Posts Tagged ‘Audiobook’

Book Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Author: Suzanne Collins
Title: The Hunger Games
Publication Info: Scholastic Audio Books (2008)
ISBN: 0545091020
Summary/Review: I heard a lot of hype about this book and when I saw it available for download as an audiobook from my library, I decided to give it a listen with no knowledge of the plot.  The book is set in a future dystopia where the United States has been divided into 12 strictly controlled districts.  Each year the authoritarian government holds a lottery for 1 boy and 1 girl from each district who are brought to a wilderness arena to battle until all but one is dead.  The games are required tv viewing and serve as a cross between ancient gladiatorial combat and reality television. The premise is very familiar and reminiscent of works such as “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell, Stephen King’s The Long Walk and The Running Man and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale among others.

With the plot very familiar, Collins works on character development.  The narrator and protagonist is Katniss, the tribute from the poorest of the districts who has to rely on her hunting and survival skills to compete against wealthier and better prepared opponents.  One of the more interesting aspects of the book is that since the competitors know they’re being watched on tv, they can manipulate the audience in hopes of having them contribute gifts that can be parachuted into the arena. An added twist to the story is that the boy from Katniss’ district, Peeta, may or may not be in love with her and they use the star-crossed lovers’ story to appeal to the audience.  Katniss is an interesting ambiguous character in that while knowing of the farce behind the tyrannical government she is also fully willing to participate in the competition.  On the downside of the novel, there is far too much internal monologue that reads as expository filler.

The book is good enough although I’m not sure it’s worthy of the hype and I’m not certain I’d want to read the rest of the series.   The completionist in me wants to know how the story ends but what I’ve read about the following book doesn’t sound like it would be all the interesting.

Recommended books: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Bachman Books: Four Early Novels by Stephen King and The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer.
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

Author: Jonathan Franzen
Title: The Corrections
Publication Info: Simon & Schuster Audio (2001)
ISBN: 0743510003

Summary/Review:

I’ve avoided reading Franzen and if it weren’t for my book club, I wouldn’t have read this book but I was pleasantly surprised.  Pleasant may not be the best word for this novel as it is an unpleasant story about a dysfunctional family and I swiftly found myself hating every character in the book.  It is a credit to Franzen’s writing that I was still interested in finding out what happens to them.  I was particularly impressed by the opening of the book where the narrative would follow one character until he met up with someone else and then the story would rather cinematically tag along with another character.  Franzen also did well at capturing the sense of dementia in the family patriarch and the spreading effect that had on the family.  Still, this book is not an easy read as these are nasty, nasty people.

Recommended books: No specific books, but I find parallels with the writing of Richard Russo and Jonathan Lethem.
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson

Author: Greg Mortenson
Title: Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Journey to Change the World… One Child at a Time
Publication Info: Tantor Media (2006), Edition: Unabridged, Audio CD
ISBN: 1400102510

Summary/Review:

I’m probably the last person in the United States to read this book but here is my review anyway.  This memoir/biography tells the story of Greg Mortenson, a mountaineer who after a failed attempt at summiting K-2 is received warmly in a remote village in Pakistan.  As a means of paying back the people of Korphe for their hospitality he promises to build them a school.  Fulfilling this promise is wrought with many challenges but leads Mortenson to a new mission in life, eventually founding the Central Asia Institute to support education in the remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, especially for girls as a means of promoting social change and peace.  This is a nice, inspirational work and if you haven’t read it, check it out.

Favorite Passages:

“In times of war, you often hear leaders—Christian, Jewish, and Muslim—saying ‘God is on our side.’ But that isn’t true. In war, God is on the side of refugees, widows, and orphans.” — Greg Mortenson

Recommended books: Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle by Dervla Murphy, and A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby.
Rating: ***

Book Review: Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

Author: L.M. Montgomery
Title: Anne of Avonlea
Publication Info: Books in Motion (1992)
ISBN: 1596077328

By Same Author Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Summary/Review:

I read (listened) to this Anne of Green Gables sequel for the first time.  It picks up where the first book left off.  Anne is still getting into scrapes but all bearing a lot of responsibility for a 16-17 year old.  Not only is she teacher at the local school but she’s helping Marilla raise two more orphan kids, Davy and Dora.  Davy with his willful mischievousness kind of takes over as chief troublemaker with Anne cheerfully trying to rein him in.  There’s also a new neighbor Mr Harrison both curmudgeonly and scandalous and always entertaining.  This book seems more episodic than the previous one, but I’m still looking forward to reading more.  I’m a kindred spirit.

Favorite Passages:

I was just trying to write out some of my thoughts…, but I couldn’t get them to please me. They seem so stiff and foolish directly they’re written down on white paper with black ink. Fancies are like shadows… you can’t cage them, they’re such wayward, dancing things. – Anne Shirley

Rating: ***

Book Review: Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy by Barbara Ehrenreich

Author: Barbara Ehrenreich
Title: Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy
Publication Info: [Ashland, Or.] : Blackstone Audio, 2007.
ISBN: 9780786157686

Other books I’ve read by the same author: Nickel and Dimed On (Not) Getting By in America and Bait And Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream.

Summary/Review:

I’ve enjoyed other books by Ehrenreich and figured that this would be a take on public celebrations like Carnivale and sporting events.  These things get a mention toward the end of the book and Ehrenreich makes a (convincing) case that what passes for collective joy in modern times is merely a shadow of the ecstatic experience of our ancestors.  Ehrenreich goes way back to prehistoric peoples by way of the “primitive” cultures encountered (and destroyed) by Europeans in the Age of Exploration.  Early Christianity seems much more lively due to it’s overlap with the Dionysian cult.  And while today we fear crowd ecstasy due to it’s association with Italian Facist and Nazi rallies, Enrenreich deconstructs what were actually carefully staged performances rather than expressions of the mob mentality.  Overall this is an interesting analysis of a fascinating topic.

Recommended books: The Case for God by Karen Armstrong
Rating: ***

Book Review: The Gathering by Anne Enright

Author: Anne Enright
Title: The Gathering
Publication Info: RecordedBooks (2007), Audio CD
ISBN: 1436102650

Summary/Review:

Dreary, overwrought, cliche-ridden, mawkish, pretentious, self-absorbed … these are just a few adjectives to describe this novel selected by my book club. Veronica Hegarty is the first-person narrator of this story who uses the suicide of her brother Liam as a jumping-off point for asynchronous reflections on her miserable upper-class marriage, her miserable childhood in a stereotypically large and confrontational Irish family and most bizarrely long passages on the sex life of her grandparents.  Enright has a thing for detailed and gratuitous descriptions of human body parts – whether they’re having sex or decomposing it doesn’t matter.  It’s affectations like this that scream “I’m trying to be a GREAT writer here!”  but just put me off.  Mind you, professional critics have given this book some positive reviews and it did win the Booker Prize. so don’t take my word for it.  Like or not though, this book is full of grief and rage and will not be easy to read.  The audiobook narrator is a bit over-the-top too, although that may be a chicken or the egg type of thing.

Recommended books: More Bread or I’ll Appear by Emer Martin, The Deposition of Father McGreevy by Brian O’Doherty, Charming Billy by Alice McDermott, and Every Inch of Her by Peter Sheridan.
Rating: *1/2

Book Review: Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr by Nancy Isenberg

Author: Nancy Isenberg
Title: Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2007), Edition: Unabridged, Audio CD
ISBN: 0143142283

Summary/Review:

This biography attempts to make up for two-centuries of scholarship on Aaron Burr that’s been informed by myth and fiction.  Isenberg makes Burr’s case – while not ignoring his mistakes and flaws – as one of the important leaders of the early United States republic, albeit one whose career ended in failure.  Not only that, but since his posterity has had no supporters, much of what is taught about Burr comes from the writings of his political rivals Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson.  Isenberg also makes it clear that Burr had many positive qualities that have been overlooked:  a war hero in the Revolution, an excellent lawyer, an intellectual, a feminist, an innovative political campaigner and someone who often refused to play the game of sycophancy nor venomously maligning his political rivals.  These last traits though honest would hurt him in both his military and political careers as less noble figures would claw their way past him.

In this book Hamilton comes across as the Fox News pundit of the Federal period willing to wield his poison pen to bear false witness against his political rival.  Jefferson on the other hand is intent on building a Virginia dynasty and while willing to have Burr get him votes from New York did not want to lose power to the Northern Democratic-Republican Party.   Isenberg explores all the famed events of Burr’s life – the contested election of 1800, the duel with Hamilton, and the western filibuster – and Burr comes out looking pretty good in all of them, at least on a relative scale.  For if Burr is ever immoral, corrupt, or dishonest he is no more so (and often less so) than his contemporaries who have much better historical reputations.

Isenberg’s final paragraph sums it best:

These were our founders: imperfect me in a less than perfect nation, grasping at opportunities.  That they did good for our country is understood, and worth our celebration; that they were also jealous, resentful, self-protective and covetous politicians should be no less a part of their collective biography.  What seperates history from myth is that history takes in the whole picture, whereas myth averts our eyes from the truth when it turns men into heroes and gods.

Recommended books: Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Future of America by Thomas Fleming, Aaron Burr by Milton Lomask, Ordeal of Ambition: Jefferson, Hamilton and Burr by Jonathan Daniels and Jefferson and Civil Liberties: The Darker Side by Leonard W. Levy
Rating: ****

Book Review: The Ionian Mission by Patrick O’Brian

Author: Patrick O’Brian
Title: The Ionian Mission
Publication Info: Blackstone Audiobooks (2005) [Originally published, 1981]
ISBN: 0786179333

Summary/Review:

This book is a bit of a return to form after the domestic and on-shore dramas of the previous two books in the series.  Aubrey and Maturin head east to Turkey to fight (or not) the French and make alliances with local Turkish leaders.  Lucky Jack is reunited with HMS Suprise although he takes a big blow to his reputation, Stephen does some spying, and there are some rollicking adventures and sea battles.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt

I expected Traffic (2008) by Tom Vanderbilt to be an interesting but it proved to be a fascinating and provocative book about driving.  There’s a lot of stuff here about the assumptions and practices of driving that amazed even me someone who hates driving and obsesses over how dangerous it is.  Vanderbilt surveys the world, history, and numerous studies to evaluate the way humans operate machines at high speeds in a changing environment. Some things learned:

  • every driver has an optimistic bias – thinking they’re above average – and in the worst cases this leads to narcissism and aggressive driving
  • driving is the most dangerous thing most people do on a daily basis
  • sober speeders and cell phone users (even hands free variety) can be as dangerous as drunken drivers but are not restricted, stigmatized or punished in the same way
  • incorrect to refer to auto collisions as “accidents” as if they were out of the driver’s power to prevent.  This is seen in media portrayal of celebrity “accidents” like baseball pitcher Josh Hancock and politician Bill Janklow who were obviously at fault
  • unintentional blindness to things the driver is not looking for, as proved by the famous attention test with the basketball players:
  • there is safety in numbers for pedestrians
  • SUV & pick up truck drivers speed more
  • the Leibowitz Hypothesis that says that human beings are very bad at judging the speed of oncoming objects
  • remote traffic engineers adjust traffic signals and road use on Oscar Night so that 100’s of celebrity-laden limousines arrive on time (I think some gutsy celeb should take the Metro to Hollywood & Highland next time)
  • some Jewish neighborhoods in Los Angeles have “Sabbath Crossing” lights that change automatically for observant pedestrians who cannot push a button
  • roundabouts are safer than traditional intersections, although their perceived danger encourages the more vigilant driving that contributes to their safety
  • on Dagen H in Sweden in 1967, drivers moved from driving on the left to driving on the right: video
  • the more divisions between the “traffic space” and the “social space” in a city the more dangerous it is for everyone
  • there is a linkage between low GDP and traffic fatalities throughout the world although greater corruption also affects traffic safety
  • safety devices on cars have not made in significant impact in reducing traffic fatalities over the past 50 years.  It seems that the greater the sense of “safety” leads to more risky or inattentive driving behaviors although the issues are complex

I highly recommend that everyone who drives, bikes and/or walks to read or listen to this illuminating book.  It might make you as paranoid about driving as I am, but it also may make you safer.  This book challenges the assumptions we make about driving in the same way The Death and Life of Great American Cities challenges the assumptions of urban planning.

Author Vanderbilt, Tom. Title Traffic [sound recording] : [why we drive the way we do (and what it says about us)] / by Tom Vanderbilt. Publication Info. Westminster, Md. : Books on Tape, p2008. Edition Unabridged. Description 11 sound discs (ca. 74 min. each) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.

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