For some reason I missed "Roughing It" in my earlier attempts at reading all of Mark Twain. My loss: it's an absolutely hilarious journey, part factual reporting, part tall tale in the best western campfire tradition. (If you're familiar with the omitted "raft chapter" in "Huckleberry Finn," you know what to expect.) One of Twain's greatest strengths is his willingness to include himself among the objects of genial mockery. This is Mark Twain the Humorist at his best.
I didn't find the problems with audio quality that others reported. I agree that Fraley's recording of "Huckleberry Finn" is a superior piece of work, but Norman Dietz does a great job on this one. He's droll, unassuming, loquacious, and endearing, and he adopts one of a variety of other voices at the drop of a hat. My one complaint would be a certain breathiness of delivery -- occasional rapid delivery punctuated by sharp intakes of breath. I think this is partly a matter of recording age and technology: I find that occurring less often on more recent audiobooks. In any case, for an audiobook that gave me this much pleasure, I have to give it five stars.
A nightmare: Mr Goliadkin, a Russian bureaucrat, finds his life falling apart, and to make matters worse, someone who looks exactly like him, and has the same name, shows up and appears to be conspiring against him. Things do not end well for Mr Goliadkin.
I can't think of anything else I've read by Dostoevsky where the narrator had such a loose grip on reality. The action is presented from Goliadkin's point of view, and it's hard to tell when he's seeing something for real and when he's hallucinating. The prose itself, with its repetitions of key words, especially proper names, begins to have a hallucinatory quality. Goliadkin slides into full-blown paranoia, and at times he takes us with him.
Richard Pevar, in the introduction to his translation of the book - not the one used here - says two things about it that seem wrong to me. He says that Goliadkin isn't an example of "the abnormal and pathological," but an attempt on Dostoevsky's part to explore a "normal human soul, but by means of an extreme case and a bold device." And he says that Dostoevsky came back to this theme later, with greater artistry, in "Notes from the Underground." For this non-expert reader, it's hard to see any other interpretation Goliadkin's ruminations but a gradually worsening schizophrenia; and the narrator of "Underground," as compulsively self-conscious as he is, doesn't seem quite so unhinged.
Like many of Dostoevsky's characters, Goliadkin combines a paralyzing and suffocating self-consciousness with an appalling lack of self-awareness.
Stefan Rudnicki gives a powerful reading, conveying Goliadkin's desperation and paranoia with real anguish. And he also conveys the repetitive rhythms of the prose without overemphasizing them. Probably the best thing I could say about him is that my cat purrs when Rudnicki is on the speaker.
Well, that were a grim'un, to be sure. Jude, a decent man with ambitions to become a scholar, doesn't stand a chance in Hardy's cold universe. Let down by everyone he chooses as a mentor (one of them doesn't last long enough for a round trip from one village to the next); spurned by the university he longs to enter; and used and confused by the women in his life, he keeps trying to draw a smaller circle in the sand after each fresh assault, but ultimately he loses, and by then he doesn't care, and then he dies.
The women in his life are used and confused in turn, not so much by Jude as by the terrible straitjacket women were forced into. The love of his life, Sue, is particularly confused: she combines an open, somewhat flirtatious manner with a pathological aversion to sex that left me wondering if she'd been abused as a child. (Or better to say, since she's not real: wondering if Hardy intentionally set her character up to convey that.) She does finally overcome her aversion, to the extent of having children with Jude, but it's a fragile adjustment. And even the best-adjusted person would have trouble keeping their sanity when confronted by the major tragedy in this book of tragedies: an event that strikes suddenly and brutally in a few swift paragraphs and leaves the characters - and the reader - reeling.
Neville Jason has not been one of my favorite narrators in the past, but I'm warming up to him. Part of the pleasure of his performance here is the skill he shows in voicing the many characters, with their many accents and moods. There is humor here at times, and Jason brings it out in the voices of Arabella and other "country folk," who have no intellectual ambitions and are more willing to go with the flow. His characterization of Sue, to me, was somewhat less successful than his Jude; but his Jude is so brilliantly done, so exceptional in the way it conveys Jude's gentleness, rage, and despair, that I'm willing to give him five stars for the whole thing. I'll definitely make an effort, in the future, to listen to more of his readings.
Listen to it, by all means, but don't listen to it if you're depressed or even just having a bad day. It will exercise your compassion to the breaking point.
Simon Vance is the perfect narrator for Holmes; I was hoping he'd do them someday, and now suddenly out of nowhere he's done all of them. Absolutely no complaints about the narration. I recently listenend to all the stories read by Derek Jacobi, and now I'm in the process of listening to them again. As always, Vance's perfectly modulated voice brings out nuances I've missed, despite having read (and listened to) the stories many, many times.
Despite the crime-solving framework, these really aren't plot-driven stories. What I enjoy more than anything - and the thing I remember most vividly - is the wonderful variety of characters that inhabit this world. Holmes is at the top of the list, but Watson has his own charm and mystery (not the least of which is the way his war wound moves around). And the clients! Jabez Wilson. All the women named Violet. The wonderful thumbnail sketch of the budding young psychopath in "The Copper Beeches." The dying John Turner. Mycroft. Stapleton. Barrymore and his wife. And to top them all off, the dog in the night-time.
The stories are not all first-rate. I could do without most of the stories in "The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes," and there are a couple of duds in the earlier collections. But even some of the duds - like "A Case of Identity" - have a fascinating character study at their core. And the duds are outnumbered by one tightly-packed gem after another.
My only complaint is the same one others have mentioned: the way the books have been divided up across the files. It would have been convenient if the series were grouped into files by book rather than by an arbitrary file length.
But that's really a minor quibble, and in any case it may change if the publisher listens to feedback. It doesn't affect my rating. If you're on the fence about which Holmes collection to get, get this one.
16 Feb @ 2:35 PM
I avoided "Gatsby" for the longest time. Who'd want to read a book about spoiled rich people? I finally gave in, not because of the movie, which I still haven't seen, but because Anthony Heald was the narrator, and I needed an Anthony Heald fix. And once again, I have to admit that a book I thought was going to bore me to tears turned out to be a gripping listen.
Yes, it's partly because Heald is a gripping reader. But it's also because the book is about so much more than spoiled rich people. There are a couple of those in the book, and two in particular who do surprisingly well by being awful: if you're looking for anything resembling poetic justice, look elsewhere.
Like any great novel, "Gatsby" transcends its immediate setting: under the glitz, it's really about broken relationships, loneliness, love, and betrayal. And every time I thought I had it figured out, Fitzgerald hit me with something out of left field.
The novel is tightly woven, the characters are drawn with great economy, the dialogue sparkles, and the narration is first-rate.
There are several recordings of the book available. I picked this one because of my admiration for Heald; I'm sure the others are fine as well. But few readers have Healds' ability to make it sound like the words are being spoken for the first time.
The story itself is pure Twain, narrated in pure Garrison Keillor fashion. It's worth a listen for those reasons. For me, it had a particularly nice surprise at the end, when another of my favorite writers turned up as part of the over-the-top resolution. But as noted in another review, the story itself takes up less than half the audiobook. The rest of it consists of a long and rambling afterword, read (badly) by Roy Blount: it starts off talking about the genesis of the story, but somehow wanders off into Reconstruction, Twain's presidential preferences, the genesis of the Mugwump party, and the ethical background of "Huckleberry Finn." Listen to the story, but do yourself a favor and skip the afterword.
This is a wonderful novel - how did I manage to avoid it for so long? (I've been working my way through all of Dickens' novels over the last couple of years. I would almost say I've been "working them off," but if you listen to this one - and I strongly recommend that you do - you'll understand that working things off is not always a good thing.)
Dickens is at his morally outraged best in Barnaby Rudge: the story centers around the anti-Catholic riots in London in 1780. I'd read a little bit about the riots before - they show up in biographies of Samuel Johnson, who was in London at the time - but nothing like the real horror of it. Tens of thousands of rioters marched through the streets. Hundreds of people were killed, many by the soldiers called in (finally) to restore order; houses, churches, and carriages were burned by the score. Newgate Prison itself was destroyed and all the prisoners set free. In the aftermath, dozens of rioters were hanged.
Moving through this gripping slice of history are the simple-minded Barnaby Rudge; his mother; a brace of loving couples; a heroic locksmith; and a chilling assortment of villains. Barnaby, in his simplicity, is coaxed into carrying a banner for the rioters, and thinks he's being a brave warrior in a noble cause, until he comes face to face with the gallows.
It's not all grim. Dickens' comic invention is in evidence throughout. The dialogue sparkles, and at least three of the four main villains have brilliant star turns that are wickedly funny. (The fourth villain is a brutal, frightening concoction - one of the most unredeemed, and unredeemable, parents Dickens ever invented.)
Sean Barrett's narration is brilliant. Every character has a unique voice, and all are utterly convincing, even the almost too-good-to-be-true Barnaby. Most of the villains have coarse, gravelly voices, but one has a voice as smooth as silk and is all the scarier because of it. This is going down as one of my three or four favorite audiobooks of Dickens. For me, it was infinitely more interesting and rewarding than his other historical novel, A Tale of Two Cities. It's a rip-roaring tale, and I loved it.
Wow. Just wow. A pure delight from beginning to end: one of the most enjoyable audiobooks I've ever listened to. I'm a Beatles fanatic, and that probably helps; but I'd venture to say that this book has the potential to grab even people who don't know or don't care much about them. Mark Lewisohn writes with great insight and narrative skill about the struggles of the Beatles to gain recognition and professional success at a time when no one else - NO one - was doing the kind of music they were doing, in the way they were doing it. They're poster children for the "10,000 hours" take on career development. They paid their dues.
Lewisohn gives particularly full attention to Pete Best, Brian Epstein, and George Martin. I've read several books on the Beatles and biographies of individual band members, and I still heard surprising new information about these people, and everybody else connected with the band, on practically every "page."
It's not hagiography. John Lennon, as much as I love him, is clearly a world-class jerk, and the others all have less positive aspects. Their terrible treatment of Pete Best and their wild life on the Reeperbahn are presented in unsparing detail. But running through the book is a strong sense of their devotion to music, the clarity of their vision, and their genius: genius being defined as an infinite capacity for taking pains.
Clive Mantle does a terrific job with the narration. He does the "voices" as if it were a work of fiction. I know that's not to everyone's taste, but to me, the key is whether it's done well or not. Mantle nails the Liverpool accent and even captures the unique cadence of each Beatle; and he nails the posh "standard" accents of Epstein and Martin as well.
Lewisohn spent 10 years writing this. I hope that includes the research for the other two volumes. This one stops at the end of 1962, just before "Please Please Me" was released. I don't want to wait another 10 years for the next part. I'm not ready to let these guys go yet.
In the beginning of this course, Peter Stearns goes to great lengths to define what he means by World History, and talks about it as a recent development. But haven't we been studying World History all our lives? Not really, he argues. What we were doing is Western Civilization, treating it as the only part of World History that mattered. What he's doing here is showing the Other Side of the Story, and this particular way of doing World History IS a new thing.
Inevitably, there's some imbalance in the approach. He tries to keep Western Europe and North America in the picture with a lesson here and there, but his main focus is on East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. The perspective he brings is truly global: Rome and Western Europe may have been in tatters, he says, but during that same period China and East Asia were thriving, so let's talk about what THEY were up to.
Inevitably, he glosses over some events, even some that would illustrate the issues he's discussing. For example, one of the lessons deals at length with slavery and its abolition. In the course of the lesson, he touches on the North American abolitionist movement and the difficulties faced by freed slaves in the latter part of the 19th century; but he never mentions the American Civil War. This isn't just chauvinism on my part. Nearly a million people died in that war, and the war's chief aim was the destruction of the South's slave-based economy. What could be more relevant to the point at hand?
It should also be noted that this is not a narrative history; it's more of a sociological and economic history. There's a lot of emphasis on trade, and not so much on the Great Men (and Women) who ruled the countries engaged in that trade.
Stearns has blocked out broad periods of time: the great river civilizations, prior to 1000 BCE; the Classsical period, from 1000 BCE to 500 CE; the Post-Classical period, to 1450 CE; the Early Modern period, to 1750 CE; the "long 19th century," up to the beginning of the First World War; and everything else since then. Within each of these periods, his treatment is more often thematic or geographical than chronological. He'll have lessons on Revolution, for example, or Gender Relations, or Globalization; and mixed in with these will be lessons that focus on Latin America or China.
Personally, I would prefer a juicier narrative. But Stearns is well-informed on all the topics he discusses, and he always has a packet of unusual facts, comparisons, or connections up his sleeve. (Who got most of the silver from the New World? If you said Spain, you'd be wrong: it was China. Understanding how that came about is one of the pleasures to be had from the course.)
Stearns has an unusual way of speaking that took some getting used to. Many of his sentences consist of lists - each item in the list ending with a rising inflection, like a question. Eventually I settled into the rhythm. The fact hat his lists are consistently interesting and well-organized helps.
James Reston Jr has an interesting theory: that Oswald was trying to kill Governor John Connally rather than JFK. Why? Because as Secretary of the Navy, Connally played a role in having Oswald's discharge from the Marines reclassified as dishonorable, and then denying his appeal.
In other word, Kennedy was collateral damage.
It's certainly possible, but there's no clinching piece of evidence here, nothing that nails the case. Reston quotes plenty of evidence that Oswald had a grudge against Connally, but none that the grudge rose to the level of murderous rage. Reston doesn't help his case by his lack of clarity about the single-bullet theory. The theory is essential to his case - so why does he spend so much time focusing on Connally's own refusal to accept it?
The most interesting passage in the book, frankly, was about the jokes Oswald exchanged with George de Mohrenschildt, a Russian emigrant living in the Dallas area. Some of them were actually pretty funny. Who knew that Oswald had a sense of humor?
As an audiobook, there were some odd production choices that further detract from its effectiveness. The first was having Reston himself narrate it. He's not terrible, he's just not very good. (He seems to suffer from the delusion many authors have that their words alone are sufficient to produce the desired effect; no emphasis need be added.)
The producers also, oddly, started off with a list of chapter titles, spoken without preamble or explanation. Fortunately there are only 10 of them. And the audiobook ends with 20 minutes of spoken footnotes. I don't think I've ever heard that before. Sometimes footnotes can be effectively merged into the narration, but left to the end of the book? Not so good.
On the whole, I'd have to say take a pass on this one. If Reston's case were compelling, it would be worth overlooking the other flaws. But it isn't.
"The Count of Chanteleine" is part of a specially endowed and financed series of Verne translations, a project aimed at providing editions of a number of Verne works that have never before appeared in English. The series is under the general supervision of the North American Jules Verne Society.
This particular title is translated by Edward Baxter, who has done excellent work in the service of Verne for other publishing projects. His style is informal, sometimes surprisingly colloquial: there is no effort here to make the translation sound Victorian. Apart from the difficulty of some of the French names, and my lack of familiarity with the geography - some of which I was able to overcome with the help of Wikipedia and a good map application - the tale is fast moving and accessible.
The Count of Chanteleine is a leader of the conservative resistance to the French Revolution, in the crucial year of 1793. My knowledge of the period is sketchy: I knew that 1793 marked the beginning of the Reign of Terror; what I didn't know was that there was a counter-revolution that same year, particularly in western and northwestern France: a coalition of Catholics and Royalists, who united in a "white army" to fight the Republican "blues." Chanteleine, a leader of the Whites, is defeated in battle and forced to go off on his own (with his servant Kernan) to try to save his own wife and child.
Verne is up to his usual tricks here: the plot takes a number of unexpected turns, and the story is filled with picturesque and arresting episodes. One of the aspects of his genius is the ability to wring every possible twist out of an historical or geographical setting.
One thing that's different here, at least from Verne's better-known work, is his emphasis on Catholicism. Verne himself was a conservative Catholic, and many of his characters are devout; but the morality is unusually black and white here. If you're a Catholic and a royalist, you are, by definition, a good guy; if not, you're a scoundrel. There's nobody in between.
That said, and taken as is, the story is great fun; but there's a problem with the narrator, Fred Frees: a big problem. He's clearly a talented voice artist, and would have done well with a producer who was willing to rein him in; but here he gives full play to the most over-the-top, melodramatic interpretation of the material imaginable. He's constantly shouting the dialogue, as if emotional intensity and volume are identical, and the characters at times sound like they're right out of Dudley Do-Right. His villains are almost audibly twirling their mustaches. There is a strong element of melodrama in the story already - note the black and white morality already mentioned - but choosing to emphasize that quality in the narration was, I think, a mistake.
So.... there are some major flaws here. But even so, I hope to see other titles in the series. While we're at it, let's have some of the wonderful translations in the Wesleyan University series as well. The more Verne the better. But if Mr Frees is selected as narrator again, please - someone tell him to dial it down a notch.
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