You should understand before you spend your hard-earned money on "Word by Word" that what you'll be getting here will not be a book; in fact it will be just another ho-hum recording of a writing workshop (done in 1996?). If you?re into that kind of thing, go for it. Personally, I was looking for something more substantial.
Here we have yet another successful author giving us her valuable advice, recorded as she stands in front of her lectern, riffing live before a decidedly female audience (from the sound of it) and ultimately delivering one of the most rambling monologues -- in the manner of, say, Ellen DeGeneres -- that I've ever heard on the topic of writing.
As a listener, you'll probably get the idea straight away that she's not there to instruct you (she makes that point clear); rather, she wants to encourage you. That's all, just encourage you. She starts off her lecture by imparting her personal belief that in the great "cosmic" scope of things, getting published doesn't really matter (groan). Next she reveals that she doesn't really know a thing about plot points (something she seems to take great pride in, as a matter of fact), so she won't be able to help you there either. Finally she settles into her main role -- that of a motivational speaker.
Some of it's not bad. She manages to keep you entertained, at least. And some of what she says is actually kind of inspiring. (I for one particularly enjoyed her comments on writing "sh**ty first drafts, which was sort of liberating for me to hear.) And for that, I grant her two stars. As such, I suppose that if you're feeling down in the dumps about writing, you might give this two-hour bit of fluff a try; but it's not for the serious student. Don't download it with the idea that you're going to learn anything about the technique of writing a novel. You won't.
Yes, light piano music accompanies the reading, but personally, I found the music to be very calming and not distracting at all. And, as you might expect, James Earl Jones is just perfect for this sort of thing.
Excellent narration. The story itself is famous of course. Remember? It's "The Great Gatsby"? The commedian Andy Kaufman used to read it to his audience when they misbehaved. I can see why: At a speedy four something hours, you can get through this one pretty quickly. The plot is a series of love triangles populated by characters whose behavior would still be considered shocking today. The language of the novel simply is beautiful. The story unfolds efortlessly. You'll want to listen to it again.
Not for beginners. In other words, you need to be really familiar with both world wars (among other things) to get the most out of this. If you're not, you're going to feel lost. The narration is good, the quality of the work is good, so if you're a history buff, you should really get a lot of this book. If you're not, don't expect them to bring you up to date. Won't happen. I'm bothering mentioning this because the editor's description makes the book sound pretty accessible, as if they're just going to be talking about "what if" Hitler won the war. Yeah, they do go into that, but the discussion is very academic. Just so you know.
The book most certainly gets five stars. Every line is quotable, and the parallels between the book and Wilde's own life are fascinating. Consider for example that Wilde writes about a painter, Basil Hallward, who has just finished creating the best portrait of his life -- that of Dorian Gray -- but is afraid to release it because of what people might think.
"I have put too much of myself into it," Basil comments, which is just another way of saying "If I put this on display, people will think that I'm gay."
Meanwhile, the book itself (as the publisher's summary mentions) does exactly that: It gets used against Wilde to help put him away a few years later. When Wilde emerge from prison, after serving two years, he is a broken man. He is unable to publish books or plays unless he does so anonymously, his wife dies, and he loses visitation rights to his children -- all this because of HIS relationship with a younger man! (Keep in mind that Dorian Gray was written before Wilde had even met Alfred Dougless, the young man in question.)
The book stands on its own even without all of the controversy. It's a hybrid tale -- sort of a cross between a Victorian comedy and a Faustian deal with the devil morality tale (all with a delightful homoerotic subtext). The narration, on the other hand, could have been just a tad better, although it certainly was serviceable. Can't really put my finger on what was wrong actually. Just needed to be better.
If you just want to get familiar with the book; say, if you happen to be under the gun for some reason -- book club deadline, British literature class, etc -- then there's no better way to go than this breezy, six hour version of Sense & Sensibility. With the abridged version, the reader loses nothing of much importance. Entire chapters are NOT cut out, just repetitive details that one can easily do without and still grasp the story. Ends of paragraphs that add little to the gist of the story are purged, as are narrative digressions that fail to progress the plot. Here, one gets all of the essentials of Austen's book, but is spared the elaborate detail of lengthy character conversations that go on and on. Speaking of characters, Glenda Jackson, the very British and very competent audio-narrator of this book, must have been a big fan of the 1995 screen version of the novel, staring Emma Thompson, because, here, she practically channels that movie's Mrs. Jennings, who always sort of reminds me of a naughty, overexcited Aunt Bee.
In terms of reviewing the novel, it is of course very hard to say anything good or bad about the novel itself. After all, it's considered a literary classic, so I won't even bother saying how much it felt like listening to a melodramatic, gossipy soap opera -- the kind where only relationships are considered important and marriage is everything. Personal feelings aside, what is important here is the idea of an abridged version of such a classic read. Many readers I'm sure are dead set against reading anything but the full versions of books. I understand this attitude, but this is the book that changed my mind. After years of being against purchasing anything but the complete, unabridged versions of books, I can finally say with confidence that YES, I am recommended an abridged novel. Give this one a try and see if you don't agree.
For once the publisher's summary has got it right. The broad character sketches and plot synopses that it offers are dead on, and without a doubt Jonathan Franzen has written a brilliant novel. I would also like to add, as many others have mentioned, that Dylan Baker, the narrator of this piece, is one of the best narrators I've heard so far. He truly adds a depth to these characters that is astonishing; he literally becomes each character.
The Corrections follows the lives of five family members, each with their own unique problems. All of these characters are fully developed and none are stereotypes -- each character is a decidedly different shade of gray. And despite the summary's emphasis on Enid, the wife and mother, of the novel's five characters, I would have to say that the story most belongs to Denise, the daughter, whose eyes seem to see more clearly than anyone else's here.
I cannot say when I first became hooked into this story, which is actually a collection of character vignettes that crisscross over one another before finally uniting in the last few chapters; but I know I surrendered early on. At nine hours this book is a saga that only gets more interesting the longer you read it. As some have mentioned, the characters do tend to do hateful things to each another, and one could classify this book as depressing in tone; yet somehow one doesn't feel depressed while reading it, only uplifted. The Corrections is a fascinating, insightful, and satisfying book that leaves you thinking about it long after you've put it down.
More of a "greatest hits" collection than anything new or original, "Napalm and Silly Putty" includes material dating all the way back to Carlin's legendary Carnegie Hall performance in 1981. This is not necessarily a bad thing, though. Considering that I was about ten years old when that concert footage aired on HBO, and yet I can STILL remember the jokes practically verbatim is a testament either to their brilliance or to the impressionableness of my mind back then. Either way, for Carlin fans, listening to this audiobook will be like slipping on a pair of warm, familiar gloves; for others it will be a good way for them to get acquainted with Carlin humor from the eighties all the way to the present. Those who are new to the crafter of The-Seven-Dirty-Words-You-Can't-Say-on-TV will encounter a comedian who loves analyzing social conventions almost as much as he does the English language, which he analyzes endlessly. The book is set up as a series of unrelated excerpts, delineated by quirky scraps of Seinfeldesque musical bumpers (which -- truthfully -- are kind of annoying). And there is no laugh track or audience reaction accompanying the material. What you get is George Carlin at your disposal for two hours or so, telling you jokes. Even if you have heard them before, it's worth another listen, multiple listens in fact.
The aptly named Reaching for Glory paints a tragic and compelling picture of Lyndon B. Johnson as a man who truly wanted to be a great American president, strived for it, even, perhaps to the point of his undoing. In this collection of incredibly revealing audio recordings, the reader is offered direct access to the man behind the speeches, and is transported back in time to a pre-Vietnam War America, an era disturbingly similar to our own in some respects. Indeed, with the war in Iraq requiring the presence of more and more of our young men and women every day, one cannot help but contemplate the parallels and listen in awe as Johnson talks about the Vietnam War with his advisors, hesitantly - almost helplessly - making decisions that will cost the lives of thousands.
As a companion piece to other studies on LBJ, this work offers great insight; but as a stand-alone study, unless one happens, already, to be knowledgeable about the era, Reaching for Glory merely wets one's appetite for more or, worse, leaves one stranded altogether. It's not a book for beginners. The problem, here, is historical context. For example, the History Channel's excellent documentary on the Johnson tapes, which goes over many of the same audio clips presented here, does a much better job of providing perspective and offering analysis on Johnson's reactions, something Reaching for Glory fails to do -- very well at least. Because of this lack of adequate narration, the six-hour-plus running time of this book begins to feel a bit long, like one recording after another separated by snippets of commentary. The endless stream of scratchily-recorded phone calls begin to mesh together into a thick river of crotchety Texan accents with little sing-song fragments of Lady Bird Johnson's voice floating by here and there. Taken in short doses, maybe...but Reaching for Glory is not the kind of book one should try to listen to in one sitting or -- for God's sake -- while operating heavy machinery.
"Dude, Where's my Country?" is Michael Moore's clever new catch phrase, which jokingly invokes the name of that Ashton Kutcher stoner flick that you probably set on auto-ignore three years ago. Here, the phrase is presented in the form of a kind of indignant rallying cry, murmured sweetly into your ear by another one of those darn-happy-to-know-you narrators. This one sounds a bit like Michael Moore but cannot hope to summon up the amount of sarcastic outrage required here. As if the director forgot to supply him with his motivation, he squeaks on and on about, among other things, the war in Iraq (these are agonizingly long, vitriolic chapters despite the squeaking), greedy corporate executives (ironically, Moore's bread-and-butter) and later on -- speaking of bread-and-butter -- holier-than-thou vegetarians.
Moore's book is mainly about getting rid of Bush, but he explores other topics, too -- like the reason why you'll never, EVER be rich, or why your employer wouldn't mind it if you died. Here, his words take on the angry tone of a late-night drunken debate, but, actually, it's the best part of the book. Moore seems to enjoy bashing the rich, and he's quite good at it, maybe even the best; of course the rich ARE an easy target -- especially when one considers his audience
As critics have noted, Moore does tend to rant, but when occasionally he manages to touch the right nerve, "Dude, Where's my Country?" works really well. His use of profanity from time to time actually livens things up instead of feeling forced, even though the narrator sounds about as natural using the F-word as Dan Rather enunciating "bling-bling" on the evening news. Expect a lot of boring statistics near the end as he provides mountains of evidence that prove once and for all that America is really a liberal country. Do NOT expect to laugh very much. Despite its title, this book is surprisingly mundane.
Ahhh...yes, THE GUNSLINGER. What fond old memories I have of this novel (and of its far superior sequel, THE DRAWING OF THE THREE). I still recall how much fun reading these books was for me. Of course, that was some time ago, near the end of my SK phase. Would the books still satisfy? With a strong portion of sentimental fervor, I decided to find out. I therefore downloaded THE GUNSLINGER with some degree of warm fuzziness already accumulated in my subconscious literary lint trap; I imagined that rereading it would be just like visiting an old friend.
And it was sort of like that.
But, really, it was more like revisiting grade school. Everything that had once seemed grand and important could not be taken seriously now. I read somewhere that King wrote this book while he was in college. That sounds about right. As I recall, I was about that age when I read it. So it makes sense that I would have enjoyed it then -- just as I used to enjoy riding my Big Wheel when I was five but wouldn't enjoy...hmmm. Never mind. I would probably still enjoy riding my Big Wheel, that is if I could still fit behind the tassel-adorned handlebars. But anyway...sadly, like the world in which the Gunslinger dwells, I, too, have moved on.
But, ah, the memories...
Oh I guess it was not an entirely bad experience revisiting THE GUNSLINGER. At first everything was fine. A gravely voiced narrator was there to greet me warmly. No problems there. I seem to remember his gravely gravely-ness from THE GREEN MILE. And so, smiling, I settled in for a listen and was immediately impressed by how oddly exciting it was hearing Sir Gravely utter that wonderful first line of the novel. How does it go again? Come on; say it with me:
"The Man in Black fled across the desert. And the Gunslinger followed."
Soon after, however, my excitement faded, as did most of my enthusiasm for following along with The Gunslinger on his long, weird, fanciful quest after The Man in Black.
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