Petaluma, CA, United States | Member Since 2006
I have no issue with the premise. In fact, that and the reputation of the author were what drew me to this book in the first place. And I wouldn't be doing the book justice if I didn't acknowledge that there are a number of observations about people that ring true. Certain ways people continue to behave despite circumstances, or perhaps indulge in because of circumstances. But overall, the flatness of the characters, the lack of individual reactions, the paucity of human interactions, ended up leaving me cold. Perhaps I need to be more familiar with the rest of Saramago's work. Perhaps I need to be more well read in this particular literary genre. Whatever it was I was supposed to appreciate about this particular thought experiment, I didn't. I like thought experiments in general, but if you're going to spin them out to book length, you'd better have a pretty good story to tell. I will say this in its defense: it's not a book I'm ever going to forget.
Salman Rushdie sure isn't afraid to take on large themes in his books. The Satanic Verses dealt with the whole Anglo-Indian immigrant experience. Midnight's Children is a broadly sprawling picaresque account of the first 30 years of India's post-Empire independence. There is plenty of humor except when Rushdie pauses to be serious or poignant or sometimes even tragic. There is also a good deal of history thrown in for context, of which I daresay the average American is largely ignorant. It must have seemed, in 1977, as though India's brief flirtation with democracy was dangerously close to collapse.
The problem with writing a book that way is that it's hard to feel especially close to any of his characters. There is a kind of distance between them and the reader held apart by the witty repartee of the author. I suppose that's why it feels especially touching when that distance is relaxed and characters are allowed to be vulnerable emotionally. Which isn't to say that his characters are not interesting or vivid in their own way. The upside of writing the book that way is that it keeps it entertaining even through the parts that, upon reflection, had to have been emotionally traumatic.
I waited in vain for the sentence that cost Rushdie a defamation suit from Indira Gandhi, but that sentence has been removed. Rushdie's introduction to this anniversary edition talks about the suit, and the fascinating story of how the book came to be written and the very entertaining rejection notices this Booker Prize-winning book received. It is a shame Rushdie's career has been overshadowed by the controversy over Satanic Verses. I do not think he gets enough credit for being the wonderfully funny, witty, and entertaining author that he is.
Lyndam Gregory does a fantastic job of catching the various Indian accents and keeping all the characters differentiated.
Frank Muller was a great audiobook reader. But first I should talk about the book.
This is a great book. A first person account by an average soldier with no apparent exaggeration or didacticism. Pretty much every situation you can imagine a soldier would get into is presented but it never feels contrived. In fact, very little of the book involves actual fighting, which only adds to the realism. We have seen this so many times in the years since this book was written. We probably don't even realize how influential this book has been. And if some things in this book feel clichéd, you can probably blame all those imitators that came afterwards.
But what makes the book stand out is the character of its narrator. His feelings about his situation, his feelings about his comrades, his reactions to what happens, his observations about the war, his recounting the opinions of the people he meets. Whatever illusions he may have had about fighting for his country, they are soon replaced by the reality of modern warfare. His loyalty is to his comrades. His main concerns are about things like getting enough to eat keeping his feet dry. These observations build quietly and powerfully through the whole book, and that is what makes it such an effective statement about war and the universality of mankind.
I'll shut up now and let the book speak for itself.
Frank Muller does a terrific job of conveying the tone of the bored soldier struggling to preserve his personhood. I only recently discovered this reader and am sorry to learn that he is no longer with us.
I remember this title being heavily hyped all through the mid to late '70s. I'm sorry it took me this long to get to it. I would have appreciated it better as a teenager. As it is, I can't be entirely sure if the authors were consciously mocking the sci-fi style of the 1950s, or if they thought they were contemporary and hip.
Those familiar with the maritime novels of Forrester and O'Brien will instantly recognize the stock characters in this book. The authors even borrow quite a bit of 18th century admiralty terminology. I suppose in some sense this is a novel about first contact, but it's a 1974 book and the issues of 1974 loom large. The Vietnam war was tapering off, the cold war with the Soviet Union was starting to thaw, and the possibility of opening up relations with China was either an opportunity or a threat. If indeed the aliens are a stand-in for the Chinese, then they reflect the stereotypes and xenophobia of the early 1970s. I will say that Asians are distinctly absent from the confederation of humans who make up the Empire.
What I found believable about the book was the way in which both sides attempt to conceal certain things about themselves. I have to confess to a certain disappointment that the Empire couldn't muster a more competent expedition to initiate first contact, but I suppose that's realistic given the experience of our own times. There's no reason to think human nature in A.D. 3000 will be any different from today.
Some amusing things about the book: they still use percolators to make coffee! (despite the fact we already had Mr. Coffee drip machines in 1974); passing references to Tolkien (the most troublesome rebel planet is named Sauron); and references to Star Trek (all space ship engineers speak with a Scottish accent).
Given that the book reflects concerns about globalization from the 1970s, it's interesting to reflect on the ways in which the book has proved prescient and the ways in which it hasn't. One thing is for sure: the debate about globalization and resource utilization has only gotten more intense over the last 40 years.
The narrator begins by alluding to heart problems that allegedly run in his wife's family, but the novel is concerned with a very different kind of heart problem. And that distinction sets the tone for our hapless narrator destined to be deceived by those closest to him. The structure of this novel is deceptively conversational. Ford even alludes to this conversational storytelling style, but make no mistake: every digression and flashback is calculated to serve the author's purpose.
The reading is brilliant here as Frank Muller captures the tone of the narrator who is removed from all the drama going on around him, who may or may not have been too stupid to notice, or simply may not have been involved enough in his own life, or may be something else. I assumed the title referred to Captain Ashburnham, but now I'm not so sure. It seems to be at least as apt a description for the narrator.
The narrator keeps referring to this as the "saddest story." It is indeed sad in a sorry sort of way. These characters are their own worst enemies. Ford does an outstanding job of showing how these people, lacking any real purpose in their lives but having money to burn, still manage to ruin what should have been a carefree existence. Would you and I do better if we had their resources and the ability to live life unfettered by worries and responsibilities? I guess Ford is saying that without real worries and responsibilities, human nature will force us to invent imaginary ones.
So here we have a lost generation before Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Here we have a noir long before the movie genre was popularized. And here we have existential despair long before Sartre. Ford was amazingly prescient at showing the spiritual malaise that would inform the 20th century.
As long as I remember he was only 30, I can forgive the overzealous, overeducated tone of these writings. It surprises and saddens me that he didn't outgrow some of his early ideas with the perspective of age and experience. That said, these are pieces that have stood the test of time, for whatever reason.
I confess I am at a loss to understand why Marx is still held in high regard in certain quarters. Perhaps his serious writings are more carefully structured. The pieces presented here are more in the way of periodical summations. Most of them are commentaries on current events or critiques of other writings by his contemporaries. It is difficult to properly evaluate them without a deep knowledge of the things he is critiquing. Time and again he will repeat a catch phrase without ever getting around to defining precisely what he means by it. So many of these terms have gotten muddied in the intervening 170 years that it makes the problem that much harder. Perhaps this is not a good choice for an audio book given the need for such annotations and footnoting. So many of his premises are simply taken for granted. So many of his "obvious" conclusions seem completely arbitrary. I waited for the chain of reasoning that led him to his conclusions but it never came. Occasionally, he would acknowledge an opposing viewpoint, and even offer to explore it, but after a token gesture in that direction he would say something like "but enough of that" and go back to preaching to the converted. As a newspaperman he certainly has a certain flair for rhetoric. He has a fondness for inversion formations such as "he does not say what he means, and he means what he does not say." That, by the way, is from his critique of Karl Heinzen. I have to say that most of the charges he levels at Heinzen apply to his own works as well.
Mercifully, the book is short, as otherwise it would simply be too frustrating to have so many questions left unexplained and unanswered. It is extremely ironic that someone who writes so penetratingly on the topics he addresses is somehow unable to carry that through to a logical conclusion.
One eerie aspect of this audio book is that the reader chooses to read it with a cheerful tone of voice, as though he were reading about kittens and puppies instead of hard-hitting political commentary.
It's hard to describe just what the structure of this book is. Characters we think are central disappear for long stretches. Characters we think are peripheral come to have major roles. The central plot line appears to lead nowhere. I am left with the sense that the real plot lies outside of what is reported in the book, and can only be inferred from the general shapes outlined therein. Faulkner is probably the most successful experimental writer of the 20th century. One of the few where we feel the experimental elements serve the function of the story instead of the other way around. In this book, it is the fragmented way of telling the story, and the sense of an overarching purpose that cannot be directly stated. Nowadays, the fragmented chronology has become so common that we may not appreciate how revolutionary Faulkner's work really was. One thing Faulkner is always good at is at expressing the ambiguity in a character's words or actions. Rather than simply say what a gesture means, he will leave you with a multitude of interpretations just as you are left in real life wondering what a gesture truly meant. Just as our own gestures mean more than can be neatly summed up in a tidy soundbite explanation.
It's not giving anything away to say that there are numerous allusions to the nativity story in this book, though it can be easy to forget as the story twists away in different directions. It's a very dark twisted version of the nativity story all the same. I think the underlying meaning of the book lies somewhere in the contemplation of its elements as they relate to that archetypal story.
Will Patton does a terrific job of keeping all the characters straight and of evoking the period and the people.
The best thing about this memoir is that we get to hear it in Janis's own voice exactly as she intended it to be heard. She even occasionally punctuates it by singing snippets of her songs. There doesn't seem to be much that she's not willing to share with her readers/listeners. I give her credit for that, especially for someone with so many trust issues. There was probably more than I wanted or needed to know about her sex life. I was more interested in hearing about her songs and the album creation process. It turns out, that's actually a small part of a singer's life. It's mostly about the unending amount of time spent touring, and about her personal life. It was both interesting and disappointing to discover that her life has actually been rather ordinary, apart from being famous and having a couple fairly bizarre episodes. Occasionally, I wished there were more dates thrown in to keep the story anchored. Occasionally, I wish people had been better identified; I have trouble keeping track of people who are only explained once many pages earlier if at all. I could never tell if her accounts of events were meant to convey how she felt at the time, or if she still feels that way now. She recounts a number of mistakes that she made in her life and career, but the way she tells it leaves it unclear if she appreciates her share of the responsibility for them. Lest anyone think I am unsympathetic to her trials and tribulations, let me hasten to reassure them that I would not have bought this book if I hadn't been a fan of Janis's work. Whether anyone who is not a fan would appreciate this book is hard to say, but she writes well and reflects the times in which she lived in a way that helps remind all of us what it was like.
Audible.com stuck this in my library when I bought Light in August. It doesn't really have anything to say about Light in August, but it is an interesting 15 minutes to spend with a couple people who are deeply interested in Faulkner. Just enough of a teaser to remind us what sort of a life Mr. Faulkner had, without getting tedious or didactic.
This is a short but profound meditation on the moments that can bring a sense of reconciliation and redemption to our lives, and how we misunderstand or misinterpret even those we are closest to. I remain somewhat mystified as to why he chose to base this, however loosely, on actual historical persons, or why he dislocated them in time from their actual historical dates. For that matter, I remain mystified as to why the book's internal timeline refuses to behave itself. None of this detracts from the beauty and concision of this gem of a book.
The recording has mysteries of its own. Sam Waterston is a fine actor and his reading is full of expressive nuances, but for some reason the sound is muddy. I can't tell if this is because it's an old transfer from tape, or if Mr. Waterston's voice is pitched oddly, or because he lacks that special clipped diction that makes other readers more listenable. Maybe my hearing is just suffering from old age.
Wonderful roundup of information on every aspect of what happens to our bodies after we die. From how the process of decay works, to the research uses of cadavers, to the available mortuary options, and even some possible future options for disposing of our mortal remains. Along the way, there's time for a review of the historical uses of bodies and body parts, and a survey of some contemporary practices that will be sure to raise some eyebrows.
Roach's style is always readable. One gets the impression she has an awful lot of fun playing the research journalist. Sometimes I think she goes a little too far. By that, I don't mean that she is disrespectful. I think she pretends to be more squeamish about certain aspects of death than she really is. I have no doubt that some people will cringe about some of the topics and the descriptions that go along with them. That didn't stop me from enjoying this book over a week's worth of lunches.
In the end, I was sorry it wasn't longer. Shelly Frasier does a great job narrating the book in the spirit in which it was written. As a small quibble, I do wish someone had corrected her pronunciation of 'Reuters' but it's too late now.
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