Friday, November 20, 2009

March (by Geraldine Brooks)*

As I alluded to in my last entry, I hated hated hated the narrator of this audiobook (Richard Easton). He sounds as if he is spitting into his microphone and his tone is just angry the whole time. I would have switched to the print copy of the book if I'd had any time at all, but I was curious enough in the story to keep reading.

I love Little Women and have read it ten million times. So I was intrigued by the idea of a story from Mr. March's point of view. But it just left me feeling unsatisfied. I didn't find the character of March likeable at all, nor did I find him compatible with Louisa May Alcott's vision--he seems ridiculously self-centered and he does some amazingly stupid things. And then there's the character of Grace Clement, who is not only a contrived character, but way too saintly and good to be true. Ironic, since Marmee is portrayed as kind of a beyotch. (It's a very interesting characterization but could have been done a little more subtly. That being said, the part of the book told from her perspective is by far the best.)

The part that I most disliked was at the very end, when he finally sees his daughters again. It's a scene that resonates in the original text, when he tells his daughters how they've changed in a year... in this version, Mr. March is looking at his daughters and thinking of other people, and just giving mechanical answers to their questions. Like, I was left without a sense that he loves his daughters, and the March marriage seems pretty much destroyed by the end. (Also, he calls her "Marmee" in this--as if it's her first name. I thought it was the girls' way of saying "Mommy"--am I wrong?) This doesn't go into the events of Good Wives or Little Men... but maybe Brooks should have considered how the Marches evolve in those books.

That being said, the language here is great. Brooks based a lot of this on the journals of Bronson Alcott, which seems appropriate, but she seems to have done this at the expense of Louisa's original intentions for the character. Also, my favorite thing in the whole book, a poem written by a dead soldier, was an actual poem written by a dead soldier that Louisa May Alcott found when she was working in a Civil War Hospital.

To sum up: maybe with a different narrator I could have enjoyed this more. (I wish the Jaws guy were reading it!) I wanted to find out how it ends, but having finished it, I just think it frustrated me. I know it won a Pulitzer and all; maybe I'm just too attached to the original.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Jaws (by Peter Benchley)*

I've actually read this book many times, but there's a new audiobook version, and my library (which has MP3 CDs of audiobooks, which is just fantastic, since it's an entire novel on one CD) had it. I think the narrator (Eric Steele) does a terrific job. (Although for some reason, he made me hate Harry Meadows. The voice he did for Meadows was just annooooyyyyiinnngg. Not in a bad way though.) (In contrast, I'm now listening to March and I'm into the story but I cannot stand the narrator, who sounds like he's spitting all his words into the microphone.)

Anyway.... as many times as I've read this novel, a lot of stuff really comes to life in the audio version, particularly the gore and tension of the shark attacks (which you can't really skim over in an audio version), what an asshole Brody is at the dinner party, and a couple of really clunky lines by Benchley, who is once again a Dude Who Does Not Understand Women's Sexual Responses. It is a really fun listen, though, and diverges from the movie (which is also, of course, amazing) in some interesting ways. So, this is just a thumbs up from me to you, audiobook fans!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

You Don't Love Me Yet (by Jonathan Lethem)

Read for my book club! It was a very fast read (I breezed through it in a few hours yesterday) and has some original elements, particularly all the conceptual art stuff. But the characters don't really come alive very well, one character in particular. I won't spoil it, but the ending makes absolutely no sense with That One Character completely undeveloped. Also, when a man tries to write about women having sex, it can sometimes be really embarrassing. And this was embarrassing in that sense. Dude, you have no clue.

Anyway, I recommended it to the book club, so I hate that it was so disappointing. Sorry, book club!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Storm Front (by Jim Butcher)*

Elizabeth sent me this one because it's narrated by James "Spike" Marsters. It's Sam Spade meets Harry Potter in the form of Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, a wizard who gets involved in trying to solve supernatural crime.

The best thing about this book is Marsters, who does a great job with the wry, ironic tone of the character. It's hard to believe it's him (the one British accent he does is more of a Gilesy accent) but funny to hear him talk about a (very minor) character named Spike, or say "hell's bells" a lot. I definitely want to read the next one in the series... as long as it's narrated by Marsters, of course!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Love the One You're With (by Emily Giffin)

A chicklit book for sure. I brought this along with me on a recent trip when I forgot to pack any books. I was bereft without a fluffy paperback! Not nearly as good as Guernsey (see below) and really not as good as the other Giffin books I've read. Her characters and settings are a little two-dimensional here. Basically the central conflict is a woman named Ellen trying to decide if she should cheat on her husband with an old flame.

On the one hand, I get the feeling that Giffin is trying to make sure Ellen remains sympathetic by stacking the deck against her so the cheating would be "understandable." On the other hand, you just want Ellen to make a damned decision already, either way, rather than agonizing through 90% of the book.

As an exploration of marriage, it made me think warm loving thoughts about my husband, but then, earlier today I was reading the love sonnets of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and those were arguably even more effective. So skip this, and go read some EBB! You won't be sorry.

Sonnet 21 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Say over again, and yet once over again,
That thou dost love me. Though the word repeated
Should seem a “cuckoo-song,” as thou dost treat it.
Remember, never to the hill or plain,
Valley and wood, without her cuckoo-strain
Comes the fresh Spring in all her green completed.
Beloved, I, amid the darkness greeted
By a doubtful spirit-voice, in that doubt’s pain
Cry, “Speak once more—thou lovest!” Who can fear
Too many stars, though each in heaven shall roll,
Too many flowers, though each shall crown the year?
Say thou dost love me, love me, love me—toll
The silver iterance!—only minding, Dear,
To love me also in silence with thy soul.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows)*

I'm not sure if this is a really good book or just a really good audiobook. It's an epistolary novel set right after the end of World War II, covering the correspondence between an author living in London and the inhabitants of Guernsey, in the Channel Islands. It confronts some of the horrors of war, but is ultimately a lighthearted? is that the word? book. Without glossing over or minimizing things, it is ultimately not a depressing read.

I can recommend this 100% if you listen to your books. The audiobook is read by something like four or five people. They're almost perfect; the one guy who has to do an American accent is clearly no Hugh Laurie, because his accent sucks--then again, the authors have this "American" using adjectives like "bloody" so it's not exactly spot-on either way. But mostly, the voice actors are terrific.

I was really sad every time I put in a new CD, thinking it was one disk closer to being over! The book creates a delightful world peopled with delightful characters, and I wanted to stay in it longer. Thumbs up!