How amazing to think of Mark Twain, arch-skeptic and misanthrope, being so taken with the Maid of Orleans. He plays this one straight: there is occasional humor, mostly centered around village life in Donremy or the childhood companions of Joan who join her later as part of her "staff." But Joan herself is taken exactly as she presented herself and as she apparently thought of herself - certainly as many people thought of her in her lifetime: a deeply religious, courageous, and patriotic young woman who wrought a military miracle. There is not the slightest trace of irony in Twain's portrait of her. (If you want a contrast, read Shakespeare's "Henry VI Part One," where Joan figures as a witch, a sadist, and a trull.)
Much of what he says in the book (where he credits himself somewhat archly as a "translator" of the memoirs of one of Joan's aides) is taken, Twain assures us, directly from the historical record. Joan is unique in medieval history in having testimony preserved that was given in two ecclesiastical proceedings: one that condemned her to death, one that posthumously found her innocent. Her own words, her own brilliant responses to many of the questions put to her by inquisitors, are there in the record. So is testimony from people who knew her as a child and as a young woman, as a peasant girl and a warrior. I've read some discussions of the book that suggest Joan was modeled on Twain's daughter Suzy, who died the year the book was published. Maybe so; but if Joan's dialogue in the trial scene is really taken straight from the record, there doesn't seem to be much Twain needed to add.
I'd avoided this novel for a long time, and only read it recently because I'm trying to work my way through all of Twain. I wish I'd done it sooner. It's not his greatest novel, but it's a good one, much better than I'd been led to expect by the many dismissive comments about it I've read over the years. Joan herself is a charming and tragic (and totally credible) figure throughout the book, and the story of her military campaigns and the trial that ended her life are given in richly anchored historical detail. I've since started reading some of the many nonfiction books about Joan: I think I've been bitten.
Robin Field's narration is excellent. He's one of several first-rate narrators of Twain (others include Grover Gardner, Bronson Pinchot, Richard Henzel, and Patrick Fraley). He provides a slight French accent for the novel's narrator, which I don't think was necessary but didn't mind. After Joan's death, I found myself in a somber, thoughtful mood for several hours.
Edoardo Ballerini is a wonderful narrator, and this is a wonderful story.
Is it an allegory? What did Kafka mean by having Gregor Samsa turn overnight into a giant, repellent bug? (He certainly is repellent: some of the passages in this translation are very hard to listen to.) One possibility is a moral failing of some kind; another is a terrible wasting disease like cancer. And of course it's also possible that no allegory is intended, that Kafka simply wanted to put this family in an extreme situation so we could watch their reactions. And in fact, by the end, Gregor's family is every bit as metamorphosed as he is himself.
Whatever the "meaning," the story is a mysterious and beautiful one, and this audiobook is well worth the short time it takes to listen to it.
Loved the translation; loved the narrator. This is one of the best audio renditions of the poem I've heard. But for me, Aeneas remains a bit of a prig, and the poem subject to occasional digressions into sentimentality - something that is never true of Homer.
I have a kind of love/hate relationship with George Eliot. On one hand, she writes beautifully crafted novels filled with interesting and solid characters. On the other hand, she's always interrupting her narrative to tell me how to think about it. She's forever reaching after generalizations, but many of them ring as false to me as the narrative itself rings true.
Adam Bede is no exception. As a narrator, Eliot annoys me; as a narrative, the book is a graceful and moving story about life and love in a small village as the 18th century slides into the 19th. (Some of the dinner-table conversation revolves around Bony - Napoleon - and the threat he and the armies of France pose.)
Adam is a carpenter who's in love with Hatty; but Hatty's head has been turned by Arthur, the son of the local squire. Arthur and Adam fight; Arthur goes off to join his regiment; Hatty decides to marry Adam after all; but as the day approaches, she discovers (in wonderfully elliptical Victorian prose) that she's pregnant.
In some ways the book could have been written by Thomas Hardy. The ending is less grim than it would have been in Hardy's hands, and there is considerably more country-folkish humor throughout the book; but not everyone makes it through, and there is a kind of autumnal poignancy about the last moments.
One of the more remarkable achievements in the book is the character Dinah, an early Methodist. Until the Conference forbids it, Dinah plays the unusual role of itinerant preacher. She's a gentle, loving, peaceful soul, and one of the few utterly believable persons of faith I've encountered in fiction.
Nadia May is a comfortable narrator, reliable as a rock, and I very much enjoyed her performance.
Agnostic and evil secular humanist that I am, I still spend hours every week reading the Bible - or listening to it on audiobook.
Finding an audio version that I like has been a struggle. The versions with the best production values, like The Word of Promise, use translations I dislike because they tend to use "Biblish" - useful maybe if you can follow along with text and commentary, but not easy to follow as a form of audio storytelling. Translations I like better and think are more appropriate for listening - the NCV, the NLT, the CEB - have audio versions but not first-rate ones.
Then there's this one: the dramatized NIV. It's right about in the middle in terms of both accessibility and production values. I don't recognize the actors - none of them credited anywhere I can see - with the exception of the actor who voices God, who I believe is Todd Busteed. But they're all good readers and are not afraid to express emotion. The music is excellent and never distracting. The translation is a bit formal but free enough to be comprehensible to a first-time listener.
So, while it's not my ideal version, I think this is the best all-around audio Bible I've found.
I had just finished listening to Dan Stevens' remarkable reading of The Odyssey, translated by Robert Fitzgerald. But my Homer itch hadn't been fully scratched. For relief I turned to an old favorite - Stanley Lombardo reading his own translation of The Odyssey.
Lombardo's version is equally remarkable, but in a very different way. Where Fitzgerald is stately and heroic ("lift the great song again"), Lombardo is earthy and immediate. Lombardo developed his version originally for public performance, and his reading reflects that: it's brisk, rhythmic, and varied.
I don't read Greek, ancient or modern, and can't recommend one over the other in terms of accuracy. What I CAN say is that both are successful narrative poems in English, although they seem to be almost intentionally at opposite ends of the diction continuum.
One of the things I enjoy about the Lombardo recording is that Susan Sarandon provides a brief synopsis of each book beforehand. Another thing I like is the musical theme that plays as each episode begins. I've heard people complain about the fact that it's the same theme each time; but to my way of thinking, that's an asset. It serves to set the mood and it ties together the various parts of this extremely varied work of literature.
The Taming of the Shrew is another early Shakespeare play, and it's one that makes me distinctly uncomfortable - maybe even more so than The Merchant of Venice, another "problem play."
It is, in my opinion, a misogynistic play. The spirited Kate has a few moments of tenderness with her crazy husband Petruchio, but only after she's been starved, deprived of sleep, and forced to debase herself in front of others. (To his credit, he never actually hits her, but that's setting the bar pretty low.) Many productions try to get around the implications by making it all seem ironic, but I've never been able to find that irony in the text.
(One of Shakespeare's fellow playwrights seemed to think the same thing, and wrote a sequel called The Tamer Tamed: Petruchio's second wife turns the tables on him.)
Not much irony in this production either; it's played straight. The cast is, as usual, first-rate, although Frances Barber is sometimes a little too shrill as Kate; granted the character is described repeatedly as a shrew, but there's shrewishness that's funny and shrewishness that's just unpleasant.
The other odd thing about the play is the appearance and disappearance of the "framing story" involving Christopher Sly. Shakespeare sets it up and then abandons it after a couple of scenes. Another play from the period provides a few other scenes with Sly, including an epilogue that neatly ties up the loose ends. Many recent productions, if they include the framing story at all, add these scenes. I suspect they were written by Shakespeare and intended to be part of the play, but Arkangel sticks to their guns (and their stated purpose) and omits them.
Not one of the more satisfying entries in the series, but the fault is mostly Shakespeare's.
Eugene Onegin is a "novel in verse - the whole of it written in a series of 14-line verses with an unusually complex rhyme scheme. Falen's translation tries to reproduce the scheme in English. This isn't an easy task - English being notoriously short on rhymes - but he succeeds to an extent I wouldn't have thought possible. The syntax isn't distorted, and the rhymes click into place reliably and gracefully.
The rhymes are a big part of the pleasure of listening to this (although Raphael Corkhill's narration sometimes emphasizes line endings more than I would have preferred). Even if you don't try to explicitly follow the scheme, you will begin to intuit it and eagerly anticipate the next rhyme. That this doesn't distract from comprehension of the story testifies to the clarity and lucid simplicity of both story and verse.
It's a straightforward, sad story about friendship, love, loss, and regret. I'd read it years ago for a literature class, but I think the translation was a dud; it didn't make much of an impression. This time around, the novel was a pure delight.
If you give it a try, watch for the almost psychedelic description of a young woman's nightmare.
Professor Desan is a clear and engaging guide to this crucial period of European history. It's a bit unusual for a book or course to cover both the Revolution and Napoleon, but it's hard to argue with the results as she traces the cause and effect relationships. My interest is only partly historical; I was looking also for something that would help fill in the context for the political and military struggles that play such a major role in 19th century European fiction. (Not to mention Richard Sharpe and Jack Aubrey.) This does that beautifully.
Everything I said about Stevens' reading of The Iliad is true for this one, and then some. It's a nearly perfect marriage of translator and narrator. (Homer's not half bad either.)
The structure of The Odyssey is a wonder: multiple layers, multiple points of view, all of it flowing forth effortlessly.
Fitzgerald's translation of The Odyssey was my first contact with Homer. There are other translations that are more accurate, on a line by line basis; but few that throw off as many sparks of compact beauty.
Bart Ehrman is spot on as usual. The advantage of listening to his lectures rather than to someone else narrating his book is hearing the author's own voice. Ehrman is enthusiastic and engaging; he sounds like he's speaking off the cuff rather than reading a script; and he's able to present complex material in a clear and systematic way. It's important to note, however, that this lecture series is a history of early Christian IDEAS rather than early Christian people. There are a number of people discussed, of course - people like Tertullian, Ignatius, and Origen - but the lectures are far more topical than chronological.
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