Russ Harris offers a surprising solution to low self-confidence, shyness, and insecurity: Rather than trying to "get over" our fears, he says, the secret is to form a new and wiser relationship with them. Paradoxically, it's only when we stop struggling against our fearfulness that we begin to find lasting freedom from it.
Full disclosure: I've listened to only the first ninety minutes of this seven-and-a-half-hour book, but an hour and a half wasted seems enough. I'm sorry to report that I've heard virtually nothing but padding: lots of promises, at considerable length, about what the book is going to tell us (this sort of thing seems to be de rigueur with self-help books), descriptions of assorted ordinary people whose lives have been changed by the method to be presented in the book (ditto), tedious and unnecessary definitions of various terms (such as "goals" and "values"), a chronicle of the author's own struggles with lack of self-confidence, etc. In all this, I found barely a single sentence that didn't seem designed simply to fill up the time. (And another commenter is quite right: Pointing to Lance Armstrong, which the author does, as an example of the sort of person we should emulate seems an awfully unfortunate choice.)
On the plus side, Harris is certainly an agreeable, clever, and engaging writer, even if he doesn't seem to have any particularly useful advice to impart; and Graeme Malcolm does a superb job of narrating, with each sentence sounding sincere, thoughtful, and natural. He's so good that I've been looking over other books to order that he's narrated.
1 of 2 people found this review helpful
The famous D-Day landings of 6 June, 1944, marked the beginning of Operation Overlord, the battle for the liberation of Europe. Republished as part of the Pan Military Classics series, Max Hastings’ acclaimed account overturns many traditional legends in this memorable study. Drawing together the eyewitness accounts of survivors from both sides, plus a wealth of previously untapped sources and documents, Overlord provides a brilliant, controversial perspective on the devastating battle.
No one writes more riveting military history than Max Hastings. His prose manages to be both authoritative and entertaining, and I'm so addicted to it that I've bought literally everything available of his, sometimes in book form, sometimes in audiobook, often both.
But this particular audiobook has been nearly ruined for me by the narrator's tendency, in the middle of ordinary third-person text, to switch into a crude caricature of what he apparently believes is an American accent whenever he comes to a quote by an American. (Oddly enough, German voices are not caricatured -- quite the opposite, in fact. Wehrmacht officers come off sounding not terribly different from educated Brits.)
I did a mental double-take the first time the book quoted Gen. Omar Bradley. Suddenly the narrator abandoned his cultured Briish tones and lapsed into a jarring exaggeration of the sort of Southern drawl usually associated with cartoonish Mississippi sheriffs on TV. (Bradley, incidentally, was a Midwesterner, a native of Missouri; he sounded nothing like this.) The narrator takes similar liberties with the other Americans quoted -- and this being D-Day, there are a lot of them.
Why do some otherwise intelligent audiobook narrators insist on treating a quotation in the text as the opportunity to show off a funny accent? The result, in this case, is downright grating.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Widely recognized as the master of the historical spy novel, New York Times best-selling author Alan Furst takes listeners back to the early days of World War II for a dramatic novel of intrigue and suspense.
In fact, I found most of the characters and events downright unpleasant -- which is why I'm so conflicted, as Furst's writing is astonishingly good: wise, graceful, lyrical... One also comes away with the impression that he writes with absolute authority about the war, spycraft, Balkan history, the Spanish Civil War, Stalin's intelligence service, wartime Paris, rural France, the French Resistance, 1940s Manhattan, refugees, guns, engines, river navigation... I don't know how much here (and presumably in his many later novels) depends upon years of painstaking research and how much is the product of his imagination, but I certainly felt I was learning a great deal about the Second World War (and more than I cared to about the brutal, paranoid, treacherous world of the Soviets), with authentic atmosphere, detail, and background.
The downside? A rambling, episodic, somewhat hard-to-follow story -- not exactly a plot, really, more a picaresque odyssey with various grim adventures in assorted European locales, and minor characters who are introduced, perform for a while, and then generally disappear forever. The adventures and the new locales and characters keep coming; I was not sorry when the saga finally ended.
Another drawback (for me): a tough, shrewd main character I found hard to like and impossible to warm to, though one is clearly meant to root for him. He is just too damned wise, savvy, resourceful, and quick-witted to be likable. And others in the novel are too wise as well. In particular, I noticed that every time characters open their mouths, they come out with something too pithily clever and colorful to be believed, speaking in elaborate metaphors, bits of folk wisdom, cynical jests, ruminations on history, etc. They remind me of the colorful minor characters in Preston Sturges comedies; no one ever utters anything dull or unmemorable. Granted, colorful dialogue is to be prized, but these people and their talk become tiresome.
Despite these reservations, I'll probably end up listening to further novels of Furst's, in part because they seem to offer vivid, realistic glimpses of a world, and an era, that interests me. But the main thing that will likely keep me coming back for more is George Guidall's narration. I don't know how he does it (because I gather veteran readers like him essentially get by with sight reading, encountering a text for the first time as they read it aloud), but he manages to bring drama and intelligence to every line.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Winesburg, Ohio is a little-known masterpiece that forever changed the course of American storytelling. At the center of this collection of stories stands George Willard, an earnest young reporter for the Winesburg Eagle who sets out to gather the town’s daily news. He ends up discovering the town’s deepest secrets as one by one, the townsfolk confide their hopes, dreams, and fears to the reporter. In their recollections of first loves and last rites, of sprawling farms and winding country roads, the town rises vividly - and poignantly - to life.
Though it may outwardly resemble Disneyland's Main Street, U.S.A., the rural town of Winesburg, in this famous collection of related short stories, is far from quaint and pastoral; rather, it's a hotbed of thwarted dreams, stifled passions, and suicidal loneliness. Anderson couldn't write explicitly about sex in those days, but it's a central element in many of the lives he examines, most of them tragic. There's so much misery in this community, so many painful or twisted emotions bubbling beneath the proper surface of daily life, that the stories seem at times almost self-parodies. (The style invites parody and has indeed been parodied.)
What sets this audiobook apart is the amazing performance that George Guidall gives. All I can say is that his reading is extremely unusual, extremely mannered, all the more so if you try listening to it, as I did, played at half speed. His delivery is somber and portentous, emphasizing every single word, and every single sentence somehow reads like a death sentence, ending on a somber, despairing note. I don't know how Anderson would have felt about it, but I think it's a brilliant performance that brings out the best in the stories.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
This memoir is soaked in the sunshine of Corfu, where Gerald Durrell lived as a boy, surrounded by his eccentric family - as well as puppies, toads, scorpions, geckoes, ladybugs, glowworms, octopuses, bats, and butterflies.
Davenport reads this beautifully, and I can see why, in my junior high school days, I was such an enthusiastic Gerald Durrell fan: the jolly tone, the exotic locale, the focus on wildlife, the amusingly eccentric family, the occasional slapstick misadventure, the seemingly carefree existence that the boyish hero enjoys, etc. Today I'm a little more resistant to the book's relentless sunniness, but no one does it better than Durrell.
12 of 12 people found this review helpful
Far eastern Tales is a collection of Maugham's short stories, all born of his experiences in Malaysia, Singapore, and other outposts of the former British Empire. The stories included on this recording are Footprints in the Jungle, Mabel, P & O, The Door of Oportunity, The Buried Talent, Before the Party, Mr. Know-all, Neil MacAdam, The End of the Flight and The Force of Circumstance.
God bless Robert Powell. I never cared for him much as an actor. I remember, decades ago, finding him off-putting in Ken Russell's "Mahler," and even in the second remake of "The 39 Steps" -- which was done in period and so by rights should have been great fun -- he didn't make, to my mind, a particularly appealing Richard Hannay.
But now I've actually gone and bought one of the Audible versions of that Buchan thriller, simply because Powell is the narrator. And the reason I have such faith that he'll do a superb job (which I can already tell from the four-minute sample) is that he does such a magnificent one with these tales of Maugham's.
In fact, I would say this is probably the single best audiobook performance I've ever heard. Anyone who has doubts about the worth of "books on tape" should hear these stories read aloud; they are, in a sense, living arguments for the audiobook form. I had already encountered a couple of the tales in a print collection, but they're much better here. Powell gets every sentence, every lush description, every character, male or female, exactly right, and he makes these irresistible but somewhat contrived stories work as well as they ever possibly could.
When it comes to the voices, he strikes just the right balance. One of the most unpleasant and annoying things about hearing books read aloud, I've found, in both fiction and nonfiction, is the assumption of many a professional narrator that he has to try to duplicate a character's voice, whether it's Winston Churchill's or that of an old woman or a sultry femme fatale. That approach -- and it's the most common one -- always sounds phony to me, and it's downright jarring to hear someone who's been narrating in normal tones suddenly break into a growl or a falsetto or an exaggerated Cockney accent in imitation of some character, before returning to his normal voice. But Powell, fortunately, doesn't overdo it. He suggests without actually mimicking.
The stories themselves -- minor classics, really -- are pleasantly old-fashioned. Tale after tale offers wonderfully atmospheric descriptions of verdant nature, tropical heat, boats put-putting up jungle rivers, shipboard life, pre-war hotels, clubs filled with British colonials (lots of large men with ruddy faces), and other enjoyable staples of the romantic old Far East.
The tales are also driven, for better or worse, by old-fashioned concerns about class, society, reputation, sexual propriety, morality, etc. And they're all designed to hook you effectively from the start -- or at least I was hooked. As I said, they are awfully hard to resist.
Yet none of the stories are completely satisfying, or convincing, or surprising. Far too often, I found myself thinking, Wait, no one would really behave that way. Frequently -- in fact, it's almost a constant in these tales -- characters' personalities seem to turn on a dime. Hatred turns suddenly, unconvincingly, to Christian love; or a devoted wife's affection turns, in an instant, to utter hatred or physical loathing; or a young man's admiration for a woman, along with sexual attraction, turns instantly, for purposes of the plot, to homicidal enmity. These transformations are dramatic, but I didn't believe them.
Which is why I think these readings may actually be better than the stories themselves deserve.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
The liberation of Europe and the destruction of the Third Reich is a story of courage and enduring triumph, of calamity and miscalculation. In this first volume of the Liberation Trilogy, Rick Atkinson shows why no modern learner can understand the ultimate victory of the Allied powers without a grasp of the great drama that unfolded in North Africa in 1942 and 1943. That first year of the Allied war was a pivotal point in American history, the moment when the United States began to act like a great power.
This colorful narrative history, filled with memorable details, entranced me for several weeks on my daily walks home from work, and a lot of the pleasure is due to George Guidall's extremely powerful delivery. It's so effective that I've actually gone and bought a few other books he's done (and he's done quite a lot); his reading of "Winesburg, Ohio," for example, is very skillful. I'm a bit disappointed that Guidall was not assigned the remaining two books in this Rick Atkinson WW2 trilogy; in fact, for some reason, the publishers have used three different readers, which seems rather a shame.
My only criticism of Guidall's delivery is that he indicates he's quoting someone by altering his voice to a sort of emphatic, choleric bark, and it has the effect of making all the men he's quoting sound pretty much the same, like a sort of impatient, peppery martinet, even if that characterization may not always be appropriate. But short of announcing "Quote" and "Close quote" aloud, which seems to be taboo, no one has come up with a perfect solution for indicating, in audiobooks, when words are suddenly being quoted. At least Guidall hasn't gone in for a variety of exaggerated accents, which some readers (frustrated actors?) attempt and which can be quite jarring.
As has often been pointed out in these Audible comments, it's difficult to absorb military history like this solely in audio, due to the many names and foreign place names; and yes, one does greatly miss the maps and photographs of a printed book. Yet I have to say that I own the third volume of the Atkinson trilogy -- "The Guns at Last Light" -- and though I read it with great admiration, I got bogged down halfway through and indeed have not yet finished it. For some of us, it's just easier in terms of time and energy to listen to these books on tape. If I'd tried to read "An Army at Dawn" in print, I'd probably have laid it aside, albeit with the intention of picking it up again sometime in the future.
A final note: A lot of my reading in recent years involves the war, but I knew very little about the North African campaign, the subject of this book. I therefore read a number of the Amazon comments, many of them critical (despite the book's having won the Pulitzer!), many of them by WW2 buffs who sound like they know what they're talking about. One frequent criticism seems to be that Atkinson is too hard on the U.S. military, too disparaging, too prone to dwell on the Army's mistakes. That may very well be true; I don't like writers who snipe at the military (always an easy target when one is comfortably far from the battlefield), yet I have to admit that what sticks in my mind is the appalling number of screw-ups, snafus, and needless deaths in the campaign due to carelessness or bad generalship or lack of communication between U.S. and British troops. (As someone -- Eric Larrabee? -- noted, the green, hastily assembled U.S. troops needed "a place to be lousy in.") Maybe the impression the book leaves is not balanced, but those examples of things going terribly wrong were undeniably eye-openers for me, or at least reminders of how easily, in combat, the lives of brave young men can be sacrificed for things that, in retrospect, look pretty stupid. The book did not turn me into a pacifist, by any means, but I suppose it served as a slight corrective and -- on the continuum that has, say, "Sergeant York" at one end and cynical works like "All Quiet" and "Catch-22" on the other -- it probably moved me one step closer to the latter end. It certainly made me very, very grateful that I've never known war, and grateful to my father, who did.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
Drawing on previously unpublished eyewitness accounts, prizewinning historian Donald L. Miller has written what critics are calling one of the most powerful accounts of warfare ever published. Here are the horror and heroism of World War II in the words of the men who fought it, the journalists who covered it, and the civilians who were caught in its fury. Miller gives us an up-close, deeply personal view of a war that was more savagely fought - and whose outcome was in greater doubt - than one might imagine. This is the war that Americans on the home front would have read about had they had access to previously censored testimony.
The more I listen to audiobooks, the more important the quality and style of the narrator's voice has become; on occasion I've actually chosen a book more because of its reader than because of its subject or author. But I'm especially drawn to World War II histories -- in particular, anything by Max Hastings or Rick Atkinson, as well as Churchill's memoirs and Bernard Mayes reading Martin Gilbert -- and therefore expected to enjoy this book; but Kramer's reading style quickly began to grate on me. Though you wouldn't know it from the four- or five-minute sample that Audible provides, he reads every sentence just about the same, with an extremely annoying little rise in pitch after every individual phrase, his voice finally dropping at the end of the sentence. His delivery soon becomes a monotonous, mechanical drone, like something emitted by a machine that hasn't the faintest idea of, or interest in, what it's reading. It's a shame, really, because I think it does a disservice to the text.
1 of 3 people found this review helpful
A survey of the quirks and quandaries of the English language, focusing on our strange and wonderful grammar. Why do we say "I am reading a catalog" instead of "I read a catalog"? Why do we say "do" at all? Is the way we speak a reflection of our cultural values? Delving into these provocative topics and more, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue distills hundreds of years of fascinating lore into one lively history.
I've been reading Prof. McWhorter, or at least checking out what he has to say, in one popular magazine or another for many years; he generally provides interesting and refreshingly unpredictable views on many aspects of politics, race, and current affairs. But "Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue," which concerns his own academic field of linguistics, is little more than an extended footnote on the origins of the verb "do" in English. To the audiobook's credit, it's read by McWhorter himself in what turns out to be a very likable, affable, conversational voice; he's clearly pleased with his ability to drop words and expressions from a host of other languages into his talk (a feat that's amusing and impressive at first, but which soon begins to make him sound like a barroom pedant). Unfortunately, the essentially trivial nature of the subject and the professor's extremely abstruse argument suggest that it's better suited to a doctoral dissertation or the pages of an academic journal. Anyone thinking this is going to be a history of the English language, or even (as the subtitle suggests) a renegade history of some sort, is in for a disappointment. I doubt if even linguistics majors -- and after hearing this, I'm deeply grateful not to be one -- are going to be able to follow McWhorter's thoughts without getting bored.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Stationed in France in 1917, Lamar Jimmerson comes across a little book crammed with Atlantean puzzles, Egyptian riddles, and extended alchemical metaphors. It's the Codex Pappus - the sacred Gnomon text. Soon he is basking in the lore of lost Atlantis, convinced that his mission on earth is to extend the ranks of this noble brotherhood. He forms the Gnomon Society, an international fraternal order dedicated to preserving that lost city's arcane wisdom.
I think this droll novel is a gem, a comic masterpiece, and it's brought me more pleasure than any work of fiction I've read in recent years.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful