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Member Since 2010

  • 360 reviews
  • 387 ratings
  • 429 titles in library
  • 18 purchased in 2018

  • The Things They Carried

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 47 mins)
    • By Tim O'Brien
    • Narrated By Bryan Cranston
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Hailed by The New York Times as "a marvel of storytelling", The Things They Carried’s portrayal of the boots-on-the-ground experience of soldiers in the Vietnam War is a landmark in war writing. Now, three-time Emmy Award winner-Bryan Cranston, star of the hit TV series Breaking Bad, delivers an electrifying performance that walks the book’s hallucinatory line between reality and fiction and highlights the emotional power of the spoken word.

    Mel says: "Heavy Load"
    ""Vietnam Was Partly Love""

    The Things They Carried (1990) is a powerful audiobook, perfectly read by Bryan Cranston, and written with searing and sensitive honesty by Tim O'Brien. The book contains twenty-two Vietnam war stories based on O'Brien's experiences and those of his fellow soldiers during his one-year tour of duty in 1969. The pieces combine to vividly evoke what it was like before, during, and after the Vietnam War. And it's not only a Vietnam War book; it also explores universal questions of memory, imagination, language, reality, story, war, and love. For O'Brien, Vietnam becomes at times a metaphor for the world, and a state of mind as much as a physical place.

    The title story introduces the war and the American men who fought in it by listing and explaining what they carried: war gear (helmets, boots, bandages, weaponry, etc.), practical things (canteens, c-rations, toilet paper, bug repellent, etc.), personal things (comic books, condoms, dope, photos, letters, basketballs, etc.), unpleasant things (infections, diseases, lice, molds, etc.), intangible things (fear, guilt, longing, grief, memories, etc.), and Vietnam itself (soil, sky, monsoons, etc.). They carried it all without any "sense of strategy or mission" or hope, moving by inertia. Through the lists O'Brien weaves the desperate fantasy love of Lieutenant Jimmy Cross for Martha, an unresponsive girl he dated once in college.

    "Love" depicts Jimmy Cross' visit to O'Brien some years after the war, when the subject of his love, Martha, came up in conversation.

    The third story, "Spin," concerns how memory makes the war now, while story makes it forever.

    "The Rainy River" examines what to O'Brien was a colossal failure of conscience and nerve, his choice not to flee to Canada to avoid Vietnam: "I was a coward. I went to the war."

    "Enemies" shows how the enemy is not always the guy fighting for the other country.

    "Friends" ironically develops the situation between two enemies in the previous story.

    "How to Tell a True War Story" anatomizes war, memory, fiction, and reality. "If you feel uplifted in the end [of a war story], if there is any rectitude, you've been made a victim of a years old and terrible lie."

    "The Dentist" is a vignette about a bully's fear of dentists.

    "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong" depicts the seductive call of nighttime jungle patrols to the soul of a 17-year-old girl visiting her boyfriend soldier: "I feel close to my own body. I'm glowing in the dark. I know exactly who I am. I couldn't feel that anywhere else."

    "Stockings" proves the talismanic protective power of pantyhose.

    "Church" is a quiet story in which the platoon occupies a pagoda, monks cleaning machine guns and soldiers talking about religion.

    In "The Man I Killed" O'Brien describes a young VC soldier he killed, delicate body and smooth complexion, black pajama pants, blown out of his rubber sandals, one eye staring open, the other a star-shaped wound, his jaw knocked into his throat, his hopes and fears and goals and wife.

    In "Ambush" O'Brien tells how he killed the man, and when his daughter asks him, "Have you have killed a man?" he says "No," but is still seeing "the young man step out of the fog."

    In "Style" O'Brien depicts a callous soldier mocking the graceful dance of a Vietnamese girl before her burnt house and killed family.

    After the war in "Speaking of Courage," Norman Bowker is at a loss at home, driving round and round his small town's prairie lake, houses, and 4th of July park, imagining telling the story of how he failed to get the silver medal for uncommon bravery.

    "Notes" explains the "true" story behind "Speaking of Courage," revealing in a "slip" that it was O'Brien who failed to win that medal by failing to prevent his buddy from sinking into a field of excrement and mud during an appalling mortar barrage.

    In "In the Field," the platoon searches that muck for the corpse of their fellow-soldier as O'Brien (?) tries to come to terms with his role in his friend's death.

    In "Good Form" O'Brien says that apart from his having done a tour of duty in Vietnam, everything is invented. He didn't kill that young man but, having been present, he might as well have killed him. Story vs. truth. Or the truth of story.

    20 years later in "Field Trip," visiting that same muck field with his 10-year-old daughter, he goes for a cleansing swim in it.

    In "Ghost Soldiers" O'Brien deals with his second wounding injury and his vengeful hatred for the rookie medic who nearly killed him by mistreating him.

    In "Night Life" a fellow soldier bugs out from the stress of high alert nights.

    In the last story, "The Lives of the Dead," O'Brien interweaves his sad memories of Linda, a girl he loved as a boy ("Why do you think I'm dead?") with his memories of death during his tour of duty.

    After The Things They Carried, an hour-long "bonus featurette" written and read by O'Brien, "The Vietnam in Me," (1994), closes the audiobook. This non-fiction piece depicts his return in 1994 to Vietnam with his lover, Kate, revisiting places of terrible carnage from his tour of duty and speaking with local people and trying to deal with his nightmarish memories, vivid nightmares, and love for Kate. I found this non-fiction piece more moving than The Things They Carried. I had felt that occasionally in his stories he is at times too consciously telling stories, both in his comments about the nature of memory, story, and truth, and in his talent for crafting perfect tales. That coupled with Bryan Cranston's stellar professional reading made for a moving and harrowing experience that at times felt crafted, acted, and story-like. By contrast, O'Brien's craggy, tenor voice is the voice of a plain, sensitive, and damaged person reading his failures, survivals, and losses, along with the self-delusional nature of America's mythology of righteous innocence. The burning truth of "The Vietnam in Me" as read by O'Brien scorches the stories.

    Finally, O'Brien, who may feel like a coward to have gone to war, exercises intense bravery in his honest fictional autobiographies.

    53 of 60 people found this review helpful
  • Swords Against Wizardry: The Adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 54 mins)
    • By Fritz Leiber
    • Narrated By Jonathan Davis, Neil Gaiman

    In Swords Against Wizardry, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, sent by a witch on a foolhardy journey, return to the icy reaches of the north in search of dubious treasure. There, they are seduced by the glittering attractions of an ice woman, who brings them with her to her shadowy lair.

    Jefferson says: "'The time has come for sorcery and swords.'"
    "'The time has come for sorcery and swords.'"

    Swords against Wizardry (1968) is the fourth book in Fritz Leiber's sword and sorcery series about the rogue-adventurer duo Fafhrd (tall, fair-skinned northern barbarian) and the Gray Mouser (short, swart scion of southern civilization). It features four stories, each full of all the things that make the series so uniquely delectable: dry irony, witty banter, comical slapstick, graphic horror, kinky hints, suspenseful action, heroic anti-heroism, original imagination, and baroque style--including quaint archaisms, quirky vocabulary, Shakespearean syntax, rich alliteration, and vivid similes. Here follows an account of the four stories.

    I. 'In the Witch's Tent' (1968)
    Favorite line: 'It appears that someone doesn't like us.'
    This short prologue-story is funny and entertaining in situation (visiting a drugged out hag for a prophecy), climax (using a tent as a weapon), description ('Its glow showed her face to be as dark, jagged-featured, and dirty as the new-dug root-clump of a black apple tree'), and banter ('You'd turn a wizard's workroom into a brothel'). However, it's really only a fix-up bridge between the last story of the third book ('Adept's Gambit') and the second story of this one.

    II. 'Stardock' (1965)
    Favorite line: 'I'm beginning to think . . . they aren't sportsman.'
    In this novella Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser have been challenged to climb Stardock, the tallest peak in the north, to win a pouch of stars and the right to father sons on the Snow King's daughters. The story is a funny and suspenseful mountaineering fantasy featuring an ice-cat, a flying-carpet manta, snow serpents, ice-gnomes, rival rogues, a race of invisible people, and a neat climax. Alternating between the comical (e.g., Fafhrd forgetting about the Mouser trapped in a chimney), the sublime (e.g. the vanishing of an entire snow ridge 'as if some great God had reached down while the Mouser's back was turned and removed that block of reality'), the physical (e.g., eating powdered or raw meat while climbing), the story finally asks what drives men to climb mountains.

    III. 'The Two Best Thieves in Lankhmar' (1968)
    Favorite line: 'Mouser? Your box is buzzing.'
    This short story is a perfect length for its plot, freshly focuses on what comes after an adventure, and humorously humbles its heroes. Having spent too much time together before and after Stardock and quarreled over the best way to sell their invisible jewels, the friends part--until 'Night was a-slink' and the 'malfeasors' of Lankhmar are readying for business, and they run into each other by chance (?) outside the headquarters of their respective fences, Ogo the Blind and Nemia of the Dusk. When the Mouser proclaims that he and Fafhrd are the two best thieves in the city and Fafhrd crosses his fingers, one expects something to go amiss with their jewel selling. After all, adventuring is not conducive to thieving, and men are no match for women.

    IV. 'The Lords of Quarmall' (1964)
    Favorite line 1: 'He almost stuttered midway through the word 'slewerisophnak.''
    Favorite line 2: 'But they assured me they were the very greatest sorcerers.'
    This novella, the longest story in the book, is uneven, having been begun in 1936 by Leiber's friend Harry Otter Fischer and completed by Leiber decades later, but it is an entertainingly lurid romp that reads like a fusion of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo, Robert E. Howard's 'Red Nails,' and Jack Vance's Dying Earth. Unbeknownst to each other Fafhrd and the Mouser have hired themselves to the two feuding sons of the King of Quarmall. Quarmall is a 'huge ramified castle kingdom,' an unwholesome realm consisting of the King's above-ground castle, the older brother Hasjarl's subterranean Upper Levels, and the younger brother Gwaay's Lower Levels. Genetically modified pinheaded slaves with elephantine legs run treadmills to pump fresh air underground. Fafhrd's boss Hasjarl looks like a 'kobold birthed in a hot-spring,' pours invective from his sphincter-shaped mouth, tortures his slaves, and drives his bearded mages to bespell Gwaay with diseases. Gwaay, the Mouser's master, is 'a pallid, handsome, soft-spoken youth' who goads Hasjarl while acting calm and keeping his depilated sorcerers blocking the disease spells. The hating brothers are fire and ice foils for each other and for their hired champions. As we read the story wondering what will happen when Fafhrd and the Mouser finally run into each other, we encounter many fine scenes: e.g., Gwaay playing a telekinetic strategy game; the King looking down from his tower at villagers walking like 'ants struggling through some sticky trap'; Fafhrd reading the 'dry and prosy' history of Quarmall inscribed by an eon-old cockroach called Scraa; Hasjarl having his eyelid grommets inserted; Hasjarl and Gwaay playing a game of chess; the Mouser finally getting to read a dread spell; the principles participating in a splendid climax; etc.

    As usual, Jonathan Davis gives a wonderful reading of the audiobook, doing an Aussie/Cockney Mouser and an American Fafhrd and relishing all of Leiber's outre events, characters, and style. I particularly enjoyed his High Eunuch, combustible Hasjarl, and Blind Ogo, his Eyes, and Nemia.

    Fans of sword and sorcery who want to see one of its decadent, imaginative, and witty fathers at the height of his powers should read this book.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • The End of the Affair

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 28 mins)
    • By Graham Greene
    • Narrated By Colin Firth

    Graham Greene’s evocative analysis of the love of self, the love of another, and the love of God is an English classic that has been translated for the stage, the screen, and even the opera house. Academy Award-winning actor Colin Firth ( The King’s Speech, A Single Man) turns in an authentic and stirring performance for this distinguished audio release.

    Doggy Bird says: "Excellent performance of Graham Greene classic"
    "“It's all human nature, sir, isn't it?”"

    'I would have liked to have left that past time alone, for as I write of 1939 I feel all my hatred returning. Hatred seems to operate the same glands as love: it even produces the same actions. If we had not been taught how to interpret the story of the Passion, would we have been able to say from their actions alone whether it was the jealous Judas or the cowardly Peter who loved Christ?'

    Maurice Bendrix is a moderately successful novelist--films are made from his books, and he is 'praised for his technical ability'--but he earns little money from his writing and calls himself a scribbler. Beginning his account of an affair he had with Sarah Miles during WWII, he says, 'this is a record of hate far more than of love.' He then recounts recently seeing Sarah's civil-servant husband Henry at night standing in the rain without an umbrella and, instead of passing by unseen, addressing him. Had God or the devil moved him? He had had no contact with the couple ever since the affair ended over a year and a half ago, and he was unsure whom he hated more, Sarah or Henry, who'd remained obtusely innocent of the affair. On that rainy night, Henry ended up inviting Maurice home because he wanted to confide in him: suspecting Sarah of having an affair, he'd contacted a detective agency to investigate her but would like Maurice to laugh at him for being a fool so he can burn the agency's letter and forget his suspicions. 'Then the demon spoke,' however, and Maurice offered to visit the detective for Henry, initiating a tragic chain of events. As Maurice tells us, 'How twisted we humans are. . .' (Maurice makes plenty of similarly bleak comments, like 'Why do we have this desire to tease the innocent?')

    It's not easy for Maurice to revisit the past: 'If this book of mine fails to take a straight course it is because I am lost in a strange region.' Throughout his account (his confession!), Maurice's honesty about the affair, about his self-centered love, jealousy, and hatred, and about his dislike of God, is so appalling that reading Graham Greene's novel The End of the Affair (1951) felt like watching a man flay himself in public. It also made me wonder how much of it is autobiographical (apparently Greene based the character of Sarah on the woman with whom he had an affair and to whom he dedicated his novel).

    If it sounds unpleasant, it is, but it is also brilliant and funny and moving. The brilliance shines in philosophical and psychological insights (e.g., 'The sense of unhappiness is so much easier to convey than happiness'). The humor lies in witty lines (e.g., 'He had very limited small talk, and his answers fell like trees across the road') and ironic situations (e.g., detective Parkis having named his son Lance because he believed that Sir Lancelot found the Holy Grail when actually he found Guinevere's bed). The emotional impact comes from the pain and suffering of the characters (e.g., Maurice strangling his and Sarah's affair before it can end naturally), and their gestures of humanity (e.g., Maurice putting a pair of biscuits by Henry's bed).

    Greene's characters feel real, especially Sarah, Henry, and Maurice, but also supporting ones like the sad-eyed detective Parkis and the desperate rationalist Smythe, and thus the relationships between them are absorbing. The third of the five books of the novel consists almost completely of Sarah's diary, and reading her naked words feels like an invasion of privacy of a real person and casts an intensely ironic light on the incidents that Maurice relates in the first two books.

    Colin Firth reads the audiobook superbly. He does not over-dramatize or showily alter his voice when speaking for different characters. Instead, he reads every word, phrase, sentence, and paragraph with perfect understanding of the English language, the author's style, the mood and meaning of each scene, and the mind and emotion of each character. He enhances the novel.

    WWII plays a big part in the affair, and Greene concisely evokes what life was like in London then (e.g., 'Once in the blitz I saw a man laughing outside his house where his wife and child were buried.'), but the novel is most deeply about time (or eternity), love (or jealousy and hate and forgiveness), God (or devils), faith (or unbelief), miracles (or coincidences), reality (or magic), writing (or writing block), truth (or fiction), and memory (or misperception). I suppose that Greene finally stacks the deck against atheism a bit too neatly; or do I just want to dismiss miracles as coincidences? Anyway, the suffering of the main characters is all so human and real that I am willing to give them whatever comfort they can find, and in Maurice's case his argument with God gives him little comfort. Even amidst his self-absorption, however, Maurice reveals a path to salvation, regardless of whether or not one believes in God, when he says, 'I had become nearly human enough to think of another person's trouble.'

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • The Bees: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 15 mins)
    • By Laline Paull
    • Narrated By Orlagh Cassidy
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, a member of the lowest caste in her orchard hive, where work and sacrifice are the highest virtues and worship of the beloved Queen the only religion. But Flora is not like other bees. With circumstances threatening the hive's survival, her curiosity is regarded as a dangerous flaw, but her courage and strength are assets. She is allowed to feed the newborns in the royal nursery and then to become a forager, flying alone and free to collect nectar and pollen.

    Emily - Audible says: "My Favorite Book of 2014"
    "The Fascinating Life of a Special Sanitation Bee"

    When Flora 717 breaks out of her emergence chamber as a generic 'flora,' belonging to no particular flower kin and destined to be a lowly Sanitation worker, her beehive is experiencing an extraordinarily cold summer, so that her roughly 8,000 sisters are hungry and on edge: 'They say the season is deformed by rain, the flowers shun us and fall unborn, the foragers are falling from the air and no one knows why.' The scary fertility police are keen to detect deformity or abnormality in new bees and give them 'the Kindness' ('From death comes life eternal'), and Flora is unusually large and ugly. Fortunately for her and for the readers of Laline Paull’s fascinating novel The Bees (2014), Sister Sage (a bee priestess) sets Flora on an unprecedented path towards self-development and hive-knowledge.

    Soon Flora is visiting different parts of the hive and doing different things, including feeding larvae, attending to spoiled drones ('their malenesses'), meeting the Queen, and being promoted to forager. As the most basic law of the hive is that 'only the Queen may breed' and violating it is the grossest treason, Flora is conflicted when something sentient seems to be pressuring the inside her abdomen. . . To live and learn, she must deal with the Myriad, the numerous bee-foes like venomous wasps, beautiful dragonflies, cursing crows, and oily spiders, and with the controlling hive impulse for conformity ('Accept, Obey, and Serve'), all in the context of human activities hostile to bees like mass farming of single crops and overuse of poison. We learn in the prologue that the beehive's orchard is under siege, 'a dullard's patchwork of corn and soy' on one side and 'a light-industrial development' on the other, and that the owner of the orchard is planning to sell it.

    Paull depicts life in a beehive with panache, from realistic features like the specializing of roles, the gathering of nectar and pollen, the making of wax and honey, the feeding of the young, the maintenance of the hive, the killing of invasive wasps, the quasi-hibernation of the winter cluster, and the legendary 'Visitation' of the beekeeper, to imaginative extrapolations like scent-gates, chemical stories, hive mind utterances, and the religion of the Queen: 'Our Queen, who art in labor, hallowed be thy womb.' And she does lots of vivid, beautiful, and imaginative writing, like 'She felt the cool, soft press of its petal tunnel, then a shiver of delight as its pollen brushed against her fur. A bead of nectar pulsed sweetness, and she stretched out her tongue.'

    But although to tell Flora’s story Paull writes much bee-appropriate behavior (e.g., like grooming fur, drinking nectar, communicating via antennae and chemical scents, breathing through spiracles, grabbing with leg hooks, and giving directions by dancing), she also anthropomorphizes her subjects to engage our emotions more than necessary. Her bees feel guilt or scorn or smile or sob or curtsey or clap their hands or don pomade or rev their engines. Her intense focus on mother's love seems too human and hence too alien to my notion of a beehive. She ruins a fine account of Flora's terrifying encounter with the 'heavy magnetic throb' of a metal tree by identifying it as a cell phone tower. She also loses track of Flora's character when, after early on demonstrating the bee's accurate ability to identify the gender of baby bees, she later has her fail to do so for no other reason than to surprise us.

    But for the most part Paull impressively uses bee biology to imagine bee culture and psychology to tell an absorbing and moving story. Although Flora's relationship with Sir Linden would be impossible for a real bee, it is interestingly stranger than a typical human romance. Reading the novel does make one see the world from the point of view of the tiny, hard-working creatures and regret the decrease in wildflowers and the over-use of poisons.

    Paull has a critical view of authority figures and power wielders like police and priestesses, and some readers compare her book to 1984 or The Handmaid's Tale, but I think The Bees is much stranger and brighter. Her novel more resembles Richard Adams' Watership Down (which blends biology and imagination to depict the quest of a group of rabbits for a new home) and T. H. White's The Book of Merlin (which imagines life in an ant colony to comment on human nature and society). If you appreciate bees and sf about aliens who are very human in some ways, you should like this remarkable novel.

    The reader of the audiobook, Orlagh Cassidy, is excellent, especially with the brutal fertility police, arrogant drones, hyper bluebottles, inimical wasps, and Flora 717, but perhaps she overdoes it for malevolent characters like Sister Sage, who sounds like the good witch from The Wizard of Oz twisted to the dark. That is, even though the novel is very much for adults, with plenty of graphic violence and some sex, Cassidy often seems to be reading it for children.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • The Ionian Mission: Aubrey-Maturin Series, Book 8

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 42 mins)
    • By Patrick O'Brian
    • Narrated By Ric Jerrom

    Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, veterans of many battles, return in this novel to the seas where they first sailed as shipmates. But Jack is now a senior captain, commanding a line-of-battle ship sent out to reinforce the squadron blockading Toulon, and this is a longer, harder, colder war than the dashing frigate action of his early days.... A sudden turn of events takes him and Stephen off on a hazardous mission to the Greek islands. All his old skills of seamanship - and luck when fighting against odds - come triumphantly into their own as the story concludes with some fierce and thrilling action.

    Jefferson says: "It is the wind alone that moves us"
    "It is the wind alone that moves us"

    The Ionian Mission (1981), the 8th novel in Patrick O'Brien's excellent Age of Sail Age of Napoleon series about Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin, starts a new mini-series after the resolution of the 7th book. Stephen is happily married with Diana Villiers (though due to their different personalities and interests they don't share the same house), while Jack is happily married to Sophie (though due to his legal entanglements with a land shark, he has had to escape to sea via a temporary commission). The year is 1814, the British are still at war with America and France, and Jack is to join the British blockade of French shipping in the Mediterranean. And Stephen will accompany Jack in his cover capacity as ship's surgeon and in his secret role as spy.

    Once Jack begins his blockade duty on the Worcester, an old, moldy, poorly built, unwieldy ship ('a floating coffin'), the monotonous routine begins sapping his morale and that of the crew: 'There is no duller life on Earth than a blockade.' However, the Mediterranean political situation is complex and fluid (the Barbary States, the Ottomans, and the European powers are all busily at work with and/or against each other, while Greek pirates and Muslim corsairs appear and disappear opportunistically), and this is an O'Brian novel, so when we read, 'Although this was only a parenthesis in his career, a routine turn on the ever-lasting Toulon blockade, with little likelihood of action, there was always the sea to cope with. . . and the unexpected was always at hand,' we may expect some unexpected action (though O'Brian, especially in this book, is a master of deferring action). Through this, the 8th book in the series I've read, O'Brian never repeats himself. He has access to a limitless imagination, a bottomless storehouse of historical information, and an endless variety of political, nautical, martial, meteorological, psychological, philosophical, and zoological matter. From the preparatory beginning to the ferocious climax, I had no idea what was going to happen next.

    One of the great pleasures of O'Brian's series (and this novel) is the friendship between and personalities of Stephen and Jack. They are perfect foils for each other, Jack being a hulking, red-faced, good-natured, straight-forward man, at confident at sea and at sea ashore, Stephen being a short, sleight, dark, philosophical (if not misanthropical), secretive man, clumsy at sea and adroit ashore. Both men are brave. Both men love music, conversing without words while playing their violin (Jack) and cello (Stephen), and it is for Jack the only way he has of approaching the mystical or the absolute.

    O'Brian efficiently works into his story many vivid early 19th-century British navy details: the effects of grog, the superstitious treatment of luck, the need 'to pass for a gentleman' to get promoted, the system of pressing, the need for and nature of entertainment, the routine for washing clothes, the typical Sunday, the code of punishment, the names of puddings (e.g., spotted dog and drowned baby), the importance of wind direction, the preparations for battle, and much more.

    Throughout the novel, he writes vivid descriptions, whether of people ('smiling so broadly that his blue eyes were not more than twinkling slits in his red face'), sea and sky ('a sparkling day, warm in spite of the wind, a truly Mediterranean day at last, with splendid visibility, white clouds racing across a perfect sky, their shadows showing purple on a sea royal-blue where it was not white'), ships ('he plunged down into the familiar reek of the lower deck: bilge-water, cable-slime, mould, hard-worked unwashed men'), music ('then Stephen struck out a phrase from a Haydn symphony, a strange haunting inconclusive phrase, a faintly questioning voice from another world'), fauna ('The sleepy gabble of flamingos'), and more and more.

    He also works into his book(s) many apt lines about life, like 'Jack was sipping his hot lemon-shrub and reflecting upon moral superiority, its enormous strength in all human relationships but even more so between husband and wife,' or 'Because, sir, teaching young gentlemen has a dismal effect upon the soul. It exemplifies the badness of established, artificial authority.'

    Ric Jerrom is the ideal reader for the audiobooks. He reads everything with perfect sensitivity to style and mood and character. His Stephen (slight Irish) and Jack (bluff British) are always spot on, and he enjoys doing colorful voices like Jack with a cold, Jack's coarse, nagging, and nasal steward Killick, the puny earnest adolescent midshipman Mr. Calamy, a Greek Orthodox patriarch, and Turkish beys and pashas, and he sings sea shanties and booms like a bittern with panache. I can't imagine a better reader for the series.

    This book is a pleasure! Fans of literate historical fiction set in the age of Napoleon and of Sail, especially the kind that features great characters, and rare but extraordinarily exciting action.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Haunting of Hill House

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 31 mins)
    • By Shirley Jackson
    • Narrated By Bernadette Dunne
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Four seekers have come to the ugly, abandoned old mansion: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of the psychic phenomenon called haunting; Theodora, his lovely and lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a lonely, homeless girl well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the adventurous future heir of Hill House.

    Mark says: "Superb Reading of Horror Classic"
    "Fine Psychological Supernatural Horror"

    Dr. John Montague has rented Hill House for three summer months, because it is isolated (the closest people live six miles away) and reputed to be haunted. He's out to conduct a scientific investigation of the paranormal there for a book that should knock the socks off his peers. To accomplish this, he’ll need 'assistants' to corroborate (if not to catalyze) supernatural phenomena, so he's sent invitations to people with relevant experience.

    Two agree to participate. First comes Eleanor Vance, a self-conscious, friendless, unfulfilled, sensitive, and highly imaginative 32-year-old virgin--imagine an Anne Shirley who never met Diana Barry or Gilbert Blythe! When Eleanor was twelve, her father died and for three days stones fell from the sky on the family house. She has spent the last eleven years of her life taking care of her invalid mother, and now that the woman has died Eleanor is a free agent (though her unpleasant big sister and brother-in-law sure don't want her driving the family car). Second to arrive is the vivacious shopkeeper Theodora, who lives in a world of 'delight and soft colors' and once laughingly broke a laboratory's record for identifying hidden playing cards. She's at liberty because she recently had a terrible fight with her roommate climaxing in the destruction of the gifts they had received from each other. Joining them in Hill House is Luke Sanderson, a wealthy and rakish young man due to inherit the pile. His aunt figures that she's gotten 'the liar and thief' out of trouble for the summer by forcing him on Dr. Montague.

    As soon as Eleanor arrives at Hill House she senses that 'it was . . . not a fit place for people or for love or for hope' and hears 'the sick voice inside her which whispered, Get away from here, get away.' Instead of following that advice, she musters all her 'moral strength' and, repeating the lines of a song, 'journeys end in lovers meeting,' steps onto the veranda of Hill House. There she is 'enshadowed' by the house, which she feels 'was waiting for her, evil, but patient.' If you don't like horror stories in which people do stupid things like enter obviously inimical houses …

    As the other participants show up at Hill House, and Dr. Montague recounts its history and legends, and inexplicable and disturbing things begin happening there, we realize that Eleanor is the worst person in the worst place at the worst time (or the best person in the best place at the best time). Where will it all end? Are they dealing with one ghost or multiple ghosts or a sentient house or all these? Why is the space before the nursery so abnormally cold? Why can't Eleanor enter the tower and its library? What do the house and or its ghost(s) want with her? What does she want with them? Is it all in her head? It can't be, because Theodora, Luke, and Dr. Montague all perceive many of the same supernatural manifestations as Eleanor. And yet…

    Shirley Jackson excels at psychological horror, putting complicated people in situations attuned to their needs and weaknesses. The book has interesting things to say about fear, as well as about loneliness and the limits of friendship in stressful contexts. She unveils our unflattering impulses, as when we experience a momentary desire to physically or verbally slap someone we really like. She's very aware of how and why groups turn on weaker members. She's also very funny: even before the comedy relief entrance of Mrs. Montague and her right hand man the schoolmaster Arthur, who believe themselves to be supremely sensitive to the supernatural while remaining pompously oblivious, Luke, Theodora, and Eleanor often engage in witty whistling in the dark repartee and flights of fancy.

    The reader of the audiobook, Bernadette Dunne, gives a fine reading, although perhaps her male voices tend to sound the same.

    I've never forgotten watching the first movie adaptation, The Haunting (1963), when I was nine, because the part where Julie Harris as Eleanor holds what she thinks is Theodora's hand for comfort terrified me into a night of wakefulness with bedroom lights on. So I was curious to find out what the original novel would do to my middle-aged self. I found it to be more morbidly fascinating, ambiguous, and sad than scary. Instead of writing scenes of sensational and graphic violence ala Hellraiser et al, Jackson makes us care about the emotional and mental distress of her main characters. Eleanor is so pathetic in her yearning to belong and so sensitive and imaginative that it's hard to draw the line between what she wants and what Hill House wants. I recommend the book to people who like well-written psychological supernatural horror without graphic violence, expensive special effects, complete explanations, or happy endings.

    3 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • Call for the Dead: A George Smiley Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (4 hrs and 44 mins)
    • By John le Carré
    • Narrated By Michael Jayston
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    George Smiley is no one's idea of a spy - which is perhaps why he's such a natural. But Smiley apparently made a mistake. After a routine security interview, he concluded that the affable Samuel Fennan had nothing to hide. Why, then, did the man from the Foreign Office shoot himself in the head only hours later? Or did he? The heart-stopping tale of intrigue that launched both novelist and spy, Call for the Dead is an essential introduction to le Carre's chillingly amoral universe.

    Caroline says: "Great Entry to le Carré"
    "A game played with clouds in the sky"

    Call for the Dead (1961) is John le Carre's first published novel and the first featuring his spy George Smiley, a neat protagonist. 'Short, fat, and of a quiet disposition,' toad-like with a tick in one eye, he's no handsome spy of action ala Ethan Hunt or Jason Bourne or James Bond. He's an expert in obscure, 17th-century German poets, and posed in pre-WWII Germany as a scholar-lecturer while really serving as a talent-scout for potential spies. Now during the Cold War he's working for 'the Circus,' a fictionalized British Intelligence, as a home-based Intelligence Officer without expectation of promotion. He's been divorced by his beautiful upper-crust wife Lady Ann Sercomb and is still imagining what she'd say in certain situations. He's intelligent, possessed of a quick and powerful memory, and an astute judge of human nature and character. No idealist, he's aware that his work has encouraged his 'bloodless and inhuman' side and left him somewhat hollow.

    After establishing Smiley's character and history, the plot of the novel begins when Smiley learns that the Foreign Office civil servant Samuel Fennan has committed suicide. Just the day before Smiley interviewed Fennan to let him know that he was not under suspicion from an anonymous letter referring to his Oxford University days' communism, and he knows that the man couldn't have felt that his career was in jeopardy or his loyalty questioned, so he doesn't believe the suspiciously typed suicide note. Smiley interviews Fennan's widow Elsa, a 'slight, fierce woman in her 50s with hair cut very short and dyed the color of nicotine,' a Jewish woman with a slight German accent and the atmosphere of the concentration camp survivor. After talking with her, he knows that she lied to him, but he also cannot believe that she could have killed her husband.

    That said, (perhaps partly thinking of his wife) Smiley does muse, 'However closely we live together, at whatever time of day or night we sound the deepest thoughts in one another, we know nothing.' He has also become cynical about the concept of the state: 'State is a dream too, a symbol of nothing at all, an emptiness, a mind without a body, a game played with clouds in the sky. But States make war, don't they and imprison people?' Then he considers his return to work as going 'back to the unreality of containing a human tragedy in a three-page report.'

    Enraged by his smooth head of service Maston not wanting to believe Fennan's death was a murder and very aware that 'intelligent men could be broken by the stupidity of their superiors,' Smiley resigns and tries to solve the mystery on his own, enlisting the aid of just-retired policeman Mendel and spy colleague Peter Guillam. This leads to painful realizations about Smiley's past and a suspenseful climax involving a theater, the Thames, and the suitably opaque London fog.

    Call for the Dead is a compact and potent tale of espionage and murder, with a convincing set of characters and a complex (rather dark) vision of human nature and governments and bureaucrats and spies and the nations they're working for. No cardboard completely evil villains or completely good heroes here. Fans of literate murder mysteries with a political, espionage bent should like it.

    Audiobook reader Michael Jayston is excellent as the narrator and as the different characters, whether British, German, male, female, working class or Oxbridge.

    3 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • Swords and Deviltry: The Adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 42 mins)
    • By Fritz Leiber
    • Narrated By Jonathan Davis, Neil Gaiman

    In the ancient city of Lankhmar, two men forge a friendship in battle. The red-haired barbarian Fafhrd left the snowy reaches of Nehwon looking for a new life, while the Gray Mouser, apprentice magician, fled after finding his master dead. These bawdy brothers-in-arms cement a friendship that leads them through the wilds of Nehwon facing thieves, wizards, princesses, and the depths of their desires and fears.

    melody333 says: "Fafhrd/Gray Mouser"
    "Now tell me about civilization and your part in it"

    Swords and Deviltry (1970) is the first book in Fritz Leiber's original, ironic, funny, and richly styled sword and sorcery series about the relationship between and the adventures of the antiheroes Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. This collection of three novellas depicts the origins of the complementary duo (giant-sized, red-haired, fair-skinned northern barbarian Fafhrd and child-sized, black-haired, swart-complexioned southern slum-boy Mouser), how they came of age, found their first loves, and became friends.

    The first story, 'The Snow Women' (1970), depicts naïve and secretive 18-year-old Fafhrd's erotic infatuation with civilization, embodied by the 'culture dancer' mime-actress-thief Vlana, who has traveled with an exotic theatrical troupe to Fafhrd's home in the Cold Wastes of the far north, where a literal cold war is being waged by the women on the men over the decadent southern entertainment. The story ends with a tour-de-force climax in which Fafhrd must choose between civilization and the south and Vlana or barbarism and the north and his controlling girlfriend Mara (who says she's pregnant with his son) and his dominating mother Mor (who'd like to keep him in her ice magic womb) in a sequence fraught with danger, female magic, fireworks, a ski jump, an ambush, and a dagger.

    If 'The Snow Women' is Fafhrd’s coming of age origin story, 'The Unholy Grail' (1962) is the Gray Mouser's, revealing how he came by his name and affinity for dark arts. Returning from a quest that is to complete his apprenticeship under the gentle white magic hedge-wizard Glavas Rho, the Mouser (still called Mouse) finds his master murdered and his cottage burnt. Detecting the agency of the magic-hating Duke Janarrl, the Mouser employs black magic against him, despite having been warned that its use strains and stains the soul. His revenge is complicated by the Duke's daughter, the 'perpetually frightened yet sweet' Ivrian. The novella is unpleasant and lacks the series' usual humor, though it features a fine climax involving a torture chamber, a rack, an ant, an audience, and the 'hitherto hidden . . . whole black universe.'

    The third story, 'Ill Met in Lankhmar' (1970), is the strongest and strangest in the book, a classic. It recounts the fateful meeting of the two young men and their lovers in Lankhmar, City of Sevenscore Thousand Smokes (and hence City of the Black Toga) when Fafhrd and the Mouser separately decide to mug two men belonging to the powerful (and misogynistic) Thieves’ Guild and become instant friends. There are great comedic scenes, like the Gray Mouser inviting Fafhrd and Vlana into the 'throne room in a slum' that he's set up for Ivrian with his loot, Ivrian getting drunk and acting like a Tennessee Williams’ aristocrat and calling Fafhrd and the Mouser 'poltroons,' and the new friends touring Thieves' House in beggar guise, 'fired--and--fuddled by fortified wine.' And then suddenly--'a universe upturned.'

    In the three stories Leiber introduces his fantasy world Nehwon (= Nowhen), its terrains, cities, cultures, magics, swordplay, and banter with which he developed the sword and sorcery genre. He complexly portrays Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, as well as Vlana and Ivrian. He explores themes on civilization and barbarism (both are indicted, but for different reasons) men and women (both are 'quite horrible,' but in different ways), and relationships between parents and children (Ivrian’s parents make Fafhrd’s look like June and Ward Cleaver) and between lovers (the power dynamics between the two sets of lovers are shifty).

    And he does lots of his fine fun writing, featuring wit (e.g., 'he was about as harrowed as virgin prairie'), ambiguity (e.g., 'He wondered why, although his imagination was roaringly aflame like the canyon behind him, his heart was still so cold'), alliteration (e.g., 'a very faint foam of fear'), and varied and vivid imagination and style, ranging from the comic to the horrible and from the colloquial to the Shakespearean (e.g., 'Fafhrd won and with great satisfaction clinked out his silver smerduks on the stained and dinted [tavern] counter also marked with an infinity of mug circles, as if it had once been the desk of a mad geometer').

    Leiber has been criticized for male chauvinism, and if it bothers you to call teenage boys men and mature women girls, you may wince at some things in his stories. Indeed, the scariest, weakest, or most abused people in this book tend to be women. But keep in mind that Leiber is a mid-20th century writer, that he can sympathize with the female point of view, that he writes plenty of unsavory male characters and institutions, and that his 'heroes' are rogues.

    Jonathan Davis reads the audiobook with panache and pleasure. He gives the Gray Mouser a cocky cockney-Aussie (?) accent to make him sound more civilized than his very American Fafhrd. He does a fine East European Grandmaster thief and a creepy squeaky wizard's familiar.

    Readers who like elegant, bawdy, unpredictable, usually funny, and psychologically complex (if not twisted) sword and sorcery should like this book and Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

    2 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • The Silk Roads: A New History of the World

    • UNABRIDGED (24 hrs and 17 mins)
    • By Peter Frankopan
    • Narrated By Laurence Kennedy

    It was on the Silk Roads that East and West first encountered each other through trade and conquest, leading to the spread of ideas, cultures, and religions, and it was the appetites for foreign goods that drove economies and the growth of nations. From the first cities in Mesopotamia to the emergence of Greece and Rome to the depredations by the Mongols, the transmission of the Black Death, the struggles of the Great Game, and the fall of Communism - the fate of the West has always been inextricably linked to the East.

    Ozren Muić says: "Excellent!"
    "'The True Mediterranean'"

    With his The Silk Roads: A New History (2015) Peter Frankopan wants to change how people see history and the world, as not having always been centered in the Mediterranean a long time ago or in America today, but as having been centered in the crossroads between east and west, in 'the true Mediterranean' of the world, in Central Asia, in now mostly forgotten cities 'strung like pearls connecting the Pacific to the Mediterranean.' Not that he's only concerned with literal silk roads; he's telling a history of international communication and trade and conflict and influence by which different cultures in the world have always wanted things produced by each other and have traded along networks of cities, through different eras silk, furs, spices, gold, silver, wheat, oil, or rare earth. He also covers the transmission of things other than goods, like ideas, languages, religions, technologies, and plagues.

    Frankopan covers a lot of ground, ranging from ancient Persia to contemporary –stan countries and everything in between. He is a bit brief on certain interesting people or trends or events dealt with in more detail in other books, like about the fall of the Roman Empire, the rise of Islam, the Crusades, the Mongols, the fall of Constantinople, the Opium Wars, etc. By contrast, he provides much detail on World War I, World War II, the Cold War, and the current war on terrorism. Granted that there are many more historical sources the closer we approach our current era, but I would have liked more detail on older eras and less on recent ones.

    That said, the book is full of interesting information. I liked learning for example that much of the wealth exploited from Central and South America in the age of colonization ended up in Central Asia rather than Europe, funding for instance the construction of the Taj Mahal. The history of Knox Darcy and the British exploitation of oil in Persia and Iran from near the end of the 19th century until about the end of World War II was fascinating. It was interesting to learn that Venice became an international power largely through the slave trade--and that the Italian greeting Ciao means 'I am your slave.'

    And it's healthy to be reminded that the nuclear technology in Iran causing such concern in the USA today was given by the USA to Iran as part of misguided efforts to prop up the corrupt dictatorial regime of the Shah. For that matter, Frankopan's depiction of the mess that the UK in the 19th and early 20th centuries and then the USA after World War II and the Cold War made in the Middle East and Central Asia through ignorance of local cultures and histories, through too much focus on the short term and not enough on the long, and through the gap between espousing democracy and freedom on the one hand and callously exercising imperial power as with torture, drone strikes, sanctions, and Guantánamo Bay on the other--is salubrious. Some of Frankopan's best lines come describing American debacles, like "The United States' efforts to diffuse the situation [in Afghanistan] ranged from the inept to the shambolic."

    Frankopan is into international trade and culture more than war, and he prefers listing different goods for sale in different markets in different cities in different eras to listing different kinds of soldiers and weapons and tactics used in different battles in different eras. Throughout his book, he successfully demonstrates how all peoples and cultures are interconnected.

    About the audiobook, the reader Laurence Kennedy is excellent when doing the base narration (a clear and engaged British accent), but whenever Frankopan quotes a historical figure like a historian or merchant or emperor or prime minister or president, Kennedy feels compelled to dramatize things by changing his voice to ostensibly suit the figure and his or her culture, donning for example a pseudo silk road (slightly Indian) accent or a generic American accent or some seasoned age or greater authority or hotter indignation or gruffer timbre or smarmier condescension, etc., all of which is completely unnecessary because the sources are full of character in their own rights. This is not such an obvious problem in the pre-sound-recording era, but as soon as Kennedy starts acting like people whose distinctive voices we know very well like Winston Churchill or Ronald Reagan or Henry Kissinger or Barack Obama, the mismatch between his assumed voice and the real person's voice is jarring. I continually wished he had just read everything in his narration voice.

    Be that as it may, I recommend this book because it is well-written, informative, and reorients one's focus towards Central Asia, which is, as the last chapter of the book illustrates, once again becoming an economic and cultural powerhouse nexus in the world.

    2 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • The Ghosts of Belfast

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 2 mins)
    • By Stuart Neville
    • Narrated By Gerard Doyle
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Fegan has been a "hard man" - an IRA killer in Northern Ireland. Now that peace has come, he is being haunted day and night by 12 ghosts: a mother and infant, a schoolboy, a butcher, an RUC constable, and seven other of his innocent victims. In order to appease them, he's going to have to kill the men who gave him orders. As he's working his way down the list, he encounters a woman who may offer him redemption; she has borne a child to an RUC officer and is an outsider too.

    David P. McGivern says: "What an unexpected good read!"
    "A Suspenseful Belfast Noir Western"

    Seven years out of prison after serving a twelve-year sentence, the ex-IRA soldier/terrorist Gerry Fegan--a respected and feared Republican hero--is being haunted by twelve ghosts. Fegan's 'followers' are people he killed during the Troubles. They coalesce from shadows to appear before him 'big as life,' looking at him and watching him pee and clamoring when he tries to sleep so that each night he has to drink himself into oblivion. The ghosts who scream the loudest are not the British soldiers or the Irish police but the civilians, like the boy he shot and the mother and infant he accidentally blew up. The prison psychologist said that the followers are manifestations of guilt, but they are so vivid and noisy that Fegan can't understand why people around him don't notice them.

    One of the neat things about Stuart Neville's suspenseful Belfast Noir novel, The Ghosts of Belfast (2009), is that because we spend much time in Fegan's mind, and because his followers start badgering him to kill the men who years ago made him kill them, and because he's otherwise so sane and sympathetic (wanting to do beautiful wood work rather than kill), it's easy to question whether he's crazy or actually haunted. Fegan's followers even start hinting what he should do in certain situations, as when the mother with the infant encourages him to accept a ride from the ostracized Marie McKenna after her uncle's funeral.

    In addition to Fegan's point of view, Neville also writes from those of different characters, like a reluctant Minister of State, a corrupt Northern Irish politician, and Fegan's double and foil Davy Campbell, a Scottish undercover agent infiltrating the IRA and post-IRA gangs for the British government. Both Campbell and Fegan were trained to violence like pit bulls (the analogy is implied at one point), and both are intelligent, alienated, and solitary--but while Fegan feels beauty and regret and yearns for a normal life, Campbell only wants to continue his dangerous double life, unable to envision anything else.
    There are potent moments in the novel: Fegan going for a walk with Marie and her little daughter Ellen in the botanical gardens; Fegan remembering when he met McKenna as boys about to be caned at school; Campbell reading Fegan's letter to his mother; Fegan watching Finding Nemo with Marie and Ellen; Fegan seeing moonlight on a mirror bay and wishing his followers could see it too; Campbell being surprised in Fegan's bathroom; Father Coulter taking Fegan's confession. . .

    There is fine writing in the novel, like 'He turned his eyes to the ground where cigarette butts and old chewing gum, things people no longer wanted in their mouths, were trampled into the path.' There are telling lines in the novel, like 'People have long memories, especially when it's someone else's sin.' Neville also writes savory Irish colloquial speech, as when Marie says, 'There was this girl, a stewardess, looked like she'd been licking piss off a nettle.'

    The book's depiction of contemporary Northern Ireland is interesting. Some of the men targeted by Fegan's ghosts are influential political figures whose deaths would jeopardize the precarious Northern Ireland peace process below which fester long hatreds between Loyalists and Republicans, Protestants and Catholics. Money is pouring into new real estate developments, and many more cars are parked on the streets and foreigners walking around than before, but even if things change, people don't, and the violence is never really over. Even as it's specific as to time and place, the novel depicts universal problems in human nature concerning history, power, money, love, violence, and collateral damage. It's a graphic and grim book but a poignant one, as when Fegan glimpses what normal life for normal people might be.

    Rather than a mystery (we know the killer from the start, and there's no detective to follow), the novel is a noir western. In a central idyll Fagan watches the John Wayne classic The Searchers. And later when he thinks, 'Men like him no longer belonged here,' it's easy to read Northern Ireland as a frontier city transitioning from the old wild time of violence, outlaws, and might makes right to the new civilized time of trains, politicians, and peace, in which the heroic man of violence has no place. Finally, Shane must leave Joey and his mother.

    At first the audiobook reader Gerard Doyle sounds a little monotonous, but he turns out to be fine at building intensity when necessary and excels at reading the voices of different people: Scottish, Irish, Oxbridge, male, female, adult, child, etc.

    In the climax chloroform is employed too liberally and conveniently, Fegan doesn't comport himself enough like a formidable killer advised by ghosts, and--despite the 'everybody pays in the end' theme repeatedly stressed in the book--he doesn't finally pay. Maybe he will in a future novel?

    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Meditations

    • UNABRIDGED (5 hrs and 11 mins)
    • By Marcus Aurelius
    • Narrated By Duncan Steen
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    One of the most significant books ever written by a head of State, the Meditations are a collection of philosophical thoughts by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121 - 180 ce). Covering issues such as duty, forgiveness, brotherhood, strength in adversity and the best way to approach life and death, the Meditations have inspired thinkers, poets and politicians since their first publication more than 500 years ago. Today, the book stands as one of the great guides and companions - a cornerstone of Western thought.

    "Like an olive, fall when ripe, blessing nature."

    'The clapping of hands and the clapping of tongues is without value.'

    Hey, that's the master of the Roman Empire talking to himself nearly 2000 years ago! And it wouldn't hurt us to read his Meditations today.

    The Meditations is a collection of mostly Stoic precepts, reminders, reflections, and exhortations written by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180) to himself as a kind of philosophical self-help diary. Hence his enigmatic references here and there to things only he would know and his addressing himself as 'you.' (It's often been said that To Himself would be a more accurate title for the book). He never saw his writings as forming a single work that anyone would read. The 12 books into which his writings were arranged much later don't develop different ideas into an overall argument or narrative. Their purpose was to remind him during stressful times what is important. One gets the feeling that he wrote to preserve his equanimity or to brace up his spirit while dealing with rebellious barbarians, slimy politicians, disappointing offspring, or other burdens of rule.

    The precepts he repeats and rephrases with an almost desperate and mesmerizing preoccupation would, if followed, make one fulfilled and productive, a positive influence on one's community and world. I found many things that I should adopt to improve my life right now--like focusing my energies around a coherent goal instead of squandering them by listening to and reviewing an eclectic (if not random) host of audiobooks. Unfortunately, I probably will not have the strength of character. But the Emperor did cleanse and calm my soul.

    He gave me a set of reminders for a good and healthy life as a rational social being who lives on one small speck in a universe that is a single living organism in which everything is connected and everything changing. Be aware of what composes the universe and accept what the universe gives you. It’s not what happens to you but how you react to it that defines your life and character. Resentment, fear, anger, laziness, are self-inflicted. There’s only one task in life, and that is to get a grip on yourself. Live according to your rational soul as if each moment might be your last, without missing the past or fearing the future.

    I suspect that Whitman (full of the divine energy of the universe, rejecting only what insults his own soul) and Thoreau (simplify, simplify) would find Marcus Aurelius simpatico. And that Trump would not appreciate him saying, 'Lying intentionally or unintentionally is impious, against nature.' (Trump is in all ways the anti-Aurelius.)

    Some things are very much of Marcus Aurelius' specific time and place (like advising one to look on the beauty of one's slave boys with chaste eyes or reminding oneself 'to be neither of the green nor of the blue party at the games in the Circus.') Some things, I'm not sure I agree with, like when he says we should live without passion as if alone on a mountain. But most things he says have universal and useful application to our own lives here and now. Like the following:

    --We are made for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth.
    --Reverence and honor your own mind.
    --The best revenge is not to become like the one who has wronged you.
    --To accept it without arrogance, to let it go with indifference.
    --Have you ever seen a severed hand or foot? That's what we do to ourselves when we rebel against what happens to us.
    --For instance, when bread is baked some parts are split at the surface, and these parts which thus open, and have a certain fashion contrary to the purpose of the baker's art, are beautiful in a manner, and in a peculiar way excite a desire for eating.
    --You have embarked, you have made the voyage, you have come to the shore: get out.
    --Think continually how many physicians are dead after often contracting their eyebrows over the sick; and how many astrologers after predicting with great pretensions the deaths of others; and how many philosophers after endless discourses on death or immortality; how many heroes after killing thousands; and how many tyrants who have used their power over men's lives with terrible insolence as if they were immortal; and how many cities are entirely dead. . . . always observe how ephemeral and worthless human things are, and what was yesterday a little mucus to-morrow will be a mummy or ashes. Pass then through this little space of time conformably to nature, and end thy journey in content, just as an olive falls off when it is ripe, blessing nature who produced it, and thanking the tree on which it grew.

    Audiobook reader Duncan Steen's voice and manner are so appealing, so well attuned to Aurelius' words in the English translation (which seems like a modernized version of George Long's), that it is a pleasure to listen to this book.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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