear adapted within an hour and I had no more trouble understanding him. But he had a creepy very low voice that he used for the worst parts of this story which was absolutely terrifying to hear late at night.
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