First, Juliet Stevenson is to my mind the best narrator. Period. I would want her to read any book I might write--even it was about boxing.
I think The Golden Notebook is, by general agreement, the best and most original "feminist novel." It's the one book every feminist writer of any sort looks to for advice. What's amazing to me on rereading is how completely pertinent and alive it is--and how very moving, exciting, and overwhelming. Each of her characters gets up and walks around the room in front of you. They are all now part of my life.
The structure of The Golden Notebook--a form that has been followed (imitated?) in thousands of novels, movies and TV shows for the last fifty years--still works best here in the original as a portrayal of the idea of a woman's fragmented life. THIS IS THE ORIGINAL! Even David Foster Wallace should have acknowledged Lessing in his books, along with Gaddis and every other post-modern stylist.
The Golden Notebook also offers brilliant glimpses into a history that has been obscured by passing events. Where else can you understand the circumstances in which becoming a Communist would be reasonable and right, then feel how shattering disillusionment would be because it was all so obviously wrong? Papa Joe Stalin? Ridiculous! But that's how we won the war. And where would Lessing's Zimbabwe be without the true believers who fought so hard to emerge from the shell of Rhodesia?
The 2007 Nobel Prize citation said Lessing recorded the female experience "with scepticism, fire and visionary power" and "subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny," but this book sings a much greater song: a woman growing stronger and more beautiful by searching for an independent self on whom everyone depends.
I suppose I listened to the hype but I thought there might be some of Mark Twain in his prime here. Never mind that the editors' introduction is half an hour too long. Not his fault. But this is that self-impressed, dull Mark Twain who wrote all those books that aren't classics. There is little charm, no humor, and a void of interesting stories.
Apparently he had an idea that if a biography isn't sequential, it must be special. However, he didn't publish this book. It just came out a century or so after his death. So whatever the editors and publishers had in mind, this isn't a book Twain insisted on publishing. And one thing I certainly learned about Twain is that, if there was a chance to make money without embarrassing himself, he would publish. But wait, I already knew that. I don't think I learned anything new about the guy--or the writer.
Only historians of U.S, Grant would find huge hunks of this monster interesting. A lot of it I remember reading elsewhere. But most of all, if Twain wasn't writing humorously, he wasn't Twain for me.
Having read these essays (yes, I said essays for they are in the classical sense essays, using many formal techniques and employing great erudition) before, I found them more profoundly funny than anything I can think of as read by Allen. Most of them are so tightly written they could be used as examples in composition classes, yet they are hilarious! And it's interesting to note how influential Allen's style has become. Most of today's best humorous writers--Sedaris, Vowell, and the stable of clever New Yorker essayists--owe great debts to Allen's approach to the essay, using personal excavation balanced with ironic twists to make strong comments on being an American right now.
Even though I've always thought Allen a good comic actor, he becomes a great reader interpreting his own writing. Excellent on the page, these essays rise to the level of greatness when Allen reads them.
Mere Anarchy read by Allen represents what heights Audible books can reach. It's hard to imagine Woody Allen the actor maintaining such restraint in his performance, but as a reader he experiences his essays so sincerely that he rises above himself as an artist. Anyone who hasn't read Allen's essays may be floored to find his humor can reach such levels of profundity. He ranks with Joseph Epstein and John Updike among the greatest contemporary personal essayists of our time.
Weiner, with Time, Love, Memory and The Beak of the Finch, has written a pair of classics that are beautifully put together with style and a sense of story. These two books also wave a hand in front of the story of DNA charting the structure and granduer of evolution. So much of what was abstract to me concerning the interaction of genetics in the last 60 years is now vivid and concrete.
Weiner also uncovers the life of the workers in the field genetics. The exciting and the mundane labors that lead to great discoveries and understandings are portrayed with honesty and drama. Quite a feat.
The pair of books are the best description of what can be like to be a working scientist I had ever come across. Anyone who wants to know what it feels like to be in the midst of what is sometimes surprisingly world-changing work can find out here.
Wood has written a history period review that feels like an excellent novel. I can't remember a history account so full of startling explanations and analyses, and I thought I knew a lot about this era . Wood takes no standard assumptions for granted while sticking with solid factual evidence. He makes villains of actions and cultural mistakes, not personalities. He sees the prejudices and flaws of the times in context without passing judgment or evoking his own prejudices. Wow, this is a classic!
The narration is so perfect I thought Fass and Wood must be twins. Fass' enthusiasm and since of drama never overplay but always charm. BTW: I was led to this work by Wood's also-brilliant The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin.
Because the Audible "release date" is 9-10, I thought this "new" recording must be the Lydia Davis translation. If you glance at the old Moncrief version (this recording, it turns out), youi can see why everyone has said for years, "you've got to read the French to get Proust." But the critics unanimously have praised the new translations for "In Search of Lost Time" series. And Davis' Swann's Way (from 2002!) has had hymns composed in praise.
Yet here we have a "new" release in the old Victorian Moncrief mess that has put so many English readers to sleep. Though I paid for book in December, I didn't start listening until recently and feel deceived and ripped off by Audible's lack of description. Of course, shame on me for thinking recent should mean up to date.
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