The Hobbit has long been one of my favorite books, but it only recently became available for digital download. I decided to listen to it before going...moreThe Hobbit has long been one of my favorite books, but it only recently became available for digital download. I decided to listen to it before going to see the movie, which I still haven’t seen and suppose I will probably not get to see in the theater, despite my plans to do so.
Because I’ve read (and taught) the book several times now, it seems silly to write a synopsis and review; however, the new variable is the audio book, so this review will focus on the audio book read by Rob Inglis.
Of course, you are probably familiar with the story: Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who is rather hoodwinked into participating in an adventure with Gandalf and some dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield himself in which Thorin hopes to defeat the dragon living on top of Thorin’s rightful treasure in the Lonely Mountain. Along the way, Bilbo and the dwarves tangle with some goblins (aka orcs), and Bilbo manages to find the One Ring, lost by Gollum in a riddle game, an event which precipitates the later War of the Ring that is the focus of The Lord of the Rings.
I can highly recommend listening to the audio book version of this particular novel. The avuncular storytelling style that Tolkien himself later had to stop himself from revising is a perfect match for an audio book. Tolkien’s source material, the Icelandic and Germanic sagas and myths, would probably have been told orally, possibly near a fire in a large mead hall. As such, it seems somehow fitting that this book works so well when told aloud. Rob Inglis is a masterful reader, too. He manages to capture each character’s voice, and I enjoyed hearing his musical interpretations of the many songs in the book. His rendition of Gollum is particularly good. Most importantly, Inglis’s interpretation manages to capture Bilbo’s voice as storyteller so well that it seems perhaps the book was intended to be listened to, as read by Rob Inglis, instead of read. I know. You think I’m crazy. I’ve lost it. But you wouldn’t think that if you had listened to Rob Inglis read this book.
That’s right. No cheap, distorted chopped up abridged version. Up until very recently, you could only listen to an unabridged version of The Hobbit if you purchased a digital audio version of the novel. You had to fork over for the CDs if you wanted an unabridged version. Now you can download the unabridged book via Audible (or iTunes if you prefer) for the first time. If you are thinking of rereading it this year, why not give the audio book a go?(less)
**spoiler alert** My book club students chose to read Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go, and we were supposed to be about 50 pages in by our meet...more**spoiler alert** My book club students chose to read Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go, and we were supposed to be about 50 pages in by our meeting on Friday. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to devote to reading the book last week, and beyond checking the book out of my library via Overdrive, I had made no progress. I finished the book in a whirlwind over this long weekend.
Never Let Me Go is the story of three students, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, who attend a mysterious boarding school in East Sussex called Hailsham. In this institution, students are taught to create art, and an enigmatic woman the children know only as Madame comes to collect choice objects for her gallery, a great honor all the students strive to achieve. Tommy, upset he is unable to create quality art and will likely never have anything chosen for the gallery, is prone to angry rages and becomes the target of bullies. Kathy reaches out to him, and they become friends. Over time, Ruth and Tommy enter into a relationship, and the students finally come to accept a horrible truth about their existence—a truth that they have been “told and not told,” and that none of them “really understand,” according to one of their guardians, Miss Lucy. For the rest of the novel, Kathy reflects on this awful truth, never quite allowing herself to dream of a different life, until she eventually prepares to serve the purpose for which she and all her friends were created.
One of the reasons I like dystopian novels is that I think they show us as we might become if we entertain some of our darker impulses. This novel certainly reminded me of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, but in many ways, I found it more poignant because it gave voice to a minority that Huxley’s novel lacked.
Spoiler follows, so skip if you do not wish to have the novel’s premise ruined before you read it.
Begin spoiler ->How would it feel to know you had been raised only as an organ farm, to have your organs harvested to cure others? To be completely stripped of your humanity because you were a clone, but to know that you were human in spite of it all? You were curious about your “possible,” the person from whom you’d been cloned. You could feel love, anger, happiness. You had a life of memories. But “normals” recoiled from you and pretended you didn’t exist because, as the children’s former headmistress says, “How can you ask a world that has come to regard cancer as curable, how can you ask such a world to put away that cure, to go back to the dark days?”
One of the questions I had as I read was why Kathy did not try to run away from her fate. Perhaps there was no point, but I wanted her to try. However, all of the clones seem to accept that there is no way out of becoming an organ donor and eventually “completing.” I wondered if this was a result of nature or nurture, but all the clones we meet in the novel seemed to feel it was an inevitable fate. Why, though? Clones clearly passed for “normals.” The fact that Ishiguro leaves this avenue unexplored makes this novel even sadder—the quiet acceptance, or “going gentle into that good night,” the lack of fight, all of this resignation adds this sort of layer of martyrdom for the characters. In a way, it is a more interesting choice than the typical one—most writers of dystopian fiction choose to have their characters fight the machine. <- End spoiler
I was engrossed in the novel; once I started it, I could barely put it down, which was something one of the girls in Book Club told me she felt as well. This novel goes beyond the ethical issues it raises to ask us to consider the humanity of every person we may previously have dismissed, as the characters in the novel say, as “trash.”(less)
Tracy Chevalier’s latest book, The Last Runaway, is a bit of a departure from her other work. I have read several of Chevalier’s books, and I can’t th...moreTracy Chevalier’s latest book, The Last Runaway, is a bit of a departure from her other work. I have read several of Chevalier’s books, and I can’t think of one that isn’t set in Europe. The Last Runaway is the story of Honor Bright, a young Quaker woman who decides to accompany her sister Grace across the Atlantic to America. Grace plans to marry a man who emigrated to Ohio and used to be a member of the Bridport Friends’ Meeting where the Brights worship. Honor has been jilted by her fiancé, Samuel, who throws her over and leaves the Society of Friends in order to marry outside the religious order. The voyage is terrible for Honor, who suffers from the worst bout of seasickness you’ve ever seen this side of Outlander‘s Jamie Fraser. Honor realizes that she is stuck in America because she can’t imagine being able to endure a crossing back to England. After disembarking, Honor and Grace travel to Ohio by stagecoach, but Grace contracts yellow fever and dies on the voyage. Now all alone in America, Honor must find her own way. Her sister’s fiancé, Adam Cox, takes her in for a time, but his brother has recently died, and he is living with his brother’s widow, Abigail. Before long, the Quakers frown at their unorthodox living arrangement. Adam marries Abigail, and Honor rushes into a marriage with Jack Haymaker, whose stern mother Judith is a Quaker elder who does not approve of Honor.
One of the most interesting threads in the book dealt with quilting. Honor is a quilter. Her adjustment to America is hard, and she especially does not like Americans’ ways of quilting. Her skill with a needle earns her the friendship and hospitality of Belle Mills, a milliner in Wellington. However, it also draws the unwelcome attention of Donovan, Belle’s brother and the local slave catcher. Honor quickly finds herself caught up in the American debate over slavery. Just as the Fugitive Slave Act is passed, Honor finds herself helping slaves cross to Canada as a part of the Underground Railroad. While her in-laws disapprove of slavery, they are also unwilling to allow lawbreaking in their family, and Honor has some difficult decisions to make.
I am a fan of Tracy Chevalier’s books. I especially liked Remarkable Creatures and The Virgin Blue, which was one of the first books I reviewed for this blog. I was interested in reading this book because some of my own immigrant ancestors were Quakers. I imagine they came to America to worship more freely, but they were quite different from the Quakers of Ohio. Within several generations, at least in my own line of the family, they had abandoned their faith for various other Protestant denominations, but my 7th great-grandmother Elizabeth Clark Anthony was the mother of fifteen children and after her husband’s death, she became a Quaker missionary who made four trips between Virginia and Georgia on horseback and lived to be 103 years old.
Perhaps because I was hoping to see a glimpse of what my own ancestors’ lives were like, I really wanted to like this book. I was underwhelmed, however. I found Honor hard to like. She seemed to feel quite sorry for herself a lot of the time, and while it’s true that she was living in difficult circumstances, she created a lot of them. Her attraction to Donovan was inexplicable. I thought Chevalier did everything she could to make him odious, and it was impossible for this reader to understand Honor’s feelings for him. Honor’s disdain for the American way of doing just about everything was trying as well. I understand she was a fish out of water, but for a Quaker, she was terribly judgmental. Almost every chapter closed with a letter from Honor to her family or friends. I found the transition from third person to first jarring in some cases, though I wished more of the story had been told in first person. Though I didn’t like Honor much, I found her voice in the letters to ring true.(less)
Jasper Fforde’s latest and seventh book in the Thursday Next series, The Woman Who Died A Lot, picks up Thursday’s story in the year 2004. Thursday is...moreJasper Fforde’s latest and seventh book in the Thursday Next series, The Woman Who Died A Lot, picks up Thursday’s story in the year 2004. Thursday is recuperating from an assassination attempt, and she is looking to run SpecOps 27, the Literary Detectives division, the agency responsible for dealing with forged or stolen manuscripts and works of literature. Meanwhile, she has other problems. Her son Friday has received a letter detailing his new future, now that the ChronoGuard has been disbanded and he will no longer be saving the world from destruction by asteroid HR-6984. Instead, he will murder Gavin Watkins the very week during which the book is set and spend the rest of his life in prison. Meanwhile, her daughter Tuesday is feverishly working on an Anti-Smite Defense Shield to protect Swindon from the wrath of the Global Standard Deity (GSD), who has enacted “a series of cleansings” all over the world “mostly as a warning to His creations that messing with the Big Guy’s Ultimate and Very Important and Unknowable Plan was not going to be tolerated.” Thursday’s brother, Joffy, supreme head of the Church of the Global Standard Deity, is taking a stand against the GSD and means to be in his cathedral when the smiting occurs, but Goliath, the large, evil corporation bent on running the world, has plans to lure the GSD’s smiting away from the city center by gathering together a large collection of unrepentant evildoers with the idea that the GSD will smite them instead. Goliath is up to new tricks, replacing Thursday with synthetic “day player” versions of herself. Aornis Hades is on the loose again, and the mindworm about having a daughter named Jenny that she implanted in Thursday continues to wreak its sad destruction. Thursday, older and and not up to her previous physical abilities, must contend with a rival who manages to push her out of her desired position in SpecOps, relegating her to the deceptively tame-sounding job of Chief Librarian of the Wessex Library Service. But this is Jasper Fforde’s world, where “many frustrated citizens who weren’t selected … to train as librarians … will have to console themselves with mundane careers as doctors, lawyers, and lion tamers.”
If it sounds like there was a lot going on, believe me, I have barely scratched the surface. Fforde’s plot had so much going on that it seemed even he was having trouble containing it, and I admit I gave up trying to follow it and just went along for the ride. I think Fforde is at his best when he lures his readers into the BookWorld, the fictional realm of literature in this series. I haven’t enjoyed the last few books in the series as much as I had enjoyed the first few. The story in this particular book doesn’t really ever come together until close to the end, and at that point, I was already so confused, I had forgotten some of the important details from earlier in the book. However, it’s Jasper Fforde, which means fun and hilarity will ensue. While I didn’t laugh out loud as often as I have while reading his earlier books in this series, I did enjoy the whimsy of Jasper Fforde’s alternative world, just as I always do when I visit it. And I will probably read the promised eighth Thursday Next book, too.(less)