I chose this one to atone for all the fun I had listening to Elmore Leonard's latest, but believe it or not, I had just as much fun with this saucy update on the ancient Greeks. How do you update the ancient Greeks? Well, by considering the extent to which they were homosexual. (Quite a bit.) By Showing how Lincoln and Kennedy borrowed their best ideas, and the Bush administration their worst. And yes, I got out my old copy of Jansen and it's true--Adonis does have a tiny penis. Cahill editorializes more than he analyses, and this is a very quick romp, but he knows his stuff and puts the big picture together in a very vivid way. My only complaint is that they chose a reader who rolls every R and declaims Cahill's colloquial and modern text like old-time Shakespeare.
I have no particular interest in mountaineering but read this book because I admire the author and am certainly glad I did. It is an amazing reconstruction of the day-to-day and hour-by-our progress of the first Everest expeditions but more than that, a reconstruction of a genteel Edwardian world now almost as exotic as ancient Tibet. A terrific read.
I'd read A True History of the Kelly Gang and was hoping for another gritty down-to earth novel with strong story and vivid characters but this is an unconvincing book about silly people cavorting around in post-revolutionary USA that I had to struggle to get through. Was Alexis de Toqueville really such a silly upper-class git? If so, why choose him as a subject? The simpering fool in this book could not possibly have written Democracy in America and his Quixotic relationship with the Panzaic Parrot, a low-class English printer, never made sense to me. Carey's inventiveness and skill keeps the story moving along but this was one of those books you just kept asking, what's the point--right to the end, unfortunately. The effect wasn't helped by the reader's decision to render all the French-speaking characters in stage-French replete with zisses and zats.
Don't try to read this book unless you are a hardcore Salinger devotee willing to sit through hours of tedium to pick up a new factoid or anecdote about this writer of little productivity but huge reputation. I fit that description, so I had no trouble sitting through it, or driving and choring through it, and I considered the 20 hours well spent. I didn't learn a ton I hadn't already picked up about Salinger through various scattered reports and books but it was useful to have it all brought together in one place and to have the reality sorted from the myth.
This book was more a business enterprise than a literary effort and the writers spared little expense in buying permissions, running down sources and hiring expert researchers in the faith their investment would be richly repaid. It is a great resource for the Salinger aficionado. That it is getting such a rough ride critically is mainly due to the authors and publishers' implied promise that it would crack the Salinger mystery and reveal once and for all why he hid out for most of his life and what he did all that time. It doesn't deliver, although it may have gotten closer in its clumsy, over-documented way than any previous attempt.
In the end it is limited by its authors' inability to effectively analyse all the raw data they accumulate. It also falls prey to the fallacy that has defeated many an amateur arts biography in the past--by looking for the answer to the mystery in the personal history of the artist rather than in the work for which he is known. Salinger himself tries repeatedly to give his multitudinous stalkers the key to what they seek by saying "I am a writer of fiction," but Shields and Salerno pay no more attention than the hordes of gawkers who plagued Salinger at his rural New Hampshire hideout.
Although Salerno repeatedly bursts forth with inflated and sophomoric claims about Salinger having shaped the whole course of postwar English literature and being the most important writer of his time, the authors spend very little time trying to analyse just what it was about Salinger's tiny sample of writing that might justify such claims, or what there was about it that made him still such a hot topic half a century after he finished his best work. Too bad, because that is where the answer is to be found.
Salinger was a flawed and nasty human being; these authors and others have now established that beyond doubt. But he wrote a couple of thin books that have bewitched and bedazzled readers around the world like little else. What is there about Nine Stories and Catcher in the Rye that gives them such powers? Salinger may have been a cad and a crackpot in his personal life, but he was a writer of breathtaking talent and stunning technique. He created magic on the page, and that is why we can't forget him. This book throws no light whatever on that.
This book is sweeping all before it and will probably pick up some major prizes and deservedly so. Walter is one of the novel's sweetest masters of the moment. He has the ability to write for today's reader in a wholly entrancing way. This book was obviously aimed at what it achieved--being the monster bestseller that places the author firmly at the top of the current crop of literary fiction writers. That's great. I thoroughly enjoyed the read. It's a romp. Lots of action, lots of laughs, some romance, brilliant surface detail. My only quibble is that after reading Financial Lives of the Poets I thought Walters was headed for deeper waters. This is a book that suggests he may instead just play the bestseller-every-other-year game until his batteries run down and never write his Catch 22 or Herzog. Too bad.
Every country should be so lucky as to have a history like this that punctures all the carefully concocted national myths and gives the contrary view--in Zinn's account George Washington was a wealthy landowner who fomented revolution for personal gain; Abe Lincoln believed blacks were not equal to whites and only abolished slavery out of political expediency; FDR was a staunch defender of upper-class privilege who only introduced the New Deal to defuse revolt; etc. But Zinn is not just a gadfly--his version makes sense more often than not, and furthermore, his great sense of story gives hackneyed old history new life and makes for highly enjoyable entertainment. And don't pay any attention to the quibbles about production quality--the actual reading is fine and the few technical glitches there are barely deserve mention.
As an early adopter of audio, I started when classics were most of what was available and it was fortuitous because it caused me to re-read most of the great books and realize how much more they had to offer than I had got from them in callow youth. Recently I realized this was one I had missed and I was excited, knowing many consider it the greatest French novel.
Having finally got through it, I must say I am disappointed. It wasn't a terrible book. It was probably quite advanced in its day, just like they say. It was one of the first to dramatise the inner life of a rather undistinguished person. Trouble is, so many have done that since and so much better, that doesn't score many points with a modern reader.
The hero, Julian Sorel, is a carpenter's son who aspires to elevate himself to the upper middleclass, mostly by sleeping with the right women. But he is not dashing or amusingly scoundrely, he is insecure, self-absorbed and generally unappealing. His chief assets are a freakish memory and matinee-idol looks. He does get on, mostly thanks to friends (especially women) who are a lot better than he is, but screws up all his chances due to his own weak character and lack of sense. By the time the book ends the reader is glad to see the end of him. The book is touted for its satirical view of 19th C. French society but that is very much in the background of the hero's struggle and not neary so vivid or amusing as in almost any novel by Balzac. I was throughly captivated by Pere Goriot and Cousin Bette, but found the Red and the Black a slog.
I didn't notice anything wrong with the quality of the sound or reading.
Supposedly the first in the Reacher series though written last, this might also be the best. Reacher is more human-scale here and has an actual affair, there is some good suspense and some good characters. It is not quite so violent as a normal Reacher outing; there are only three murdered women and he only illegally blows the head off one bad guy. Like all Reachers, it rates high in can't-put-downability.
Reacher wanders into a town held hostage by some bad old boys and cleans it up, freeing the people from oppression, especially the ladies. Along the way he barehandedly humiliates a palace guard of 300-pound former fooofballers and viciously murders about a dozen leading citizens and gangsters without having to answer for it. I can say all this because there is really no suspense in a Reacher novel; you know whatever the dire circumstances he must triumph in order to appear in the next book, and it usually doesn't take him long. This one is a lot less credible and likeable than The Affair, but it sure keeps you turning those pages.
If there is any justification to the dustjacket claim Pinker is one of the world's 100 most influential thinkers, it is based on his talk show appearances, not his standing among peers. His basic thesis is that recent scientific discoveries have proven social conservatives right about the need for military buildup, a get-tough approach to crime, strict parenting, etc. Affirmative action is a waste of time because it tries to change behaviour that is hard wired into our genes. America and the other countries most like it are the pinnacle of human evolution, because, well, evolution has produced them and therefore they must be a true expression of the unchangeable programming carried in our genes. No wonder Time put him on its cover.
This is one of the great listening values in Audible, for my money. Thomas Heald is a great performer of oldtime cracker accents and the production is half the fun. Skinflint that I am I always seek out the longest reads that are still on at one credit and sometimes outsmart myself (Against the Day) and I was a bit afraid of this one because it sounded like a Faulknerian ramble through lush literary effects without much plot--which it was--but the story of this charismatic man in this bewitching place in this mythic era was just so powerful it kept pulling me along. This is one where you truly do emerge as from a long consuming dream-mare blinking at the light of day, the spell clinging as you reorient yourself reluctantly to the oridinary world. Lots of people who should know are applying the word "great" to it and it isn't misplaced.
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