Really, no fun at all. Too bad, because I dearly love Prunella Scales. She is one of the very best readers. Barnes just comes off as mean-spirited to come up with these miserable creatures and then make fools of them in narrative.
One of the very best things about 2013 was my discovery of Maria Bamford. I have listened to this recording more times than will sound sane. She is just so smart and freaky. I don't know what else to say. Except don't listen will eating alone. You might choke, and then there would be no one to deliver the heimlich maneuver, which would turn something funny into something tragic.
An absolute revelation to me, all of it. The history of the East End and of midwifery in England. The stories about the workhouses were harrowing. And all of it told with great good humor and humility. The characterizations are delightful and the vignettes often profound. So much better than the television adaptation, which was tidied up and made much more conventional and far less affecting.
Margaret Atwood is one of our greatest living writers. I believed this even before I listened to the Oryx and Crake trilogy, but these works strengthened my conviction. The narrator of Oryx and Crake is profoundly alienated, which makes this the darkest of the three, but there is also a great deal of sly humor. And a whole lot of very fine writing. The future world Atwood creates draws on the currents and proclivities of your own times, taking them to logical extremes. The result is deeply unsettling.
Everything was so self-consciously "sparkling" and "magical." Each sentence devised to wring from the reader an "aren't you clever." Krauss does the writer's equivalent of mugging for the camera.
Really great historical fiction for anybody, but if you are a feminist parent looking for good books for you children, I don't think you could do better than Karen Cushman's work. The medieval heroine of this one is esp. hilarious: "Now my father, the toad, conspires to sell me like a cheese to some lack-wit seeking a wife. . . Corpus bones! He comes to dine with us in two days' time. I plan to cross my eyes and drool in my meat." Narrator Jenny Sterlin really does Catherine justice: Plays her straight, which makes for great comedy.
I would dearly love for someone to write a really good historical novel about Alabama coals towns of the early twentieth century. I've read interviews with folks who lived in these towns and worked in the mines, and their stories are often gripping--the efforts to organize that were met with brutality and injustice, the unbelievably difficult and dangerous work, the enormous love that the people of the towns felt for one another and their community. By comparison, The Well and the Mine is pretty tepid stuff. It also fails to leave this time and take the reader to another. The Moore family is a contemporary white middle-class family plopped into a historical setting. They have the values and attitudes applauded by our time. Albert Moore is a miner, yet manages to own land and buy his momma a house. So few miners were able to own homes or land, at least not in their young lives. Their wages were too poor and too inconsistent, especially in the Depression years. That the Moore family does a bit of farming on the side is nothing out of the ordinary. Most miners kept a garden and a milch cow. Ultimately, The Well and the Mine is didactic and a bit preachy. Reads like young adult fiction.
Rick Bragg delves into his family history, mostly to find out about his maternal grandfather, Charlie Bundrum, who he never met and no one in the family would talk much about. Bragg interviewed family members and then interlaced their memories to make Ava's Man. You actually learn much more about the Bundrum side of Bragg's family than you did in All Over But the Shoutin', which is about the author's mother (although it is substantially about the author's career in journalism). Great familial and regional lore. Sentence-to-sentence, Bragg just gets better with each book. And it is so marvelous to have Bragg read. When books have a Southern setting, the readers are generally not Southerners and feel they must try on a "Southern accent," which always ends up sounding like Foghorn Leghorn. Very distasteful. Great writing and fantastic reading.
Yes, Wolf Hall is historical fiction; it is also extremely witty. Sadly, the narrator, Simon Slater, is such a poor reader that he misses the humor entirely. He marches through the narrative with little understanding, and the characters sound very much the same. Cromwell he gives a kind of ill-natured growl, which is very much at odds with how is character is drawn and with the clever remarks he exchanges. And the rest of the characters Slater gives a priggish simper, including Cardinal Wolsey. I actually stopped listening and picked up the book instead. Would be great if someone capable decided to take on the book, Steve Hodson would be ideal. Derrick Jacobi also comes to mind, of course, but he almost always records abridged versions.
Stephen Thorne is my chosen reader for the Cadfael books. I would probably prefer Derek Jacobi, but he only does abridged readings. And really, Thorne gives an excellent performance, nuanced and intelligent. He gives the listener an excellent sense of each character as an individual. He does justice to Peters' lovely prose.
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