I'm not going to bore everyone with a synopsis of this book. You can read the other reviews to find that out. Instead, I'm going to give my reactions to it.
Ms. Strayed is an extremely lucky woman for being to do the backpacking trip she did while being so woefully unprepared. Yes, she did not do the entire PCT, but I fail to see why other people give this book a "bad" review on that account. She did plenty - far more than I and many other listeners have ever done. And just about every part of the trail she did is very, very tough. (I read another book about a woman hiking the PCT from end to end - it is so tough that almost no one is able to do it in an entire season; she had to stop and resume finishing it a couple of years later with her husband.) What I really took away from the book was Ms. Strayed's real need to fully resolve her grief over her mother's death and her subsequent downward personal spiral. True, she didn't come off as a very likeable person, but at least she was not a hypocrite and made no excuses for herself. But on the trail, she must have been likeable enough because she seemed to get a great deal of help whenever she needed it.
I really enjoyed Bernadette Dunne's narration. I felt as if the author herself was speaking to me, and me alone. I would definitely listen to anything else Ms. Dunne narrated.
What bothered me about the book were the various loose ends. Ms. Strayed hiked the trail in 1995, a good 17 years ago. What happened in that intervening 10+ years to cause her to write the book and have it published now? I was hoping that the book would end with some sort of Epilogue that would answer that question for me. Also, I gave the book 4 stars because I was hoping to hear a little more about the trail. Hearing about Ms. Strayed's demons and how she was slaying them (or at any rate, starving them to death) was fine, but I would have liked a better sense of the trail itself.
I felt the book was a fine length for what it was. A few hours more, and I really wouldn't have liked it nearly as well.
First of all, let me start off by saying that, unlike some of the other reviewers, I did not find the book overlong or disorganized. I did, at times, have a little trouble keeping track of the chronology, but I took it as it came because I saw the book as a set of "short stories" rather than a memoir. And I thought that the author, Roger Rosenblatt, Amy's father, was far and away the best narrator.
Yet I find the reminiscences to be overly idealized at best and sugarcoated at worst.
What came through loud and clear was how precious Amy Rosenblatt Solomon was to her father, her mother, her husband, her extended family, and all of her many friends, and how deeply she was missed. And I'm sure that her good qualities far outweighed her bad. But still...
I know it is bad form to speak ill of the dead, but I also think Roger Rosenblatt did Amy a great disservice by turning her into an unvarnished, untarnished Saint. I think she would have been a lot more humanized if her father had recollected her having an occasional meltdown, or making a snide remark, or being in some other situation in which she was not at the top of her game.
And, surely her children were extremely traumatized by her death, yet, while the two older ones were seeing a child psychologist to work through their feelings, everything was depicted as "fine, fine." Their schoolwork didn't suffer, and they didn't seem to suffer more than the usual childhood kinks.
Her husband, as well, was deeply wounded, but I didn't hear much about that, either.
I think this extended essay was a form of therapy for Mr. Rosenblatt, and I guess he didn't want to violate anyone's privacy, but why publish it if you are not going to present a well-rounded narrative?
This book is a fine, excellently-narrated history of a well-documented story of world-wide climate change, the Medieval Warming Period of 800-1300 AD. During this time, the Western European climate warmed to the point that more diverse crops could be planted and great explorations could be undertaken. During this time, the Vikings were able to settle Greenland, Iceland, and even go as far west as North America. The flip side of this climate change is also documented - great droughts in Western North America, Central America and South America, dooming Native American, Mayan and various South American civilizations. A very interesting, concise overview of the world-wide effects of a warming period, and speculation and warnings about what would be in store this time around should a similar event occur again. Very factual without being boring, alarmist or preachy. Highly recommended.
"The Wheel of Time" is the only "high fantasy" series that has truly hooked me. Fifteen books, and over 20 years later, it has come to a fully satisfying conclusion. Of course, "The Last Battle" is not a trivial affair, and lasts for almost the entire 41+ hours of narrative.
What I most enjoyed about this book, however, was all of the main characters "coming into their own", so to speak. Each character had fully matured and had his or her own voice. (I credit Brandon Sanderson with this wonderful development. It may be blasphemous to say so, but, while I'm sorry that Robert Jordan did not live to see the conclusion of his masterwork, I think Brandon Sanderson was much better with characterization - starting with "The Gathering Storm", the main characters did not seem so "cardboardy" and two-dimensional. Of course, Robert Jordan may have accomplished this as well, but he hadn't done so in the 11 preceding books.)
All of the "loose ends" were also neatly wrapped up in a masterly way (I didn't think that would ever happen!), and I enjoyed some of the surprising developments. I felt incredibly attached to all of the main characters.
I will also miss Michael Kramer and Kate Reading - I feel like I have been living with them for the past 20 years!
Also, having the narrative in "bits and pieces" fully captured the feeling of ongoing battles occurring in a number of places, but I can understand that some people might find it disconcerting.
Some people may not like the ending, but I do not see any "better" way for the book to end.
The only problem with the whole series? I do not think I would re-read it or re-listen to it. So much of the series was plot-driven, and now that I know the plot and know "what is going to happen next", the series has lost its magic for me. Maybe in another 20 years...
As I was listening to this book, I kept on going back and forth in my mind as to how much I really liked it. I was almost a third of the way through, and I still could not figure out where this story was headed.
I mean, it seemed like there should be no problem. Here are two guys with a used record store called "Brokeland Records" that is barely making it, and along comes an outside threat in the form of a competitor with a big, shiny, Amazon-like record store that is selling tons of stuff much cheaper than our heroes that is being backed by the local politician. And it turns out that both guys have interesting family issues. The real makings for a plot, resolution, etc. So why wasn't it going anywhere?
What I was listening to instead were extremely wordy data dumps about one character after another, got to know them inside-out. Also, there were abrupt changes of scene that, from a listening standpoint were jarring and disconcerting. I had to look at a physical copy of the book to make sure that there wasn't something wrong with the recording, that parts of the book hadn't been left out by mistake.
Then, somewhere almost halfway through the book, the plot wheezed to life, and the story finally started moving along in an extremely contrived way.
I only stuck it out because by that time I really wanted to know what was going to happen with the various characters. Mr. Chabon certainly has a gift for making characters believable and making the "reader" care about them. And because of Clarke Peters' great narration. In fact, I think I would have thrown the book over completely if someone other than Clarke Peters was narrating it.
I also enjoyed listening to some great turns of phrase that are generously sprinkled through the book. Here are some examples:
"Like all of Mr. Flowers' younger crop of nephews, they seemed not to be wearing their ill-fitting black suits so much as to be squatting inside them until some less embarrassing habitation came along."
"This was true; Cochise Jones had made funeral arrangements of Egyptian exactitude for himself and his partner in solitude."
"A paycheck, benefits. Archy imagined coming home with such things in his backpack, how it would be if he could meet Gwen's reproachful look with news like that, the 50 percent gain in domestic peace that would result if he could move from being shiftless and cheating to merely the latter. A stack of quarters to feed the meter, move the needle out of the red, way over to the right."
"Cool as a cup of crushed ice on the drums, though, El Boom kept time like an atom clock."
"He came at Archy's soul then with the flashlight and the crowbar of his gaze."
"It was not easy, dressed in skanky b-ball shorts and a Captain EO sweatshirt with cutoff sleeves, but Archy dived down deep and hauled up all the dignity he could snap loose from the sea bottom of his soul."
So you are in for an enjoyable listen if you can stomach the extreme wordiness, meandering dialog and contrived plot.
I am a big Harlan Ellison fan, and I have always loved reading his stories. So it's great that I can now listen to them too. I love the way Mr. Ellison gets so involved in his narration that he sometimes "over emotes" (a nice way of saying that he sometimes shouts, wails, etc.). I can see where it might really irritate other people, but I find that it really makes the stories come alive for me. And listening to my favorite stories, "Laugh Track" and "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream", made me remember the pleasure I had in reading them. I'm really looking forward to the other volumes of this series!
The word "CYBEX" burned into my eyes while listening to this book on the treadmill at my local "Y" because I had to intensely concentrate so that I did not miss a single sentence. This is not your usual novel - it does not have a conventional beginning, middle or end. The book starts off describing the playoff game between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers for the 1951 National League pennant in which Bobby Thomson hit a three-run home run known as "the shot heard round the world". This section is priceless - the best part of the book, in my opinion. I felt like I was in the thick of the game with the various spectators, famous and not. Even though I knew the outcome of the game before listening to the narration, I was in complete suspense.
After this long section, the rest of the book skips through time, examining portions of the lives of people who were peripherally affected by this event. The next section of the book is a long first-person narrative from the point of view of Nick, a sanitation engineer, who owns the Bobby Thomson home run ball and is in the Arizona desert sometime in the late 1980's or early 1990's viewing an art installation by a woman who it seems he had some sort of involvement with years before (you will find out later - no spoiler alerts here!). We meet J. Edgar Hoover, Lenny Bruce and various other people, both fictional and "non".
And so it goes. The novel jumps back and forth, from the mid 1980's to the early 1990's, then to the summer of 1974, then to the 1960's and back to the period of time immediately before and after the historic 1951 baseball game. Not only do we view the lives of various people during these periods of time, but we also get a cultural snapshots of what was going on during these times. Some of the characters appear and reappear during these times. It is up to you, the listener, to put these narratives together.
Some listeners may be very disconcerted by this jumping around, and may not like putting various pieces of information together, but I found it fascinating. If, however, you want a conventional story, you only need to listen to the first part of the book describing the playoff game. It stands alone, and there is no need to listen to the rest of the book unless you want to.
I found Richard Poe to be a superb narrator - he took paced the narration very well, taking his time with the exquisite phrasing, and gave good voice to all the characters.
I only gave the novel 4 stars because I felt that DeLillo introduced too may "characters" that did not have much to do with the story. I also felt that he left a few loose ends. For instance, the home run ball was eventually caught by a black boy who snuck into the game. I was wondering what ever happened to him, but never found out. There were a few other instance of this.
In short, if you decide to listen to this book, you are in for a unique, fascinating, but possibly frustrating experience.
I did not know that there were so many different English accents until I started listening to this book! Kenneth Danzinger gave each character a distinct voice, no matter how short or minor the "part". I also loved the story of a wayward, goodhearted young man finding his way into mature adulthood through his adventures, encounters and discoveries. The 36-odd hours fairly whizzed by. The story has ironic, sarcastic elements here and there, and Mr. Danzinger verbalized them perfectly, adding extra richness to the story. The pacing of the narration was perfect also. Sometimes, though, the narrator spoke a little too softly with certain characters, so you may need to crank up the sound a bit. Also if you are able to get a physical copy of the book to follow along, preferably one with a glossary at the end like the Oxford Edition, do so, since there are a number of archaic and obscure terms you probably will not understand. Also, certain words such as "condescend" were used in different ways and meant different things in 1739 when the book was written than they mean now, and the Oxford Edition explains that as well. What could have seemed very dry and boring in print positively came to life in this beautiful narration. Highly recommended.
I definitely had mixed feelings about this book.
The first few minutes of "Oskar's" narration sounded like an example of a poster child with Asperger's. But what he was saying was intriguing, so I continued listening.
As the book progressed, I found that I really did not like any of the characters. I could not relate to any of them, and I did not understand why they would withhold crucial information and why they would leave so many things unsaid, while acknowledging that they did this sort of withholding. I also had a lot of trouble understanding why they would do some of the things that they would do. The author also did indicate why his characters would behave so peculiarly. I also felt that the three main characters, whose narration we hear in three different voices, had serious psychological problems. I also dislked the fact that Oskar's mother was depicted as such a nonentity.
But in spite of that, I still kept listening because I really wanted to know what was going to happen with all these characters. Isn't that weird? The plotting and the story saved the day for me, and kept me in suspense until the very end.
I also found the audio production to be very well done. The voices of all three characters were very distinct, and two of them sounded age-appropriate. Oskar sounded a little older than he was, according to the book, but that probably couldn't be helped. I don't know how many narrators there are who can simulate an 8- or 9-year-old boy.
Sartaj Singh's career is going nowhere. He is a police inspector (detective) in Bombay. His politically-connected boss is in danger of losing his job. He suffers from insomnia, which he tries to "cure" after work in his small, nondescript flat with large dollops of scotch. Most of his day is taken up with dealing with petty crimes and murders. Until, one day, he is awoken early in the morning by an anonymous phone call informing him that a notorious Bombay gangster, Ganesh Gaitonde, who has been out of the country for many years, is now back in a bunker in a Bombay suburb. When Singh and his partner arrive, they discover that they can't break down the door. While waiting for a bulldozer driver to appear, Gaitonde taunts Singh and his partner, and starts telling him how he started in his current "line of business". After the bulldozer appears, and the bunker door is broken down, and the police enter, they discover that Gaitonde has shot himself and an unknown female companion. Why did he return to Bombay? Who is his female companion? The Indian equivalent of the CIA gets involved, and an agent, Anjali Mathur, tasks Singh to try to find answers to these questions - she also alludes to issues of national security. After the "bunker incident", the book's chapters alternate between Gaitonde's story, told in the first person and Sartaj Sing's story. The book now subtly becomes a suspense story and a thriller. One of the main characters of the book is the city of Bombay itself, in all its smelly, crowded, riotous, diverse glory. This is a really fine book, but one that you should follow along with by referring to the physical text. There are many Indian phrases and words, some of which are defined in an excellent glossary in the back (you can also find this glossary online). The story builds slowly, and there are many, many levels to it. I give the book 5 stars, but the narration only gets 3 because the narrator has everyone sounding the same.
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