George Carlin need only be heard to be appreciated. You remember him pacing and gesturing as he crouched on the stage, delivering rapid-fire, surgical observations on the follies of humankind. Maybe it's his early days in radio, but the voice is among the most expressive anywhere. He leaps from rage to rant to sotto voce, from lecturing to confiding, as he plays a whole range of the characters who populate his wildly imaginative essays. You could listen to him for hours--and you will. Along the way you'll remember that Carlin was never just a comic. He was an articulate, informed, educated, and always opinionated eyewitness to the human condition. Hilarious and off-color, of course, but he covers an awful lot of ground in this collection, and really makes you think.
The word "epic" is thrown around a lot, especially by publicists. This is a rare case where it is wholly deserved.
I first read "Home Fires" around 15 years ago, discovering a monumental work that is really two ambitious books in one. It is the intimate, multigenerational story of a real American family, which in itself would be no small accomplishment. But then Don Katz uses the family saga as a framework on which he hangs the country's entire postwar social history. There is Vietnam, then folksingers and later rock 'n' roll, drugs, economic turmoil and our migration to the suburbs. It is related in such rich detail that countless throwaway sentences must have taken a week's research apiece.
As a new audiobook all these years later, "Home Fires" seems a new experience, somehow even more substantive and insightful than before. Narrator Joe Barrett weaves his way carefully through the twists and turns of each year, one after another. His voicing of characters is superb. Sure, all the Brooklyn males may sound more or less like Sam Gordon, but Mr. Barrett manages boys and girls, women, singers and prominent figures. His LBJ is passable, and his Richard Nixon pitch-perfect. Like the best of audiobooks, "the read" adds new dimensions to a remarkable work of journalism and literature. It's a long book. Totally worth it.
This is, as most reviews have said, a fascinating new take on an old favorite: Jekyll and Hyde from the perspective of a monster who becomes far less monstrous in the telling. He's no angel, either, but neither is Dr. Jekyll. It is a complex and inventive story, crafted in rich Victorian detail--a masterpiece of descriptive writing made better by the narration of John Curless, who seems to savor every word. It's another example of my favorite combination: an excellent book made even better in audio form.
This is a rarity for me--an audiobook that would better if you read it yourself. Fascinating subject and material that sparkles in comparison to conventional American history, but the reading is as deadly as the lecturer you no longer remember from college. I was looking forward to this one, but couldn't stay with it long at all.
David McCullough has crafted a warm and deeply human portrayal of Harry Truman, with generous attention to his early homespun upbringing, explaining so much about the remarkable man he would become. Ascending to the presidency with the sudden death of FDR, and scorned by most political observers, Truman proceeded to take one historic initiative after another: the Marshall Plan, the Truman Doctrine, NATO, the Korean conflict, and of course, the atomic bomb. It is impossible to come away without an appreciation of Truman’s critical role in the history of the Twentieth Century—and beyond.
McCullough is not only a superb historian and master storyteller, but also a marvelous narrator. He has always reminded me of the late John Chancellor of NBC. The writing, the historical depth and the narration combine to create an audiobook that seems to end much too soon.
It’s a simple, sinister plot with shades of the classic short story, “The Lottery.” One hundred selected teenage boys compete each year for a prize of unimaginable wealth by walking for days until only one of them is left. No stopping, no resting, no slowing down. Whenever one falls behind in the grueling march, he doesn’t just lose a shot at the prize; he is shot dead. Soldiers do the shooting and enforce the rules. An Orwellian government is implied but never detailed. All along the long route over back roads and highways, sometimes through cheering crowds and often alone together in the night, a little community develops among the characters, who both compete against and support each other in a struggle that all but one must lose. It is a long book – nearly 11 hours – and probably couldn’t fully impart the marathon nature of The Walk if it weren’t.
An interesting aside on grammar: In King’s book, “On Writing,” he rails against the over-use of adverbs, and suggests that the last step in writing a book is to go through and remove about half of them. Maybe it’s because I just heard that book, but in “The Long Walk” it seems like someone put them all back in, and quite a few more. Or maybe it’s because the fictitious Richard Bachman really does, as King claims, have a style of his own.
This is, quite simply, the best audiobook I’ve ever encountered. It is also a stellar example of the way in which a great book can be made even more powerful as an audiobook.
The book itself is an exceptionally perceptive examination of black maids and their mistresses in the Deep South of the 1960s and before. It details the lives of beloved black surrogate mothers who obediently raise each succeeding generation of insensitive, entitled white overseers. The callous neglect and cruelty of segregation is on full, horrifying display. Along the way, the author creates a whole population of multidimensional characters, black and white, living an archaic life in a fraying Southern society at the earliest dawn of the civil rights era.
But it gets better. As an audiobook, these characters spring to life through four narrators whose command of dialect and nuance, portraying several characters apiece, is breathtaking. After 18 hours of listening, you will love a few and loathe more, but you will feel you know them all.
This is an inventive and original story about the unfolding calamities that follow a nearly imperceptible slowing of the earth’s rotation. Things go from odd to uncomfortable to cataclysmic over a period of a few years, as society unwinds in ways that wouldn’t occur to most people who weren't writing a novel about it. The plot is wrapped around the coming of age of a pre-teen California girl.
Narrators are a matter of personal taste, but this one, for me, was too much of a thin, little-girl voice for a memoir written from the perspective of an older character. It was too slow, too wistful, and too sad to be applied to every single situation.
With all the eerie scene-setting of a Stephen King work, and more than a few horrifying events, this little story never really goes anywhere.
The premise—a simple stand of tall roadside grass that baffles and captures those who are lured into it—is a good one. Novels have been based on less. This short story almost felt like the outline of a novel, and as such, it seems incomplete. A lot of things happen, but we are given little understanding of why.
This compact, chilling little story of a New Orleans legend turns the tooth fairy into a menacing character who twists the exchange of tooth for coin into a kind of mandatory tribute: hand over the tooth or else. It is a bargain that small children can live with. Older children and adults can foul it up, with dreadful consequences. Some childhood fantasies, perhaps, are best left alone.
With a foreboding, spine-tingling reading, “Extraction” is a finely wrought tale. As short stories go, it may leave just one too many questions unanswered for some listeners. It did for me, but I still enjoyed it immensely.
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