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June 23, 2022
This month is Pride and Audiobook Appreciation Month. Kate and I are reading (listening to) Marlon James’s Moon Witch, Spider King, the second in his Dark Star trilogy. We did not intentionally decide to listen to a book by a gay author, but we are.
Notice that I said we are reading the book yet we are listening to it. If you are one of those people who think listening to a book does not count as reading, I beg of you to change your mind.
As established readers (though there is a ton of merit to using audiobooks with struggling readers, but this is not the platform for that) we are not reading to practice phonics. We are not proving ourselves to teachers. We are exploring foreign lands, making connections, learning about the world, escaping and growing. It is not the actual reading that is challenging us. It is the thinking.
Audiobooks get a bum rap.
But they are delicious, especially the ones recorded in the last 2 decades. These are actors reading the book. They make each of the characters come alive through different voices or inflections.
The readers of Marlon James’s books are amazing. While listening, I sometimes remember that it is only one person reading all of these characters, so many characters, Marlon, and I am impressed all over again.
Audiobooks layer another form of art on top of our favorite form of art, fiction.
Once you can swallow that listening to audiobooks is actually reading, you will be freed. Seriously. You will suddenly realize that you have time to read because you can read while you are driving or walking the dog. You can read while washing the dishes or while your partner is asleep in the bed next to you. You can read just about all the time!
Sure, sometimes you space out and daydream while you are listening. Maybe I am alone in this (nah), but that happens during reading also.
I will say there are two things I hate about audiobooks. 1. I keep and display all the books I read. I love looking at them and remembering. I love people to ask me about them. 2. I like to write in my books.
However, I have come up with solutions to those problems. 1. I design my own book jackets around books that I find at yard sales for cheap. I decorate and paint and write on a piece of paper. The book jacket is essentially my book report, and then I put it on the bookshelf.
If it is a book I want to write in, I will buy the book and after each listening session I will go to it and make my marginalia. Problems solved.
Besides anything written by Marlon James here are some awesome books to listen to:
Milkman by Anna Burns
The Dutch House by Ann Patchet
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Miracle and Wonder by Malcolm Gladwell (only available on audio)
No One Goes Alone by Erik Larson (only available on audio)
February 18, 2022
January 15, 2022
Kate and I got to read lots of books together in 2021! In addition to our Book Club reads, we also chose to read a few buddy reads. Kate and I have pretty similar opinions on books, with varying degrees of like and dislike.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Kate called this her favorite book of the year. It was a pretty close second for me. Bennett’s storytelling was slightly reminiscent of Toni Morrison. I always enjoy stories where paths cross in natural and realistic ways. Highly recommend this one.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
We picked this book because in years past we have explored the gothic genre with Rebecca by du Maurier and The Haunting of Hill House by Jackson. If you are not a fan of the gothic tradition, I do not recommend Mexican Gothic, but Moreno-Garcia did an amazing job paying homage to the genre while adding some contemporary elements and themes as well. It is creepy, but in the vein of the genre it is a slow build with an understated climax.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
This was my favorite book of the year. Eugenides, the author of The Virgin Suicides, weaves a fascinating book whose genre is simply literary fiction even though you could call it: a family drama or a historical fiction or a coming-of-age story. The narration is funny and unique in the way that the narrator is telling the story of his grandparent’s childhood in the present tense, as if he was there.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
This was a fun read, but I think we were all hoping for a little more than fun. Even after our book club meeting, none of us could really tell you what this book was about. It has a unique story structure and it kept all of us guessing as to what was really going on, but the ending left us wanting. Wanting what? I am not sure. I would still recommend it because it is likely that you have never read anything like this.
Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo
Kate and I both really enjoyed this book. It was exciting and beautiful. It explores old customs, issues around colonization and class as well as family dynamics (always one of my favorite motifs).
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
I wrote an entire blog on this book. You can read it here. Basically, it was too long and not the caliber of book I expect to win the Booker Award. The more I talked and wrote about it the more I liked it, which is a sign of a good book in my opinion.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelly
While reading Frankenstein, we both thought the same thing while reading Dracula – WOW– I know so little about this book, and it is way better than I expected. Again though, if you do not like the gothic genre, a slow build with an understated climax, this may not be for you.
Get a copy here!
No One Goes Alone by Erik Larson
This book is unique for a few reasons. First, it is the first work of fiction by Erik Larson, famed for The Devil in White City and In the Garden of the Beasts. Second, it was available only in audiobook form. And keeping in our 2021 tradition that we were not aware of until we started writing this blog, it is a gothic tale. It is short; the plot is slow and you find yourself waiting and waiting for something crazy to happen, but it never really does or if it does, it all unravels very slowly. We both enjoyed it. It was filled with some historical facts (you know Larson couldn't resist).
Those were our book club reads.
Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi
We started off very ambitious with this one. Meeting twice a week. We made charts and timelines and note cards. It is a heavy read especially if your history is not up to snuff. It was enlightening and a must read for your anti-racism journey.
Beneath A Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan
Eh. Save it for the beach. It is a historical fiction novel, not super well written, but with interesting characters and plot, but nothing that you likely have not already read about World War II spies.
Matrix by Laura Groff
This is the fourth book by Groff we have read, and the first I did not finish it. Kate finished it, and basically told me when I was a little more than halfway through that there really was no reason to finish. Groff’s writing is amazing. She is so talented and creative. And I respect what she was trying to do–create a female-only world. And I thought the setting was wonderful, a 1400s abbey. But there was no plot and no character development. If you have not read Groff, try Arcadia, Fates and Furies, or Monsters of Templeton. All so different than the others which makes me respect her so much.
The Dutch House by Anne Patchett
I listened to this one. It was read by Tom Hanks. The story is amazing–again a family saga following the characters over generations, but Tom Hanks reading it is just the best thing ever, possibly.
Overall, 2021 was a good reading year. Leave us a comment if you read any!
December 11, 2021
Full disclosure: I am a huge Paul Simon fan. Huge. There is a good chance I teared up the first time I saw him live. Love him.
But I do not think you need to feel this way to enjoy Malcolm Gladwell’s new audio (only) book Miracle and Wonder. You definitely need to be able to tolerate Simon’s songs; bits of his songs are played throughout, sometimes live and sometimes the recorded tracks.
Gladwell starts the book off by informing his listeners- this is not an autobiography of Paul Simon, rather this is a look at his music and what makes him a great songwriter. This book will not talk about Simon’s falling out with Garfunkel, his marriage to Edie Brickell or his childhood. Though each is mentioned, it is only in service to understanding Simon as a musician.
What makes this book so fun, so interesting, is Gladwell’s storytelling. Another disclosure, more of a confession: I have never finished a Gladwell book. I typically make it halfway through and then feel like I got his message. I am sure this is untrue; I am just not a non-fiction lover. But despite having never finished a book of his, I have always marveled at his extensive research, how he does not only research the topic, but topics adjacent to his topic. How he weaves all this research together into a fascinating narrative to prove a point. He is a fantastic writer.
And Miracle and Wonder is no different. Gladwell, in his journey to discover the birth of Simon’s greatness, references greats of other disciplines, including LeBron James. This part of Gladwell's writing reminds me of Krakauer’s Into the Wild. As a way to understand why Chris McCandless gave up everything and went into the wilderness, Krakauer looks through history to find others who did the same or similar things. Gladwell does this as well.
But it is not only the research that makes the book great. Paul Simon is there with him for the whole book, so we hear snippets of their conversation. This creates a very intimate experience for the reader, not just with Paul Simon, but also with Gladwell because we get to see him in action. There are times when after hearing Paul Simon discuss a song or a memory, Gladwell analyzes those words, tying them back to what Simon has said previously. We really get to see Gladwell’s process and how he comes to his conclusion about Simon’s greatness.
You do not have to love Paul Simon to enjoy this book. Music lovers, Gladwell readers, authors and anyone looking to be inspired can find enjoyment within this book. And no matter who you are, you will likely come out on the other side of this book with a greater appreciation for Paul Simon, and Gladwell.
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