Author: George R.R. Martin
Title: A Clash of Kings
Narrator: Roy Dotrice
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2011)
Previously read by the same author: A Game of Thrones
The second installment of A Song of Ice and Fire was gripping to my ears as I plowed through the audiobook. Despite the title, there is not much clashing for most of the novel, but there is a lot of moving of chess pieces around the board. There’s also a grim portrait of the effect of war on the ordinary people in Westeros. Having watched the television series, I notice that it diverges more from the source material than in A Game of Thrones, but not so much that I’d wonder why they make the changes.
Author: Suzanne Collins
Title: The Hunger Games
Publication Info: Scholastic Audio Books (2008)
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.
Author: Jonathan Franzen
Title: The Corrections
Publication Info: Simon & Schuster Audio (2001)
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.
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
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.
“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.
Author: L.M. Montgomery
Title: Anne of Avonlea
Publication Info: Books in Motion (1992)
By Same Author: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
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.
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
Author: Barbara Ehrenreich
Title: Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy
Publication Info: [Ashland, Or.] : Blackstone Audio, 2007.
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.
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
Author: Anne Enright
Title: The Gathering
Publication Info: RecordedBooks (2007), Audio CD
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.