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JJ Charles


  • Chronicles: Volume One

    • ABRIDGED (5 hrs and 6 mins)
    • By Bob Dylan
    • Narrated By Sean Penn

    Bob Dylan's Chronicles: Volume One explores the critical junctions in his life and career. Through Dylan's eyes and open mind, we see Greenwich Village, circa 1961, when he first arrives in Manhattan. Dylan's New York is a magical city of possibilities: smoky, nightlong parties; literary awakenings; transient loves and unbreakable friendships. Elegiac observations are punctuated by jabs of memories, penetrating and tough.

    Gerry A. Brown says: "Positively 4th Street"
    "Prepare to be underwhelmed"

    Dylan is one of very few musicians in the English speaking world whose lyrics one can print out, read like poetry, and not laugh. While this compliment is clearly subjective, it would be difficult to argue otherwise and be taken seriously. If any musician has ever had "a way with words", Dylan is certainly a candidate for that praise.

    In "Chronicles" however, Dylan has profoundly little to say, yet manages to say it proudly. There's an astonishing shortage of quotable (or otherwise memorable) passages. I now understand why Jonah Lehrer, after searching for a quotation, felt constrained to make one up. Having read Chronicles, I no longer blame him for this (though I would be more approving if the quotation were just absurd: "I like my lagers light and my women thick" or some such).


    If you're a devoted Dylan fan, you'll still get something out of the investment. For example, I had no idea Dylan was so fond of rap (and more specifically, Ice-T).

    If you're only somewhat devoted (i.e., if you CAN get enough of Dylan), you'll probably feel the five hours could have been condensed to 20 minutes without losing any worthwhile content.

    Regarding the narration: Sean Penn is an incredible actor ("the Dylan of the matte white screen"), but those skills don't seem to translate very well to reading books out loud.

    3 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • Love Is the Cure: On Life, Loss, and the End of AIDS

    • UNABRIDGED (5 hrs and 6 mins)
    • By Elton John
    • Narrated By Elton John
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    In the 1980s, Elton John saw friend after friend, loved one after loved one, perish needlessly from AIDS. In the midst of the plague, he befriended Ryan White, a young Indiana boy ostracized by his town and his school because of the HIV infection he had contracted from a blood transfusion. Ryan's inspiring life and devastating death led Elton to two realizations: His own life was a mess. And he had to do something to help stop the AIDS crisis. Since then, Elton has dedicated himself to overcoming the plague.

    jeff says: "Inspiring book"
    "No Bernie Taupin to fluff up the prose?"

    The inevitable criticism is "Elton should have had Bernie write this as well."

    HOWEVER, despite the quality of the writing being less than amazing (and often annoyingly redundant), the book itself is quite good.

    The stories are very touching and I can think of no better voice to deliver them than Elton's. Both the writing and recording feel vulnerably honest and this goes a long way to generate sympathy in his listeners. And, at least in the narrative portions of the book, sympathy seems to be his goal. Though he's definitely not burying the lead here. The most touching story by far is Ryan White's (i.e., chapter one).

    Once he's finished telling Ryan's story, the theme of the book leans a bit heavier on the social stigmas surrounding HIV/AIDS and how those stigmas have led to government inaction.

    Most of the emotion from this point on is just descriptions of emotion, such as "I was overjoyed" or "I was stunned" or (very plainly) "I was overcome with emotion."

    The purpose of this part of the book isn't one of emotional augmentation though; it seems to be an effort to provoke social and political change. And I think he did so successfully. It felt like a very inspired and effective call for action. And that's how he ends his book.

    Summary aside, the reading was very good. It's Elton John. No further comment is needed.

    The writing was interesting though. If I were somehow made oblivious to the fact that he's a musician, I think I could have guessed. There are a lot of would-be closing lines that feel like they're supposed to function as a lyrical hook. But he doesn't leap into a chorus at that point. He just begins another sentence. And chapters are longer than verses, so it makes the writing a bit clunky here and there.

    Criticism aside, the musician's memoir has become trendy to the point of cliche and, while some of them are interesting, Elton's is the only important one.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Genes, Chromosomes, and Disease: From Simple Traits to Complex Traits to Personalized Medicine

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 33 mins)
    • By Nicholas Wright Gillham
    • Narrated By Joe Barrett
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    This listenable overview covers the rise of medical genetics through the past century, and the eugenic impulses it has inspired. Nicholas Gillham reviews the linkages between genes and disease, ethnic groups' differential susceptibility to genetic traits and disorders, personalized medicine, and crucial social and ethical issues arising from the field's progress.

    JJ Charles says: "Would have been better halved"
    "Would have been better halved"

    Gillham managed to include a fair amount of interesting (or at least useful) information, but he crammed it into reams of ridiculously unnecessary detail.

    Maybe 15% of the book (give or take) was quite good. He discusses some interesting scientific and historical bits on the subject.

    70% of the book was okay.

    The remaining 15% was just an unbelievable waste of keystrokes which no person in the universe could possibly find useful, let alone interesting. It wasn't the detail of the science; I don't feel he went overboard there. It was the pointless attention given to things like what day of the week some 19th century conversation took place. From beginning to end, it felt like Gillham was being paid by the word and his number one goal was to maximize profits.

    If I tried to edit details from this book into a relevant Wikipedia page, it would absolutely be rejected on grounds of pointlessness. Gillham's publisher should have applied the same exclusionary criteria to this book.

    I'm not upset that I bought it, but I won't be buying books from this author in the future. I would equate it to concert attendance:

    If I show up and the band plays an incredibly long set of extremely tedious songs, but works in a few catchy moments along the way, I'm not going to ask for a refund, but nor will I buy a ticket on their next tour. The world is a competitive place. There are other, better acts out there.

    As for the narrator, he's just bad. At regular intervals, you'll hear him pronouncing practically every technical term incorrectly. For example: homogeneous, allele, SNPs, the names of specific hormones (e.g., aldosterone), etc. He doesn't know how to pronounce any of these. And "etc" isn't just one or two more. It's a lot. He seems to do especially poorly with words that include "gene" as a root word (e.g., genotype; confused on when the e is an ee and when it's an eh). My favorite: at 3:05:23 into the second half of the book, he very clearly pronounces the name of a bleeding disorder "homophilia." Very clearly.

    All in all, the book is worth $5. If it goes on sale and you've already read some of the other, better works on the subject, go for it. The facts presented are solid, the writing is bad, and the narrating is worse, but you might be less disappointed than I was in the latter two.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • 50 Jobs in 50 States: One Man's Journey of Discovery Across America

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 39 mins)
    • By Daniel Seddiqui
    • Narrated By L. J. Ganser

    Like lots of college grads, Daniel Seddiqui was having a hard time finding a job. But despite more than 40 rejections, he knew opportunities had to exist. So he set out on an extraordinary quest: 50 jobs in 50 states in 50 weeks. And not just any jobs; he chose professions that reflected the culture and economy of each state, working as everything from a cheesemaker in Wisconsin, a border patrol agent in Arizona, and a meatpacker in Kansas to a lobsterman in Maine, a surfing instructor in Hawaii, and more.

    Thomas Cook says: "Whiner can't grow up so he writes a book instead"
    "Unbearable story telling"
    What disappointed you about 50 Jobs in 50 States?

    This is some of the worst writing I've ever read. If I were slogging my way through the paper version, it would be completely unreadable. As an audiobook, I managed to clear five hours. It's too painful to continue. It's like a twelve year old's travel journal. It's truly horrible. Just the laziest, cliche-littered story telling imaginable, Seddiqui would do well to read Bill Bryson, assuming that's who he's attempting to imitate. I can't believe I paid money for this. I think it was $5.95 and I've never had so much buyer's remorse about anything.

    What could Daniel Seddiqui have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

    He could become a writer. The writing itself is unspeakably bad.

    How could the performance have been better?

    The performance was quite good, but no performance in narration can fix the underlying text. If the best singer in the world covers the worst song ever written, I'm not going to suddenly think it's good music.

    What character would you cut from 50 Jobs in 50 States?

    The writer.

    Any additional comments?

    Even if it goes on sale for five cents, save your money. If it goes on sale for free, save your nothing. There's no shortage of amazing books on Audible. Spending a minute of your time on this non-writer's painfully tedious travel blog is the worst possible expense of your time.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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