...I'm still listening to "I Feel Bad About My Neck."
It took me a little while to get used to Nora Ephron's narration of her own work. Her reading style reminds me of a kindergarten teacher who reads slowly, pronouncing each word carefully, to help her students learn to read. Not quite how I imagine her voice in my head when I read her work. Her voice trails off at the ends of some sentences, and I had to reel back and turn up the volume to catch some key phrases.
But once I got past that, the book itself was wonderful -- alternately hillarious and touching. I listened on my commute, and I was sorely tempted sometimes to just keep driving so that I could hear more about Ms. Ephron's views of growing past that "certain age" in America -- more about hair dyes and nail jobs, more about face creams that promise everything and deliver a big hole in your wallet, more about beige couches and cooking, more about Bill Clinton, Ms. Ephron's confessions about JFK, and a final essay on the one inevitability in life.
With some audiobooks, I get in the car and think, "Oh, yeah, I guess I should listen some more." With this one, it was, "Oh, hey, gotta get in the car and listen to that Nora Ephron book again!"
As others have noted, this book is a fluff piece -- short, easily digestible, fine for lolling on the couch at the end of a hard week. Davina Porter is delightful to listen to as always, and the writing draws you right in.
The story opens with a scene not atypical of the Regency era: a woman of good birth but small means, trying to keep her townhouse going with herself and just two servants without having to sell and retrench.
It's when she watches an elderly man faint in the park, and draws it out of him that he's faint from hunger, that we wander astray of Georgian conventions. She invites him to live in her house. True, they set about inviting every other poor relation that they can find in Hyde Park to live with them, too, and it's the collection of characters and the grand decision that they make to support themselves that drives the story, but that very act of inviting complete strangers of mixed genders to live with her tells us that Lady Fortescue is a character of modern sensibilities dressed in Regency costume.
This is the prime weakness of every book in the series: anachronisms abound. The events are anchored somewhere in the Regency, but customs and costumes are plucked from the Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian eras with great liberality.
But do try to forgive all that and accept that this is a candy-like fluff piece of pseudo-Regency fantasy, farcical as a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, because the characters are what make this series. Though a little puppet-like at times, especially when first introduced, the characters do flesh out into people that draw the reader's sympathy. Even when engaged in grand larceny, they delight us enough that we want them to succeed.
Each book in the series highlights one of the Poor Relations, for whom the series is named. Each has a romance (though not necessarily involving the poor relation), and each has a main plot aside from, but intertwined with, the romance. The outcomes are predictable, the good guys win, boy gets girl, but we get the fun of watching the characters overcome obstacles, often in creative ways, while knowing that their efforts will be rewarded in the end.
I listened to Authentic Happiness and found it a truly useful book for my own personal development. I saw Flourish advertised as the next great thing. Happiness is not enough, the author says. We need to learn to flourish. Okay, I thought, tell me more. I bought the book to learn more.
The first segment does give us a teaser -- the PERMA concept: Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Achievement. However, the author breezes through these, out of order, and while giving us a taste of how these could be achieved. But only a taste. There are a few personal exercises that the reader can try out, but far too few.
Instead, the bulk of the book is a detailed accounting of the many groups that Seligman applied his principals to and all that they achieved. As I listened, I felt first a growing sense of unease, then anger. Each group was made up of elite people: wealthy high-achievers who were carefully selected from a large pool of applicants to take a very expensive course from Seligman and company; more wealthy high-achievers who came to Seligman with their own projects; a boarding school in rural Australia, which sounded promising, until we learn it's an exclusive boarding school for children of the uppermost of upper crust, including English princes. Each group tried out Seligman's Flourish principle, and to no one's surprise, they all flourished.
As I heard story after story of privileged people who paid large sums to be allowed to take part in Seligman's program, I kept thinking, "Lovely, but what about the rest us? What about the poor slobs like me, commuting to work every day, who spent good money on this book? What do you have for us? Are we allowed some part of your program? Some hint of how to improve ourselves beyond a couple of exercises at the start of the book?"Apparently not. We only get to hear how other people, with wealth enough to buy Seligman's time, get the details of this new Flourish program. The rest of us are only allowed to watch from a distance.
While Authentic Happiness is worth picking up, I don't advise spending time or money on Flourish.
I'd also like to issue a challenge to Dr. Seligman: Try your Flourish program on another school. Let's try a tiny rural high school, or an inner city public elementary, or an underfunded community college, or an school on Reservation lands in the U.S. Try this with everyday people struggling to make ends meet in a stagnant economy. Will they flourish, too, Dr. Seligman? Will they ever have the chance to find out?
Those who are hoping for a modern narrative will be disappointed. But for listeners who want to understand the Georgian era, this is a valuable little book from the period, which reveals more about social and religious thought than it does about etiquette and fashion. Like many of the "conduct books" written at the time, this book exhorts women to be modest above all and in all things. The author gives guidelines for young women concerning dress, deportment, and many other aspects of life in the upper classes, all with strong messages about social duty, deeply rooted in religion. Be prepared for a writing style that sounds stuffy and pretentious today, but was a model of refinement in its time.
Please tell me there is going to be third book in this series. The story is far from finished, and the end of this book is wide open for another whole story. We need to see Yelena in her new career, and I'm dying to see her take her heart's love to meet her family.
As with Poison Study, the first book in the series, I had a hard time getting out of the car at the end of my commute because I wanted to hear more of the story. Maria Snyder has created a set of fully-realized characters and a twisting plot that remains unpredictable all the way to the end. More! I want more!
I wasn't sure what to expect from this book, and I hoped it wouldn't be yet another romance in a fantasy setting. It wasn't. I was pleasantly surprised by the complexity and of the story and how compelling the plot and characters were. While there were a few characters -- a pair of guards in particular -- that somehow didn't quite ring true, most of the characters were well-developed and engaged the reader's sympathies.
Unlike some female romantic fantasy authors that I could name, this author isn't afraid to let her characters suffer for their mistakes, to allow "bad" people to gain the upper hand, to have dislikable people be on the "good" side or likeable people to be on the "bad" side, or to have even smart people make dumb mistakes. The world she has built is not forgiving of mistakes.
The romantic angle was subtle and developed slowly and convincingly. In fact, there's not so much as a kiss between the two romantic leads until near the of the book. The heroine has a nasty past that she must get over before she's ready for a relationship of any kind.
If you're looking for a self-help book about becoming happy, don't bother with this one. It contains very little advice, and what advice it has to offer, you probably won't take. Go find some other books that will tell you how to be happy.
And when they don't work, come back to this book to find out why.
"Stumbling on Happiness" is not a self-help book. It doesn't claim to be a self-help book. Instead, it provides an in-depth look at human character and why we have such a hard time finding happiness, though we are always chasing after it. From the "tomorrow will be pretty much like today, but with rocket cars" ideas about the future, to our own highly fallible memories, Daniel Gilbert takes the reader on a tour of human happiness, self-awareness, metacognition, and memory to explain why the bliss we seek always seems to be just around the corner, but never quite within grasp.
Given the author's background - a Ph.D. in history - I expected something showing a powerful knowledge of the period. This book gives the impression she did her "research" by perusing a few Regency romance novels.
The author commits anachronism after anachronism, inaccuracy after inaccuracy as her historical female lead, a misplaced Valley girl with barely enough brains to power a hamster, plays spy in 1803 Paris. The worst errors occur with the characters on board a packet ship -- where they are berthed in a spacious room (on a packet?!?) complete with windows (though passengers were more often stowed below the water line), where the entire crew goes to sleep at night - in a storm, no less (what, did they put the ship in "park"?), while the male and female leads flirt on deck. Worse, on the journey home, the male lead sends a ship's crew away, replacing them with his own household staff. As though sailing a full-rigged ship across the English Channel is like schlepping a delivery van across town. One might think the author doesn't know her topsail from her mizzenmast, and hopes her readers won't notice.
There are many smaller errors sprinkled throughout, from mentions of "blouses" (a term applied originally to military jackets, not female garments), slips, and the male lead's thought that cavemen had the right idea -- a very 20th century cartoonish idea.
The female characters are all drawn from modern models and are entirely out of place for the period. French characters both modern and historical are all hollow negative stereotypes, while the male English characters are mostly heroic caricatures.
The modern framing device is superfluous, and as for the romance scenes, they turn embarrassing in their gory detail, while one is altogether too public.
Lastly, I do wish the author had chosen some other flower than a pink carnation. Now I have the line from Don McLean's "American Pie" stuck in my head: "...with a pink carnation and a pick-up truck..."
Written by the brilliant and entertaining Stephen Jay Gould, and narrated by Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., it's hard to go wrong. This book delivers Gould's insightful commentaries on evolutionary biology, begining with a discussion of art, science, and the real reasons why Leonardo daVinci wrote extensively on marine fossils found in montane regions. An essay on the Diet of Worms leads into the defenestration (that is, "chucking out the window") of religious leaders, and on to why it's a pity that Columbus didn't drop a few snails in his pocket, that we might know with more certainty where he actually landed (and, incidentally, instigated the genocidal campaign that wiped out the friendly natives who greeted him). A look into the minds of sloths and vultures and the early naturalists who held them in contempt comes near the end, and the book concludes with an essay on science itself.
I suspect that deep inside of literary Mr. Stein there lurks a sleazy adventure writer yearning to get out. Stein denigrates "transient" fiction (a.k.a. genre fiction in his opinion), yet examples from his own work differ little from the examples of "transient" literature that he quotes. The only difference I could see was that the "transient" literature was drawn from books I'd actually heard of. Stein mocks the use of cliches, yet in an example from his own writing, uses the cliche phrase "naked and unashamed." Dear, dear.
One thing lacking from the book was a discussion of writing appropriately for one's audience. Stein chastises Thomas Huxley for writing in a florid, convoluted style, yet he quotes Huxley entirely out of context and fails to consider Huxley's audience: educated Victorians who expected no less from an educated scientist and writer. Stein would lead us to believe that there is but one way to write well -- his way.
Still, once past the attitudinal bits, there is much that is useful here, making this a worthwhile download for serious writers. Stein has some solid ideas on how to go about editing one's work, starting with a grand overview, and going down to details. His advice to find the weakest chapter, then the weakest scene, is extremely helpful. His advice on plotting is good and easy to follow. Pay attention to what he says about adjectives. It can clean up your work considerably.
As an audiobook, this is easy on the ears. The reading is clear and the pace is good. Warning: you may be tempted to drive with a notebook in hand to jot down ideas. Or you may end up buying the hard copy so you can refer back to the bits that you found most useful.
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