A cross between nature writing and theology, this is one of the most beautiful books I've ever read. It was my first purchase on Audible, because I was already familiar with the book and this recording of it.
I can honestly say that "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" changed my life. When I listened to this book a few years ago on a trip to the mountains, I was a reluctant atheist who loved science. Annie Dillard convinced me that love of nature and love of God are not incompatible, and that embracing the problem of evil can actually bring one closer to God.
Interesting facts about nature are intertwined with writings from philosophers, Bible stories, and personal anecdotes to create a compelling memoir. The reader of this version has a pleasant, alto voice. Sound quality is not as high as for many Audible products--the highest version offered is v. 3--but the reader's presentation is clear enough that the lower resolution is hardly noticeable while listening.
Listen to this on a still day outdoors, or at night before you go to sleep. The lovely writing and narration are very relaxing, leading one to a quiet, contemplative mood.
There's a moment in this book where Sarah Vowell is being told about the history of the Dry Tortugas National Park by a park ranger with such infectious enthusiasm for his subject that Ms. Vowell relates that she felt giddy listening to him, as if visiting the Dry Tortugas was one of the very luckiest things that could happen to a girl. That's what listening to "Assassination Vacation" was like for me. The material is extremely interesting--this book covers the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley, including related details about the strange sexual ideology of the Oneida community, John Wilkes Booth's brother's illustrious career as a Shakespearean actor, and Vowell's 3-year-old nephew's obsession with graveyards. More importantly, Vowell's enthusiasm for her subject conveyed by her Lisa Simpson-soprano is so infectious that I wanted to book a trip to the Dry Tortugas to see where John Wilkes Booth's doctor was imprisoned myself.
This is a really fun listen replete with gee-whiz factoids I can't stop relating to my friends. The connections between the three different assassinations discussed here are expecially fascinating.
Vowell's patriotism is also inspiring. The devotion to country that lead Ms. Vowell to complete this homage to fallen presidents gives "Assassination Vacation" a genuine sweetness completely different from the my-country-right-or-wrong saccharine so popular in today's political climate. Ms. Vowell's sort of patriotism--the kind that visits the Dry Tortugas to learn more about our nation's history, the kind that recognizes our country's failings rather than whitewashing them, the kind that loves America both for what it stands for and for what it really is--this is the kind of love for country we need more of, not the facile nationalism that confuses what is and what ought to be.
Adrian Cronauer, better known as the real DJ who inspired Robin Williams' character in the movie "Good Morning Vietnam", does an excellent job reading one of the most beautiful books of the Bible. Ecclesiastes is all poetry, and its message about living life to the fullest is ageless.
This version is the only recording of Ecclesiastes alone offered by Audible. (Other recordings of Ecclesiastes are available through Audible's several complete Bibles.) While Cronauer's rich voice does this reading of Ecclesiastes justice, this Audible version is made from an old recording and the sound quality is much muddier than most of Audible's offerings. Only available in Format 2.
Previous reviewers have commented on the extremely graphic nature of this book, so I'll not belabor the point here. I will add that, as a pathology student who's assisted at autopsies, studied all manner of gross things, and not exactly a wilting violet, I was extremely disturbed by some of the stories in this book. Also, if you were bothered by the free download of "Exodus," you should not listen to this book under any circumstances, even if you find yourself trapped at a mysterious writer's workshop with a bunch of folks hell-bent on self destructing. "Exodus" is a children's bedtime story compared to much of "Haunted".
That having been said, I'm glad I listened to this to the end. "Haunted" is well-written and well performed. The short stories intertwine to form a larger, and increasingly compelling, narrative about the lives of the trapped characters. In the first volume, there were a couple of stories so revolting I decided to stop listening; but I found myself so involved with the overarching story that I ultimately ended up listening to the last 3 hours straight through. Very good storytelling.
Three gripes, unrelated to Palahnuik's gory prose: 1) Palahnuik can be very preachy, and beats his philosophic points until they're black and blue as one of his characters. While he's a good storyteller, Palahnuik can have a tin ear for parable, and the philosophy does not bear this repetition well. 2) Palahnuik overuses some constructions (e.g. "Still" to introduce a sentence), making different characters sound too similar. 3) Palahnuik gets important factual details wrong. This wouldn't be so bad, were it not for Palahnuik's careful correctness on closely related facts--showing that Palahnuik cared enough to do his homework, but is willing to dispense with any realities inconvenient to his storytelling. This is a sin that Palahnuik's creation Mr. Whittier would not tolerate, so I don't see why his real readers should tolerate it either.
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