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Chris

Los Angeles, CA, United States
  • 16
  • reviews
  • 29
  • helpful votes
  • 18
  • ratings
  • The Silent Service in World War II

  • The Story of the U.S. Navy Submarine Force in the Words of the Men Who Lived It
  • By: Edward Monroe-Jones, Michael Green
  • Narrated by: Tom Perkins, Jo Anna Perrin
  • Length: 10 hrs and 4 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 27
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 26
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 25

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the US Navy had a total of 111 submarines. It was mostly a collection of aging boats. Fortunately, with the war in Europe was already two years old and friction with Japan ever increasing, help from what would become known as the Silent Service in the Pacific was on the way: there were 73 of the new fleet submarines under construction. The Silent Service in World War II tells the story of America's intrepid underwater warriors in the words of the men who lived the war in the Pacific against Japan.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Different than I thought but great.

  • By Robert on 07-17-18

Disappointing

Overall
2 out of 5 stars
Performance
2 out of 5 stars
Story
2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-17-18

The most interesting passage in this book comes in the last chapter, when the crews return to California to deliver their subs to the ship breakers. The sailor who wrote that chapter tells about his Chief of the Boat asking him if he might want to make a career in the Navy. He dutifully says he might, even though he's no longer sure. Maybe one reason is the COB sitting on a bunk before him, this grizzled warrior now smelling of liquor and evidently dreading peacetime life.

The narrator ends with a description of heroic sub after sub being hauled off for scrap. The civilian breaking crews stand on the decks, smoking. The wartime sailors watch their boats from the shore for a while, then walk away.

I learned something about loss in that chapter. It was a little like Audie Murphy knowing he's good with an M1 Garand, but wondering what he's going to do with that skill now that the fighting's over.

I'm sure these sailors went to Hell and Back, too, but for most of the book, you'd never know it. Most of them don't seem to let the reader too deeply into their experience. Maybe it's the pervasive use of the passive voice. People don't seem to do much. Things happen to them, or around them, things that they describe as mildly interesting spectacles. Or maybe it's the editors imposing an oddly flat style to what should surely be gripping stories. Here are young men being depth-charged, or surfacing in the middle of a convoy with all tubes firing, or getting left on deck by mistake when a sub has to dive in a hurry, and it's all oddly uniform in its lack of engagement.

If I had been one of those sailors and had tried to tell what had really happened only to see my story polished flat by the editors, I'd be pretty angry. I can't imagine setting out to tell a story that was important to me and using such lackluster language, working so hard to keep my experience at arm's length. I think I'd either keep my mouth shut, or I'd tell what it was like.

I didn't want blood and thunder. I wanted truth. Most of the time, I got reports.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Bees in America

  • How the Honey Bee Shaped a Nation
  • By: Tammy Horn
  • Narrated by: Laura Jennings
  • Length: 9 hrs and 14 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 30
  • Performance
    3.5 out of 5 stars 27
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 26

Honey bees - and the qualities associated with them - have quietly influenced American values for four centuries. During every major period in the country's history, bees and beekeepers have represented order and stability in a country without a national religion, political party, or language. Bees in America is an enlightening cultural history of bees and beekeeping in the United States. Tammy Horn, herself a beekeeper, offers a varied social and technological history from the colonial period, when the British first introduced bees to the New World, to the present, when bees are being used by the American military to detect bombs.

  • 1 out of 5 stars
  • Unbearable

  • By Chris on 09-11-18

Unbearable

Overall
1 out of 5 stars
Performance
1 out of 5 stars
Story
2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-11-18

I generally don't rate audiobooks by the quality of performance. It doesn't seem quite fair to evaluate the written work by the skills of the reader.
This is an exception.
How on earth did Audible allow such a poor reading onto its site? I can promise, I'm not going to pay for it. As soon as I'm finished with this review, I'll begin seeking a refund.
It may be that there is a language where rhythm doesn't count, but it does in English. So. If I. Arbitrarily break sentences into phrases. Of a predetermined number of syllables that appears to vary by line. It WillBeVeryConfusingForMyAuditorsAndWillUndermineTheStorytelling. It. Doesn't seem. ThatIShouldHave. ToExpllainThisToACompany. Where.
TheStock-In-Trade.
Is.
SpokenPerformance.
As if the horrible pacing weren't bad enough, the reader delivers her work in a monotone.
Is this an experiment in machine reading?
OneMystery is. HowComeThisAppalinglyIneptWorkDidn'tComeThrough. In the preview.
It didn't. Don't be fooled. Don't buy this book. Again, I think it's only fair to require competent work.
I have given the story two stars because the writer had an interesting idea that I would have been delighted to hear. I'll bet she would have developed it. Unfortunately, it's as though she had taken her galleys to a printing press where all the plates had been ruined by fire and that was incapable of printing anything except blurry pages.

  • Gifts of the Crow

  • How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans
  • By: John Marzluff, Tony Angell
  • Narrated by: Danny Campbell
  • Length: 8 hrs and 15 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 143
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 123
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 123

New research indicates that crows are among the brightest animals in the world. And professor of Wildlife Science at the University of Washington John Marzluff has done some of the most extraordinary research on crows, which has been featured in the New York Times, National Geographic, and the Chicago Tribune, as well as on NPR and PBS. Now he teams up with artist and fellow naturalist Tony Angell to offer an in-depth look at these incredible creatures - in a book that is brimming with surprises.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • You Will Never Look At A Crow The Same Way Again

  • By Diane on 06-30-12

Neurobiology 101, Via the Crow

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-05-18

Where does Gifts of the Crow rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Some people who write about birds try to entertain with anecdote that is short of scientific explanation. Not Marzluff and Angell. Consider this excerpt from the book: "The prairie vole is among the most monogamous of its species. Again, it is a brew of chemicals including dopamine and two hormones, vasopressin and oxytocin, that interact in the nucleus accumbens, septum, palladium, and prefrontal cortex of a vole's brain to guide its monogamous nature (the binding of chemicals to neurons is illustrated in your bonus material as are the brain regions important to social behavior).That's a fairly typical passage. The authors do provide intriguing anecdotes about crow behavior. But whereas some other books leave the reader hanging as to explanations for the surprising stories, Marzluff and Angell undertake to explain, in some detail, often discussing the interplay of hormones in a bird's brain. They repeatedly refer listeners to the supplemental material for more detail. For me, that often meant listening again and again to the same passage, trying to grasp what I was being told. I enjoyed that. I can't call it leisure reading, exactly. I did think it was fun, and I hope I retain it. I may have to get the hardcover book to make sure I do. Such material can be tough to address in an audiobook. I think the authors do a good job.

What other book might you compare Gifts of the Crow to and why?

Maybe Bernd Heinrich's "Mind of the Raven," which also takes a rigorous approach.

Have you listened to any of Danny Campbell’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

I wouldn't. But I'd buy the hard copy and read it several times over.

Any additional comments?

I wish Audible carried more books about birds. They're amazing.

  • A Chance to Win

  • Boyhood, Baseball, and the Struggle for Redemption in the Inner City
  • By: Jonathan Schuppe
  • Narrated by: L. J. Ganser
  • Length: 10 hrs and 7 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    3.5 out of 5 stars 7
  • Performance
    3.5 out of 5 stars 6
  • Story
    3.5 out of 5 stars 6

When Rodney Mason, an ex-con drug dealer from Newark's rough South Ward, was shot and paralyzed, he vowed to turn his life around. A former high-school pitching ace with a 93-mph fastball, Mason decided to form a Little League team to help boys avoid the street life that had claimed his youth and mobility. Predictably, the players struggle but through the fists and tears, lopsided losses and rare victories, this bunch of misfits becomes a team, and in doing so gives the community something to root for.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Where Beat Reporting Ought to Lead

  • By Chris on 01-31-18

Where Beat Reporting Ought to Lead

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-31-18

What did you love best about A Chance to Win?

Schuppe writes honestly and conveys the lives of the people he's writing about. He tells his story eloquently and thoroughly. He's not often lyrical. He can be matter of fact, even a little clipped in describing the challenges facing his characters and what those challenges show about the world. But that disciplined style let me get to know the people. I also got to know Schuppe a little bit. Some of the things in this book are heartbreaking. Some made me hope for the future. Schuppe isn't the kind of writer who says, "Hey, look at me, how committed I am to these people." He's not the type of writer who wrings his hands. He follows the story. He appears to be comfortable leaving some questions unanswered, or partially answered, in a way that leaves room for the reader to continue the narrative on his own. I really appreciate that kind of writing.

What did you like best about this story?

Scope, flexibility, honesty, balance, truthfulness. See above.

Have you listened to any of L. J. Ganser’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I haven't.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

It made me think.

Any additional comments?

I didn't give this 5 stars because I try to stay from the best or worst possible rating unless I'm really adamant about a book. This is a good solid book with a capable narrator. So for me, five stars is A++++. This is a good, solid A.

  • The Pentagon's Brain

  • An Uncensored History of DARPA, America's Top-Secret Military Research Agency
  • By: Annie Jacobsen
  • Narrated by: Annie Jacobsen
  • Length: 18 hrs and 22 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,071
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 984
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 982

No one has ever written the history of the Defense Department's most secret, most powerful, and most controversial military science R&D agency. In the first-ever history of the organization, New York Times best-selling author Annie Jacobsen draws on inside sources, exclusive interviews, private documents, and declassified memos to paint a picture of DARPA, or "the Pentagon's brain", from its Cold War inception in 1958 to the present.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Not what I expceted but thats not a bad thing

  • By dfcgts on 09-30-15

Fascinating. Superb Reporter. Mediocre Writer.

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
1 out of 5 stars
Story
2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-26-17

Where does The Pentagon's Brain rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Jacobsen is a superb reporter, a mediocre writer and an execrable narrator. What that boils down to is a really frustrating audio book. Her research is first rate. Her logic is strong. But her writing is clumsy. Her narration is simply dreadful. Both her strengths and her weaknesses are consistent, and they're woven together in a really frustrating way.

She explores really important questions here. Really important, which is why it's such a pity that flaws that could easily be corrected mar her work.

As I found with the other Jacobsen book I've read, Operation Paperclip, this book is at its strongest at the end, especially in her description of her interview with Allen Macy Dulles Jr., where at moments she's almost lyrical, and in her concluding analysis of what DARPA's direction means to our republic and the future of humanity.

Elsewhere, her writing is poor and her narration almost unbearable. It is a tribute to her skill as a reporter that I was able to force myself through this book's weaknesses. I repeat what I've said elsewhere. Jacobsen needs a writing coach, better editing, or both. She should either improve her delivery or leave the reading aloud to someone else.

And yet, I'm glad I read this book. Jacobsen takes the time to examine the workings of the military-industrial complex thoroughly. She raises unsettling questions about technology and responsibility, and she explores them thoughtfully. I'll be thinking about this book for a long time. I may read it again. There's a lot to think about here.

What was most disappointing about Annie Jacobsen’s story?

See above. Jacobsen obviously is really smart and she's very thorough. So why does she use such dumb phrases as "future plans?" I have yet to plan anything retroactively. I'm surprised she didn't find a place to throw in "free gift."

I suppose I could comb through the book and give you a list of malapropisms, cliches, dangling modifiers, clumsy constructions, and on and on, but why bother? It's a pity that such an incisive mind expresses its thoughts so awkwardly. Again, she needs a writing coach and a much tougher editor.

How could the performance have been better?

By performing adequately or assigning that to someone else. She simply can't read aloud. Red tape. Read that aloud. Where's the emphasis? Slightly stronger on "tape," right? Not when Jacobson reads it. With her, it's always RED tape. There are lots and lots of such failures in delivery in this narration. She stops. And starts. In weird places alternately jamming words together with no punctuation. And then laying the stress on the wrong syllable or mispronouncing a word. She sounds like she's scared to death of the mic and is just trying to get through the narration because it's part of her contract. She does an awful job. It's disconcerting. In fact, it can be really distracting.

Strangely enough, her voice itself is kind of nice, a little breathy. It sounds like a voice you'd like to have a conversation with. But she doesn't know how to use it. I can't imagine she talks to her friends the way she reads in this book and in Operation Paperclip.

The fact remains that if Jacobsen weren't such a good reporter -- not writer, but reporter -- I'd have given up.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

No, it didn't make me laugh or cry. It made me think, despite the flaws I've described.

Any additional comments?

I sometimes wonder whether writers and narrators ever read these comments. I know that Internet reviews can make for dreary reading, apparent self-aggrandizement by people who may have accomplished far less than the writers and narrators they criticize. They did the work. They got paid. Why listen to the carping of some dissatisfied customer?

But still, it bothers me that in the two Jacobsen books I've listened to, I've had very similar criticisms. She could be really, really good. Good editing improves most writers. Delivery is crucial to story-telling.

I wish I could tell Jacobsen, "Look. You're more-or-less OK, but you could be really good. Your fine reporting is undermined by flaws that can be corrected. You could be really, really good. You're shooting yourself in the foot."

I'd like to see her work improve. I value what she has to say. I just wish she didn't say it so poorly.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Bottom of the 33rd

  • Hope and Redemption in Baseball's Longest Game
  • By: Dan Barry
  • Narrated by: Dan Barry
  • Length: 8 hrs and 41 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 108
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 95
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 97

On April 18, 1981, a ball game sprang eternal. What began as a modestly attended minor-league game between the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings became not only the longest ever played in baseball history, but something else entirely. The first pitch was thrown after dusk on Holy Saturday, and for the next eight hours the night seemed to suspend its participants between their collective pasts and futures, between their collective sorrows and joys....

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • I love baseball

  • By Sher from Provo on 04-08-13

A writer's writer telling an epic story

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-20-16

Would you listen to Bottom of the 33rd again? Why?

I'd rather read it. Dan Barry's narration is really good. But his prose is so rich that there is more to get than I at least can from just listening, which I guess might be one of the reasons people started writing stories down.
I know this might be seen as overwrought, but the stories I love most are the ones meant for singing around campfires, like the Iliad. The thing about those stories is sometimes the singer says something so good that you're left saying, "What? What? That was really good. Tell me again." And so the singers started writing things down for people like me.
There is a lot here, in the people, in the narrative drive, in the reporting, in the deft turning of a phrase and in the longer arc of the story, in how they are woven together. This is a really, really good story.
I wonder whether Barry thinks about the parallels between being a writer and a ballplayer. He is far too disciplined ever to speak of that in so many words, but the loneliness and wonder, the moments when it really does all come down to one person, are there. So is the silence, the sense of what it means to stand there alone, while people wait. But without any elitism.
Reading Barry is to know what it's like to step out onto the wrestling mat while the gym thunders around you, and then, all the sudden, how the gym goes silent -- not because people have stopped yelling but because you can't hear them any more, because all you know and hear and see is that other wrestler and what you have to do.
Years ago, my newspaper had the incongruous idea of sponsoring a series of writing seminars. It was incongruous because this was a paper that had very little understanding of, or regard for, the written word. But I did get one of the one-on-one meetings with the writer leading the seminars. He asked me who I read and I said Homer. Even though I'm a lifelong journalist, it didn't occur to me to cite journalists.
Gently, he said, "Ok, but what about newspaper writers?" I couldn't name anyone besides Edna Buchanan. I've been looking ever since.
Today, I'd certainly name Barry. This is what I went into this business to do. He's done it. Homer? No. But he's really, really, really good.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Dave Koza. Anne Koza. Ben Mondor. Wade Boggs, Michael Kinch, Thomas P. McCoy. The book is full of them.

What does Dan Barry bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

I heard a writer reading a book he'd poured his heart into, and that meant a lot to me. He's disciplined, which means as much.
But the book is much bigger than Barry. Read it on paper. Get mustard on it. Fall asleep with it. That's what Barry would want you to do.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Obviously, I did have a strong reaction. I think it was the way that Barry talked about the ideals we all strive for.
He did it modestly, matter-of-factually. He did it with the clarity of a line drive disappearing into a shortstop's glove, that straight white line, that certainty.
I work hard as a writer. Barry made me want to work harder. He has strengthened my love for the English language and my commitment to my trade.

Any additional comments?

Read this book. Help Barry pay his bills so he can keep writing. Read this book.

  • Evicted

  • Poverty and Profit in the American City
  • By: Matthew Desmond
  • Narrated by: Dion Graham
  • Length: 11 hrs and 3 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 2,922
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 2,635
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 2,630

In this brilliant, heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Former Property Manager

  • By Charla on 05-18-16

Exemplary Reporting on a Pressing Issue

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-15-16

What made the experience of listening to Evicted the most enjoyable?

I admired it and will recommend it. I didn't enjoy it, because the dreadful situation it describes is painful to read about. But Desmond writes with such authority that I certainly am glad I read it. This book goes well beyond describing a bad situation. It proposes solutions, and solutions as a starting point. It inspired me to think about what I might be able to do, as a citizen and a writer, to help help heal this social malady.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Probably Desmond. At the end of the book, he talks about how he tried to keep out of the picture, and he certainly doesn't draw attention to himself in most of the book, but he's a steady, honest reporter, an authoritative voice. He combines personal details about the characters in the book with legal, historical and statistical context very gracefully. I undertook to read this book because I thought I should. Part way through, I realized I was glad I was reading it. Again, I didn't enjoy it, because the situation is so sad. But I realized that Desmond's an honest writer, and I trusted him to help me find my way through.

Which scene was your favorite?

I was rooting for several of these people, who face so much defeat. So when something went a little better for some of them, and when one of them actually was able to escape, I was really grateful.
A lot of times, when you're writing about a bad situation, it's easy to pile dreadful occurrence on dreadful occurrence on dreadful occurrence. That can leave the reader feeling helpless, convinced that the situation is irremediable. Desmond didn't fall into that trap. Both in the people he writes about and the policies he discusses, he points to better alternatives. And again, he does this with understanding, compassionately.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I loved this book. It's a model in honest, balanced, purposeful reporting. It's a model in how to describe an outrage without being self-righteous or denying the humanity of any of the people involved in the outrage. There's no preaching. Desmond simply explains things any American ought to be concerned about and trusts the reader to act.

Any additional comments?

This is a really, really good book. It's first-rate journalism.
Read this book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Operation Paperclip

  • The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America
  • By: Annie Jacobsen
  • Narrated by: Annie Jacobsen
  • Length: 19 hrs and 26 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 522
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 478
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 477

Drawing on exclusive interviews with dozens of Paperclip family members, colleagues, and interrogators, and with access to German archival documents (including papers made available to her by direct descendants of the Third Reich's ranking members), files obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, and lost dossiers discovered at the National Archives and Harvard University, Annie Jacobsen follows more than a dozen German scientists through their postwar lives and into one of the most complex, nefarious, and jealously guarded government secrets of the 20th century.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • The Osenberg list

  • By Jean on 08-07-14

Fine Reporting Marred by Lousy Editing

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
1 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-07-16

If you could sum up Operation Paperclip in three words, what would they be?

Thorough, Revelatory, Slipshod,

Would you recommend Operation Paperclip to your friends? Why or why not?

I might recommend that they read the book themselves, because despite Jacobsen's frequently clumsy writing, her meticulous research of shameful US government actions is worth reading.
I would never recommend the audiobook, where Jacobsen's frequent mispronunciations and jerky delivery are a real distraction.
I guess it is a tribute to her research that I'm forcing myself to listen to her. It's not easy.

What didn’t you like about Annie Jacobsen’s performance?

1) Her diction in the written text. She regularly misapplies the first cousins of the words she's looking for. For instance, I recognize that reveal is starting to supplant revelation as a noun in everyday speech, but there's no good reason for it. Likewise, bullish doesn't mean clumsy or stubborn. I think she was looking for bullheaded.
This is where a good book editor would have helped her. It's not fair to expect every writer to write lucidly. It is fair to expect editors to correct mistakes. In this case, they don't seem to have done that.

2) I can sympathize with her on number 2, delivery, because I've made similar mistakes myself. It is really difficult for most untrained people to read in a conversational, easily comprehensible tone that lays the right stresses on the right words and phrases. Jacobsen just makes an awful mess of it. She keeps breaking her sentences up into short phrases that have no apparent correlation to the narrative.
It's like. ThrowingABunchOfBoxes. Into a moving. VanWhereTheyTumbleAroundBangingAgainstTheWalls; as the truck careens down the highway.
This is where a good producer would have intervened. These are rookie mistakes. All the editor needed to do was coach Jacobsen. Nobody seems to have done that. So listening to her erratic recitation is sometimes painful.

3) Pronunciation. I'll give two examples.
Diplomat George Kennan's name isn't pronounced Keanan. All you have to do is look at the spelling to have some inkling about that, but nobody knows everything. That's where a producer and various other show editors should have helped out.
And please, it's "annals of warfare," a cliche, but at least not an embarrassing one. Not anals, with a hard "a." That kind of mistake can be disconcerting to a listener.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

At, I think, 25 chapters, that would be tough to do. But it's worth reading for an education in unprincipled and profoundly dishonest US government policy.

Any additional comments?

This isn't the first time I've pointed out sloppy editing in Audible products. Don't you folks realize that selling slipshod work may eventually lose you customers?

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • A Prayer for Owen Meany

  • By: John Irving
  • Narrated by: Joe Barrett
  • Length: 26 hrs and 53 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 7,642
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 6,254
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 6,261

Of all of John Irving's books, this is the one that lends itself best to audio. In print, Owen Meany's dialogue is set in capital letters; for this production, Irving himself selected Joe Barrett to deliver Meany's difficult voice as intended. In the summer of 1953, two 11-year-old boys – best friends – are playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills the other boy's mother. The boy who hits the ball doesn't believe in accidents; Owen Meany believes he is God's instrument. What happens to Owen after that 1953 foul ball is extraordinary and terrifying.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Painfully nostalgic

  • By Barry on 07-29-15

Worth Hearing

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-10-15

What did you like best about A Prayer for Owen Meany? What did you like least?

It's a love story that rings true. It gives a true sense of coming of age, of the things we wish we could change in our lives or characters and can't. It's an interesting look at faith.

If you’ve listened to books by John Irving before, how does this one compare?

I started, but didn't finish reading, not listening to, "The World According to Garp." I found it vulgar without being enlightening.Having listened to this, I'm wondering whether Irving is best read aloud. Journalists have an expression, that a story should sing. This one does pretty well. It's not a masterpiece, but it's a good listen.

Which scene was your favorite?

Probably either the hide-and-seek scene in the beginning, or the interactions with the disappointed ROTC instructor at the end and the horrid family. Both are true to life.

Do you think A Prayer for Owen Meany needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

No. He's said what there is to say here.

Any additional comments?

This book made it a little more likely that I'll try Garp again.

  • Timbuktu

  • By: Paul Auster
  • Narrated by: Joe Barrett
  • Length: 5 hrs and 42 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    3.5 out of 5 stars 494
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 414
  • Story
    3.5 out of 5 stars 418

Mr. Bones, the canine hero of this astonishing book, is the sidekick and confidant of Willy G. Christmas, a brilliant and troubled homeless man from Brooklyn. As Willy's body slowly expires, he sets off with Mr. Bones for Baltimore in search of his high-school English teacher and a new home for his companion. Mr. Bones is our witness during their journey, and out of his thoughts, Paul Auster has spun one of the richest, most compelling tales in American fiction.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Should I Have Said Gehrig?

  • By Dubi on 11-10-14

A Dog of a Tale

Overall
1 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
1 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-10-15

What would have made Timbuktu better?

Auster violates several of the rules of fiction writing that Mark Twain cites in "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses."

Among Twain's principles:

5. (W)hen the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances...

8. (C)rass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader... (by) either the author or the people in the tale.

9. (T)he personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.

Probably the most irritating thing about this book is that the protagonist, purportedly a dog, is not a dog. He thinks and speaks like a human being, and not a very interesting human being, either. For example, there's a passage where the narrator balks at sleeping in a cardboard box in an alley. I have known dogs who didn't like sleeping in boxes, but most do, because they're like dens. Why doesn't this dog like this box? Does it smell bad, for instance? Dunno. Maybe it's just that Auster wouldn't want to sleep in a box. Big deal.

There's a contemptuous reference to a puppy eating his own feces. Well, some dogs do that. To a human being, it's not an appealing sight, but the interesting thing is the dog's enthusiasm, not the human being's distaste. Auster doesn't entertain that. He takes a slap at behavior we humans generally disapprove of and moves on to more inanities.

Elsewhere, the protagonist frets over the possibility that the restaurant scraps he's eating might contain dog meat. When I was a boy, I knew a Siberian husky who regularly killed and ate smaller dogs. Dogs sometimes eat their dead masters. They're survivors, and they don't fret much over what they eat.

Just one more thing. According to Auster, this doggie understands every word spoken to him in what he calls "Ingloosh." Come on. Dogs don't conceptualize like that, and substituting a cute little misspelling for the correct word adds nothing. It's irritating.
The fact that a dog can cheerfully mouth his own droppings or eat the corpse of somebody he loved, or gladly sleep in a place a human being would dislike, offers creative possibilities Auster misses them all. I didn't find a single instance of doglike behavior. Instead, he violates Twain rules 5, 8 and 9.

Twain Rule 16: Avoid slovenliness of form.

When I started listening, the narrator's diction startled me.. I thought "Why is he using so many trite generalizations and clichés? Is this supposed to offer some insight into his dull, conventional thinking?"

I eventually decided that it was simply an insight into the thinking of a dull, conventional writer. Because I couldn't bear to listen again, I went on Amazon's book page and looked at excerpts from the novel. Here's some of what I found in skimming the few pages they make available on the web preview:

Habits die hard... old dogs and new tricks... biology was against him... painfully aware.... put in his two cents... human tribe ... hanging on every word... all well and good... philosophical aversion... "an eleventh-hour ploy to kill both birds with one stone" ... digs (an anachronistic euphemism for "home")... furry companion.... Well, at least the boy had spirit..."the worst was still to come."… "the full horror of what he was getting himself into"… "rattled on".... "the fatal words had passed the boy's lips".... turn tail and run. ...fine little fellow ... "like signing his own death sentence." (Isn’t it supposed to be “Warrant?”) ... "trapped in an agony of indecision" ... "his heart was putty in the boy's hands"... "the gates of hell"... "a clever lad" (More anachronism. Where are we now, The Hardy Boys?) ... inexhaustible source... small price to pay... "frozen with remorse".., assuage his guilty conscience... his cover story

What dog crap, to coin a phrase. What was Auster trying to do, show how to write badly? I guess he succeeded.

Twain Rule 17: Use good grammar.

Of course, Twain isn't saying a novel has to read like a grammar textbook. He's saying that the writer must know how to use his tools. Auster doesn't seem to. He leaves participles dangling. He shows a poor understanding of the subjunctive. I might forgive that if there were something good about this book. I've certainly forgiven grammatical confusion in books that don't present themselves as literary fiction. But shouldn't a literary writer master his own language?

One of the things that puzzles me is that Auster seems to be well regarded. I'd picked this book after reading several positive newspaper reviews, I want to improve my own writing, to familiarize myself with what my contemporaries are doing and to see what I can learn from it. But I just don't think there's anything to learn from this book, except that it did make me think of Mark Twain's criticisms of Fenimore Cooper, another fraud.

Don't buy this book.

What could Paul Auster have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

Learn to write.

What about Joe Barrett’s performance did you like?

I believe I've heard Barrett read before. He's a solid performer. It's a credit to his professionalism that he could read this tripe in a steady, neutral tone. I'd have been stopping every couple pages to see if I could get out of the contract.

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Timbuktu?

I'd have cut the dog, the bum, the mother and the narrator. I didn't finish the book, so I don't know what else to suggest. Throw the book away?

Any additional comments?

I generally don't like the idea of asking for my money back for a book. I figure, "Well, Audible offers a pretty good subscription, and I want to support writing, even bad writing."

Sometimes. But there's a limit. I can't understand why I should pay for such garbage.

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