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Los Angeles, CA, United States | Member Since 2002

  • 8 reviews
  • 10 ratings
  • 0 titles in library
  • 8 purchased in 2015

  • The Modern Scholar: High Seas, High Stakes: Naval Battles That Changed History

    • ORIGINAL (7 hrs and 30 mins)
    • By Timothy B. Shutt

    Naval battles have long captured the popular imagination, from confrontations between Athens and Sparta in the ancient world to the epic conflicts that took place during the World Wars and beyond. In this riveting series of lectures, Professor Timothy B. Shutt of Kenyon College explores the naval battles that have helped to establish empires and have changed history.

    Chris says: "Intellectually and technically sloppy"
    "Intellectually and technically sloppy"

    I expected a survey course, some direction for additional reading. What Shutt delivered was often intellectually slipshod and technically amateurish.
    As for the mental laziness on display here: Even in a survey course, I expect a lecturer to know how to pronounce the names of the people and places under discussion, not to guess at them, as Shutt repeatedly does.
    In the opening lecture, Shutt suggested that he would explore themes such as the relationship between merchant oligarchies and naval power. Instead, the lectures often delivered score-keeping. This side lost X number of ships. The other side lost a lot fewer, because they had better ships or they practiced more, or some similar generalization that Shutt fails to explore. The effect is disturbing. OK. Some of these battles took place a long time ago. But those were human beings in those fights. They wanted to live, and many suffered terribly. I'm not asking for Shutt to burst into tears over that. I'm asking him to show some discipline, to draw some broader conclusions, to develop a theme. Other historians do that. Score-keeping insults the dead, the reader and history itself.
    On to the technical sloppiness: At the end of the series, a narrator credits three editors. I cannot fathom how they might have spent their time on this project. Certainly not on correcting errors. At one point, I got so exasperated that I actually started keeping a log of Shutt's stumbles, but I kept losing track. There were lots and lots and lots. I can understand that Shutt might stumble in his delivery. What I can't understand is how the publisher could have expected payment for such sloppy editing, or why Audible actually bought it.
    I bought it because I didn't know how awful it would be. I wish I hadn't.

    16 of 19 people found this review helpful
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany

    • UNABRIDGED (26 hrs and 53 mins)
    • By John Irving
    • Narrated By Joe Barrett
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Of all of John Irving's books, this is the one that lends itself best to audio. In print, Owen Meany's dialogue is set in capital letters; for this production, Irving himself selected Joe Barrett to deliver Meany's difficult voice as intended. In the summer of 1953, two 11-year-old boys – best friends – are playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills the other boy's mother. The boy who hits the ball doesn't believe in accidents; Owen Meany believes he is God's instrument. What happens to Owen after that 1953 foul ball is extraordinary and terrifying.

    Alan says: "Outstanding"
    "Worth Hearing"
    What did you like best about A Prayer for Owen Meany? What did you like least?

    It's a love story that rings true. It gives a true sense of coming of age, of the things we wish we could change in our lives or characters and can't. It's an interesting look at faith.

    If you’ve listened to books by John Irving before, how does this one compare?

    I started, but didn't finish reading, not listening to, "The World According to Garp." I found it vulgar without being enlightening.Having listened to this, I'm wondering whether Irving is best read aloud. Journalists have an expression, that a story should sing. This one does pretty well. It's not a masterpiece, but it's a good listen.

    Which scene was your favorite?

    Probably either the hide-and-seek scene in the beginning, or the interactions with the disappointed ROTC instructor at the end and the horrid family. Both are true to life.

    Do you think A Prayer for Owen Meany needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

    No. He's said what there is to say here.

    Any additional comments?

    This book made it a little more likely that I'll try Garp again.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Timbuktu

    • UNABRIDGED (5 hrs and 42 mins)
    • By Paul Auster
    • Narrated By Joe Barrett

    Mr. Bones, the canine hero of this astonishing book, is the sidekick and confidant of Willy G. Christmas, a brilliant and troubled homeless man from Brooklyn. As Willy's body slowly expires, he sets off with Mr. Bones for Baltimore in search of his high-school English teacher and a new home for his companion. Mr. Bones is our witness during their journey, and out of his thoughts, Paul Auster has spun one of the richest, most compelling tales in American fiction.

    Dubi says: "Should I Have Said Gehrig?"
    "A Dog of a Tale"
    What would have made Timbuktu better?

    Auster violates several of the rules of fiction writing that Mark Twain cites in "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses."

    Among Twain's principles:

    5. (W)hen the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances...

    8. (C)rass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader... (by) either the author or the people in the tale.

    9. (T)he personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.

    Probably the most irritating thing about this book is that the protagonist, purportedly a dog, is not a dog. He thinks and speaks like a human being, and not a very interesting human being, either. For example, there's a passage where the narrator balks at sleeping in a cardboard box in an alley. I have known dogs who didn't like sleeping in boxes, but most do, because they're like dens. Why doesn't this dog like this box? Does it smell bad, for instance? Dunno. Maybe it's just that Auster wouldn't want to sleep in a box. Big deal.

    There's a contemptuous reference to a puppy eating his own feces. Well, some dogs do that. To a human being, it's not an appealing sight, but the interesting thing is the dog's enthusiasm, not the human being's distaste. Auster doesn't entertain that. He takes a slap at behavior we humans generally disapprove of and moves on to more inanities.

    Elsewhere, the protagonist frets over the possibility that the restaurant scraps he's eating might contain dog meat. When I was a boy, I knew a Siberian husky who regularly killed and ate smaller dogs. Dogs sometimes eat their dead masters. They're survivors, and they don't fret much over what they eat.

    Just one more thing. According to Auster, this doggie understands every word spoken to him in what he calls "Ingloosh." Come on. Dogs don't conceptualize like that, and substituting a cute little misspelling for the correct word adds nothing. It's irritating.
    The fact that a dog can cheerfully mouth his own droppings or eat the corpse of somebody he loved, or gladly sleep in a place a human being would dislike, offers creative possibilities Auster misses them all. I didn't find a single instance of doglike behavior. Instead, he violates Twain rules 5, 8 and 9.

    Twain Rule 16: Avoid slovenliness of form.

    When I started listening, the narrator's diction startled me.. I thought "Why is he using so many trite generalizations and clichés? Is this supposed to offer some insight into his dull, conventional thinking?"

    I eventually decided that it was simply an insight into the thinking of a dull, conventional writer. Because I couldn't bear to listen again, I went on Amazon's book page and looked at excerpts from the novel. Here's some of what I found in skimming the few pages they make available on the web preview:

    Habits die hard... old dogs and new tricks... biology was against him... painfully aware.... put in his two cents... human tribe ... hanging on every word... all well and good... philosophical aversion... "an eleventh-hour ploy to kill both birds with one stone" ... digs (an anachronistic euphemism for "home")... furry companion.... Well, at least the boy had spirit..."the worst was still to come."… "the full horror of what he was getting himself into"… "rattled on".... "the fatal words had passed the boy's lips".... turn tail and run. ...fine little fellow ... "like signing his own death sentence." (Isn’t it supposed to be “Warrant?”) ... "trapped in an agony of indecision" ... "his heart was putty in the boy's hands"... "the gates of hell"... "a clever lad" (More anachronism. Where are we now, The Hardy Boys?) ... inexhaustible source... small price to pay... "frozen with remorse".., assuage his guilty conscience... his cover story

    What dog crap, to coin a phrase. What was Auster trying to do, show how to write badly? I guess he succeeded.

    Twain Rule 17: Use good grammar.

    Of course, Twain isn't saying a novel has to read like a grammar textbook. He's saying that the writer must know how to use his tools. Auster doesn't seem to. He leaves participles dangling. He shows a poor understanding of the subjunctive. I might forgive that if there were something good about this book. I've certainly forgiven grammatical confusion in books that don't present themselves as literary fiction. But shouldn't a literary writer master his own language?

    One of the things that puzzles me is that Auster seems to be well regarded. I'd picked this book after reading several positive newspaper reviews, I want to improve my own writing, to familiarize myself with what my contemporaries are doing and to see what I can learn from it. But I just don't think there's anything to learn from this book, except that it did make me think of Mark Twain's criticisms of Fenimore Cooper, another fraud.

    Don't buy this book.

    What could Paul Auster have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

    Learn to write.

    What about Joe Barrett’s performance did you like?

    I believe I've heard Barrett read before. He's a solid performer. It's a credit to his professionalism that he could read this tripe in a steady, neutral tone. I'd have been stopping every couple pages to see if I could get out of the contract.

    If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Timbuktu?

    I'd have cut the dog, the bum, the mother and the narrator. I didn't finish the book, so I don't know what else to suggest. Throw the book away?

    Any additional comments?

    I generally don't like the idea of asking for my money back for a book. I figure, "Well, Audible offers a pretty good subscription, and I want to support writing, even bad writing."

    Sometimes. But there's a limit. I can't understand why I should pay for such garbage.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 28 mins)
    • By Mary Roach
    • Narrated By Sandra Burr
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Space is a world devoid of the things we need to live and thrive: air, gravity, hot showers, fresh produce, privacy, beer. Space exploration is in some ways an exploration of what it means to be human. How much can a person give up? How much weirdness can they take? What happens to you when you can’t walk for a year? Have sex? Smell flowers? What happens if you vomit in your helmet during a space walk? Is it possible for the human body to survive a bailout at 17,000 miles per hour?

    Roy says: "Everything You Always Wanted to Know - and More"
    "Fascinating and Often Funny"
    Would you listen to Packing for Mars again? Why?

    I've already replayed the section on zero-gravity toilet facilities for my son. It's very informative and also hilarious

    What was one of the most memorable moments of Packing for Mars?

    Well, I'd never thought about the fact that a person's internal organs are suspended in the body. Gravity significantly defines our figures. So in zero gravity, the organs tend to float upwards, leading to skinny waists and bloated upper bodies. There are lots of other things to think about, like zero-gravity bone loss or motion sickness and what to do if you vomit inside your space suit. You can't reach up and wipe your face, and with no gravity to keep the puke at the bottom of the helmet bowl, it can be a real hazard. Fascinating.

    Have you listened to any of Sandra Burr’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    I don't remember. I can say, though, that after listening to this, I was about to get "Spook," Roach's book about scientific experiments on the afterlife. Another subscriber had commented that the reader there was too heavy-handed, loading up Roach's writing with her own overdone delivery. So I didn't order that.

    I think the best approach with most good books is to get out of the way and let the story tell itself. This reader did seem to enjoy the material, but she had the good sense not to get in the way.

    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    I laughed a lot. I can't say that I was absolutely moved by Roach's concluding chapter, where she makes her case for spending more money on space exploration, but that's because it was so little poetry and so much just good solid reasoning. It left me thinking not, "This is inspirational," but "This is our job. This is what we need to put our money into, to make sure we do it right, because our future depends on it."

    One of the nice things about this book is its commonsense foundation. It treats space exploration as something we are going to do, something practical, not some romantic once-in-a-lifetime movie but real, day-to-day work, carried out by human beings, something we can all have a part in. It made me think of the Vikings pushing off for Greenland, or of people like Magellan. By showing the practicalities of life in space, many of which are similar to the inconveniences and compromises and seamanship of shipboard life on the ocean, Roach helps to advance the public discussion of day-to-day space voyaging.

    Any additional comments?

    Very, very occasionally, Roach makes one joke or pun too many and I think to myself, "oh, come on. This is funny enough on its own." But that's a very small objection.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • A Soldier's Passion for Order: Sherman

    • UNABRIDGED (20 hrs and 48 mins)
    • By John F. Marszalek
    • Narrated By Kevin Charles Minatrea

    General William Tecumseh Sherman has come down to us as the implacable destroyer of the Civil War, notorious for his burning of Atlanta and his brutal march to the sea. A probing biography that explains Sherman's style of warfare and the threads of self-possession and insecurity that made up his character.

    Chris says: "An Honest Study of a Flawed Hero"
    "An Honest Study of a Flawed Hero"
    Would you listen to A Soldier's Passion for Order again? Why?

    I might. It's a good model in thorough research and dispassionate treatment of the record. The author does make a compelling case for Sherman's lifelong effort to attain the order and respect that he felt he lost in his own boyhood. If I were to criticize Marzalek's approach, it would be for focusing so narrowly on that one motivation. I think there were opportunities in the record to examine companion motivations more thoroughly.

    What other book might you compare A Soldier's Passion for Order to and why?

    I've read a fair amount about Winston Churchill, another deeply flawed hero. I don't think, apart from the fact that they both carried the wounds of childhood far into adulthood, Churchill and Sherman had much in common. But studying their lives has given me the opportunity to think about what I can admire and learn from in leaders who were so great in in some ways and so wanting in others.

    What does Kevin Charles Minatrea bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    The narrator is largely invisible. He just tells the story. He's clear without being showy or a distraction in any way. That can be hard to do, and he's to be congratulated for his professional delivery.

    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    I don't think anybody can listen to 20 hours straight in one sitting. It took me a little more than a week. As military history, it's not that dense.

    Any additional comments?

    I've always despised that Southern Sir Walter Scott garbage, that lie about Southern chivalry that so blithely romanticizes white supremacy, that justification of slavery. I've always thought the South, especially South Carolina, deserved the March to the Sea for provoking and prolonging the war, and I still do. So I've always admired Sherman.

    I admire him less now. He was a great soldier, but he was also narrow and sometimes mean, not in the sense of being cruel -- although he could be that, too -- but in the sense of being petty and selfish. There's an account in the book where Sherman, entering a conquered city, is approached by a former subordinate turned Confederate soldier. Sherman describes their former comradeship and then explains to the man how he's betrayed that trust by betraying the Union.The confrontation clearly rattled Sherman; it seems that he felt his duty compelled him to point out the betrayal and to chastise the unregenerate traitor. But then, a few pages later, here's Sherman nonchalantly fraternizing with another rebel POW, this time a beaten confederate officer who was not only a comrade in arms but a family friend before the war. He gives the man dinner, welcoming him as a long-lost brother. If the foot soldier is a traitor, isn't the officer friend even more of a traitor? Doesn't the duty to uphold the Union require even more when it comes to personal friendship? The question doesn't seem to dawn on Sherman.

    This isn't just personal pettiness. Sherman said he believed in "hard war, soft peace," meaning that he'd fight as hard as he could until he'd beaten his opponent, then offer the most generous terms he could. What that meant in practice is that when Joseph Johnson capitulated to him, Sherman let the southerners write most of their own surrender terms. Those terms were much more lenient than what Grant had accorded to Lee shortly before. By the peace terms subject to his judgement rather than his commander's and the president's, Sherman jeopardized the terms of the broader Union victory. He had to be reprimanded before he backed down and conceded the decision over surrender terms to the civil authorities. He later did and said things that even make it appear he thought the Confederates could keep their slaves. It's deplorable enough that he doesn't appear to have understood the underlying cause for the war. He also doesn't seem to have kept abreast of United States law, or to have understood fully that his caprices and prejudices would have to bow to that law. As for "hard war, soft peace," clearly the record shows Lincoln wasn't vindictive. I think his course would have been "hard war, lawful and just peace." I wish Sherman had followed that model.

    I'll be thinking about this book for a while. It gives a picture of a very complicated man. I still like and admire Sherman. That's strange, because he was vain and a bigot. But, flawed as he was, he loved his soldiers and he helped to save the country. He once said that the southern states ought to thank him, because there was no way they could have survived as an independent nation. The South ought to thank him for prevented it from committing suicide, Sherman said. I like that.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Without Feathers

    • UNABRIDGED (2 hrs and 13 mins)
    • By Woody Allen
    • Narrated By Woody Allen

    Now in audio for the first time, Without Feathers is narrated by Woody Allen himself. Here they are: 16 of the funniest tales and ruminations ever recorded, by one of the great comic minds of our time. From "The Whore of Mensa", to "Fabulous Tales & Mythical Beasts", to "No Kaddish for Weinstein", old and new Allen fans will laugh themselves silly over these sparkling gems.

    Vincent says: "Surprisingly good"
    "Inside Jokes, I Guess"
    What disappointed you about Without Feathers?

    If you like the New Yorker's "Shouts & Murmurs" section, you might like this. I say that because the writing here reminds the deadpan style that section seems to favor.
    I have never once laughed at Shouts & Murmurs. On the rare occasions when I start something there, I never finish it.
    I'm not going to finish this, either.

    What was most disappointing about Woody Allen’s story?

    It's just not funny. It's a bunch of non sequiturs and inside jokes about psychoanalysis and people failing to get electrocuted when they stick their noses in light sockets. I do like Woody Allen's movies, so I'm not sure why I don't like this. It just seems sort of dumb to me, which is the way I feel about Shouts & Murmurs (see above.) But the New Yorker sells. Somebody must like it. Just not me.

    What three words best describe Woody Allen’s performance?

    Woody Allen Deadpanning.

    What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

    Boredom, mystification, growing disappointment for about 20 minutes or so followed by , indifference and the choice to try something else. I just returned "Too Big to Fail" because Sorkin is a despicable shill for the banksters and I didn't want him to have my money. I didn't feel that I could get a refund on this in good conscience, at least so soon after getting a refund before, because after all, they do offer an advance listen. But I kind of wish I hadn't bought it.

    Any additional comments?

    If you're not really sure you love "Shouts & Murmurs," don't buy this.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Too Big to Fail

    • UNABRIDGED (21 hrs and 3 mins)
    • By Andrew Ross Sorkin
    • Narrated By William Hughes
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    A real-life thriller about the most tumultuous period in America's financial history by an acclaimed New York Times reporter. Andrew Ross Sorkin delivers the first true, behind-the-scenes, moment-by-moment account of how the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression developed into a global tsunami.

    Laura says: "Surprisingly Revealing"
    "Say It Ain't So, Joe"
    What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

    The headline, of course, is an allusion to that famous question posed to Shoeless Joe Jackson after the Black Sox scandal. It falls a little short of what I'm driving at, but part of what bugs me about this story is Sorkin's inside baseball hero worship. Maybe I could have expected this, but Sorkin seems to see these banksters as larger than life tragic heroes. What I was looking for was some explanation of how it could have been possible for a nation's economy to have come down to the judgment of such flawed characters. In other words, why on earth was anyone considered too big to fail? How did they get such control? How come, after they abused that control, at least some of them aren't in prison?
    I lost my job as a result of their recklessness and the buddy-buddy terms they operated under. It goes down pretty hard to hear about their heartache over the impact on their bonuses and careers as they quaff $180-a-bottle chardonnay. Sorkin pays very brief lip service to "Main Street," but in his myopic focus on his heroes, he doesn't seem to know what it is, or to understand the human consequences of what these clowns, and the clownish "regulators" who were supposed to be watching them, and beyond them, the patsies from Reagan through Obama, Gramm, Leach and Bliley through Chris Dodd, what all these adequately-paid incompetents were doing, and how on earth we can prevent them from getting even more power to screw us even worse.
    One of the reviews mentions the Wall Street titans "staring into the abyss" or words to that effect. In the Depression, Washington got moving partly because farmers in the Midwest were setting up roadblocks. In this case, none of the rich men -- yes, almost exclusively rich, white men -- appear to see any further than a little public embarrassment and a golden parachute to some other similarly powerful job. Boy, that's not the abyss at all. Calling that an abyss likens a worldwide economic catastrophe to a batting slump; it arises from the same blindness that made it possible for Obama, a couple years ago, to compare the obscene salaries paid to the banksters to the money baseball stars earn.
    These guys have very little right, apart from their incomes, to claim to be stars. And they're not playing a harmless game.
    I have to confess, I'm only two thirds of the way through the book. Maybe Sorkin will turn things around. But I'm trying to pay attention to what he has to say because, in large part, what he's writing about has a direct bearing on my trade. I can't imagine why most other people would bother.
    Those positive reviews in big-name publications were written by people who hadn't been laid off yet. Don't believe them.
    Do you care whether these rich guys like each other? I don't. Apparently, Sorkin does.That's the peril of being on a beat too long. He should do a stint covering gang violence.
    The performance is adequate. That's what saves this book from a grade of zero, so far. I'll tough it out to the end in this book, and if I find something different from what I've said so far, I'll eat crow.
    I don't think I'll have to do that.

    Would you ever listen to anything by Andrew Ross Sorkin again?

    Nope. I read him from time to time because he's more or less relevant to what I do for a "living." But I wouldn't pay for it.

    What did you like about the performance? What did you dislike?

    It's largely irrelevant

    What character would you cut from Too Big to Fail?

    huh? Let's be serious. Sometimes books are more than entertainment. At least, they're supposed to be.

    Any additional comments?

    I don't think my bitterness over this awful Wall Street-driven economy is unique. The "Occupy" movement got turned into a joke, but I, and other Americans, live by the Democratic principals that gave rise to it. I hope and pray those principals will be widespread enough to force substantive changes.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Simple Courage: A True Story of Peril on the Sea

    • UNABRIDGED (9 hrs and 37 mins)
    • By Frank Delaney
    • Narrated By Frank Delaney
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready

    Drawing on historical documents and contemporary accounts and on exclusive interviews with Carlsen's family, Delaney opens a window into the world of the merchant marine. With deep affection, and respect, for the weather and all that goes with it, he places us in the heart of the storm, a "biblical tempest" of unimaginable power. He illuminates the bravery and ingenuity of Carlsen and the extraordinary courage that the 37-year-old captain inspired in his stalwart crew.

    Andrew says: "Well written and read"

    This is a wonderful book, wonderfully read. It helped me to understand courage in new ways, how what we do from moment to moment draws on our pasts, on the practical balance between fear and perseverance.
    Delaney has the courage and the skill to link Captain Carlsen's performance of his duty with his own struggle to grow to manhood. That venture could have turned maudlin; it never does. This book rings true.
    Delaney's reading is professional. A good journalist knows when to get out of the way and let the story tell itself, and that's what Delaney does.
    Generally, when I read a book, there's a piece of me picking it apart, trying to think how I might have done it better. That didn't happen this time. I would like to be able to write a book like this. I would hope to meet adversity as Carlsen did.
    I've ordered a print copy of "Simple Courage" so I can read it to my son, who also is learning the sea.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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