Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

I have been waiting to read this for awhile and did make time for it this holiday season.

I know this subject well. I was familiar with some of the studies and academics cited in this book. I read a lot of sociology apparently. On a more personal note, I have tried more than one online dating site, Tindr, and speed dating. I quit online dating a year ago. Due to some personal experiences, I have taken a break from the whole dating scene altogether. One of the reasons was exhaustion and a general jadedness with the sites and dating in general. I hate the games being played. I could relate to a lot of the book talked about. I also felt and did things differently, but I’m still single so I guess that did not work either.

I digress. I liked this book. It was funny and informative. It also walked the line between being depressingly realistic, but also optimistic. I felt that Ansari delivered some harsh facts about dating in the modern age and around the world, but he noted the positives. He ended it on a high note as well. I generally read a lot of sociology and relationship books any way. This was definitely one of the easiest ones to read in terms of comprehension and tone. It was fun.

I recommend it since it does give a lot of insight on people today, not just about dating. I would even reread this book. Instead, I decided to get the audiobook.

Read January 1-2nd, 2016 on Kindle.

Audibook

I read this got rave reviews and I had heard excerpts from podcasts. I enjoyed it and in fact, for some people, I’d recommend it over the book. I think it is more entertaining and captures all the informational aspects just as well. It is more personal too.

Listened January 7-17 2016.

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris

I am going through my Sedaris kick especially his audiobooks. It’s rather difficult to review his books and essays as you either get his sense of humour or you don’t. This one is even more family oriented than the others of his I have read. I’m actually less partial to his family stories, but they are still amusing and elicit some gems.

I do laugh while listening to his essays. He is a great reader. One of my favourites was “Six to Eight Black Men” which Sedaris performed live. I always like listening to live things and it feels you’re laughing along to others. I just think I like listening to other people’s laughs.

Sedaris is a strange man who has an interesting mind. He writes things which most people would not ever put to words or speaking, but I often suspect we all have strange tendencies. It’s a quirky way of looking at people and the innate humour of life.

Listened to on audiobook June 5-9, 2013.

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

Another humorous book of essays by Mr Sedaris. I first read Sedaris’s books in 2008 with his When You are Engulfed with Flames. He appears in the Best American Travel Writing series a lot, but reading one of his books is different altogether as you get immersed with his worldview and humor. This was my fourth or fifth of his books that I read, and I bought Me Talk Pretty One Day, but had to leave it in England with all the rest of the books I bought there (save my Completed Works of Shakespeare). I wish I had kept it because I think the aforementioned are two of my favourites of his.

There are always at least a couple of gems in his collected essays. I am wondering if Sedaris is getting more and more grumpy as he ages. He was in town two years ago, but I didn’t manage to go at the time and I was turned off by the idea that he was going to be crowded. It was from photos I saw of the event, but I regret not going because as written in this book and in interviews, Sedaris is very engaging to his fans.

This was the first of his books that I heard in audiobook form, and I’m surprised again why I hadn’t done this sooner. He has been Grammy nominated for a reason. I’ve already put in a library request for another of his books on CD.
Continue reading “Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris”

Diana Gabaldon Outlander Series Books 5-7

Outlander the novel

In 2008, I listened to Outlander by Diana Gabaldon on audiobook and liked it. The audiobooks are excellent; they are narrated by Davina Porter. She does such a great job that sometimes when I am reading the books, I hear her voice for the character’s. Back in November 2011, I decided to finish what I started with this series. I read Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, and Drums of Autumn, books 2-4 of the Outlander series, and listened to some of it on audiobook too in a very short amount of time. I also read The Exile – an Outlander graphic novel in December.
I was up to chapter 22 of The Fiery Cross (Book 5) but didn’t pick it up again until this month. It was in my Kindle which never helps since I get distracted by books from the library, by movies/tv, or life.

Since I have The Scottish Prisoner from the library, I decided I should at least finish TFC before starting another Outlander universe book.

I try not to be too spoilery in my book reviews, but with a book series, it’s even harder. I have put my thoughts on the three books under the cut, but the spoilers are very mild.

As a general review of the series, the books usually start off slowly and build up momentum so they can be hard to put down. This series’ time travel aspects appeals to me greatly, and I tend to like books about characters transplanted from one era to another in fiction. It makes for fascinating drama.

I also think there was a lot of good character and historical developments at this period of the books. The characters were in Scotland, France, the Caribbean and colonial America. I find this series to be one of the better ones I have read in the last few years. They are detail-oriented, well researched, and long. Also, I really enjoy the characters; I’ve grown quite attached to almost all of them.

There are a lot of characters in this series, but they are all mostly well written. Gabaldon also has a way of balancing her five or so main characters. Giving them each perspective. I also like how flawed each of them are, but weirdly relatable even though all of them are from a different time than I have experienced.

Unlike some books in other series, Gabaldon’s endings aren’t edge of the seat cliffhangers, but they do make you intrigued about what will happen next. The endings usually prove satisfying and also set up for future things.

Onto my mini reviews of books 5 to 7.

Continue reading “Diana Gabaldon Outlander Series Books 5-7”

The Complete Sherlock Holmes

I reviewed all four novels and six short story collections as I heard them on unabridged audiobooks narrated by John Telfer. I started the first book in early July and finished mid September; that is a lot if listening. I enjoyed it for the most part. I really think Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has an ability to entice. Even though I found myself predicting the results of some of the mysteries, I still liked how he delivered Holmes’s deduction and explanation at the end. I grew to really appreciate the Holmes character as the series went on. Though, I must admit the earlier short story collections are the best.

As for the audiobooks, I was pleased with Tefler’s ability to transition between the characters. I’ve only really listened to a handful of audiobook narrators by this point, and I like the medium immensely. Those that are chosen or choose this line of voice acting really are adept to it. Tefler had a variety of accents and voice tones. Though, his American accent and voice is exactly the same every time which is more amusing than anything.

My favourite novel was The Hound of the Baskervilles. My favourite of the short story collections was probably The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes if only because I started to really like Holmes in this collection. I do think that each of the short story collections has at least one notable or interesting case that emphasises the characters or plots.

The reviews in canon and chronological order. Most of the books are reviewed together with another one.

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes and The Hound of the Baskervilles

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes is the second of the Sherlock Holmes short stories has his first case (as recounted to Watson), another early case, and introductions to Sherlock’s brother Mycroft and his archnemeis Professor Moriarty. It’s not as varied as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, but it does have a couple of interesting cases. It reveals a lot about the Holmes so I think it’s worth the read in the canon. By this book, I find more reasons to adore Holmes and the Watson/Holmes relationship.

The Hound of the BaskervillesThe Hound of the Baskervilles is the most famous of the Sherlock Holmes novels and has his most famous case. Of the three novels and one short story collection I have read so far, I am inclined to agree at least with the former. It is a rather good stand alone novel as you may not get the background on Holmes or Watson, but their characters are easily sketched. This novel has more than one mystery, and more red herrings as a result. The earlier two novels were not as layered. It is very gothic. Why is Devonshire so gothic? I guess it is the moors. Watson shines in this novel particularly. I think my appreciation of these stories and characters were cemented in this novel. The pacing, mystery, and likeability of this novel were all there.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

The first short story collection with most of the famous cases being detailed here. I can understand why many find the short stories better than the novels as a whole. Holmes is better is in short, small doses. He seems more humanized and emotional in these stories. Though he is still obviously cold and conceited, but more tolerably so. I really adored this collection. More than ever I think Holmes and Watson are the perfect duo. Holmes is sangfroid while Watson is affable and more socially reasoned. Though, Conan Doyle definitely has themes, and my excessive reading and tv and movie watching have enabled me to predict the real culprits of his mysteries more than once. Also, he is a bit of a formula because in this collection, there is not one, but three short stories of crazy fathers or stepfathers. The repetition does not bother me, I rather like reading the Holmes’s methodology of reaching it. I have already started the next in the canon and will finish the series before the end of next month I expect.

The Sign of the Four

It’ll only took me a couple of days to listen to this next novel in the Holmes canon. I must say, they can be addictive (especially as an alternative to the intense and psychological Crime and Punishment that I am reading). Holmes is developed a bit more in this, but he is still far from being completely humanised. Reading the earlier parts of the novel, I mused that Holmes is gay robot, but then I realised that he was just a an asexual robot with mysognistic tendencies (“Women are never to be trusted entirely,”). Though I think Holmes’s regard for Watson is a winning quality of his. I quite like Watson; he’s very British, stiff upper lip and all, but he is affable. I like the moments of their friendship such as when Holmes plays the violin to help Watson to sleep. This story continues to have rather sensational backstory to the main plot murder that involves a colonial setting, convincts, India, treasure, and a cannibalistic native. As with the previous story, the plot revolves around revenge. Though, one of the antagonists of this story is rather hard to believe when he recounts the tale at the end. One can tell how Conan Doyle reined his technique as he continued to write the Holmes stories. The next one is the first collection of short stories and one of the best of the canon so I’m looking forward to it.

A Study in Scarlet

Not too long ago, I was able to acquire the complete Sherlock Holmes canon by Arthur Conan Doyle in audiobook form as read by John Telfer. I highly doubt I’ll listen to all of it, but I do plan on going through chronologically to the fourth and final Holmes novel Valley of Fear. They should make for some decent listening while I knit. I even finished one project while listening to this.

A Study in Scarlet is the first book that features the literary icon Sherlock Holmes and his companion Doctor Watson. There is considerable introduction to both characters before the murder and mystery of the novel is introduced. I think Watson described Holmes best when he says, “This fellow may be very clever, but he is very conceited.” Which is why Watson is the perfect narrator and foil to Holmes. While the latter is probably a genius, he is also very tactless, peculiar, and eccentric in personality. To be honest, I did not care for Holmes all that much in this novel. We see his abilities as a detective, but his personality is still to be fleshed out by the end of this first novel. He is just an arrogant brain for most of this novel. The book itself is split in two with one half being narrated by Watson and the second by a third person omniscient narrator. The latter half is a story set in pioneer America and reads almost like a sensationalistic historical novel at times. It offered an interesting switch to the style of the first half with different settings, narratives and tones. I think this switch is what made me appreciate the novel the most albeit however unrealistic or melodramatic it is. It is too early for me to say that I like these stories. I certainly think Conan Doyle is an interesting mystery writer, but this is my first novel of his, and I have only been exposed (and loved) Agatha Christie before. Actually it made me want to read or listen to more Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot; I quite like the tv and film adaptations those mystery solvers. I digress, but I will proceed to more Holmes stories and sees if I like them even more.

Outlander

This book is 627 pages long, but I listened to the audiobook. It was narrated and read by Davina Porter; unabridged and 32 hours and 30 minutes long on 28 discs. I have been acquiring audiobooks for knitting purposes, and I had heard about this one in particular from Audiobook Knitters group on Ravelry. I am very glad I did listen to the audiobook. Though it took me a bit to adjust to the narrator, I was continually engaged with the story and the characters by her narration and the evident good storytelling.

I only knew a little bit about the story going in. I usually just jump into book, only vaguely knowing what they are about. It is better that way because then I can judge and interpret the story as the author presents it. For Outlander, I knew that it was a historical romance of sorts. It was violent in parts which is appropriate for the era, but it was darker than I thought it would be especially at the end. The book surprised me with its flawed but interesting characters, dark moments, and its ability to be engaging while being very long. It is incredibly well researched; I learned a lot about the time period, Scotland and clans while reading it. Diana Gabaldon was apparently a scientist and professor before becoming a writer which explains how in depth the book and research is.

At the beginning of the audiobook, it was not easy to warm to Davina Porter’s voice because the majority of the characters are male and I felt I was listening to a one woman play rather than muti-character story. I was impatient and wanted to read the books, but then I got more use to her voice and the characters. She is an excellent narrator. Her delivery at parts makes me smile, and I admire her choice in reading styles. It must have taken weeks to make this audiobook, and I’m aware she has done the others in the series as well. I would really like to listen to her narration more. Her British voice is the voice of Claire in my mind. I can see her so much more clearly with Ms Porter’s vocal interpretation. It is unlikely that I will listen to the others in the series because the books are all long, each ranging from 33-47 hours. I’d prefer to read it if that were the case. I’m too impatient for resolution. Abridged versions are not an option as I prefer unabridged, and I’m aware those are read by another narrator.

In conclusion, now I have another series to follow. I will review as I go along, and I am looking forward to the other books.

Sunday Salon and Shakespeare: The World As Stage

TSSIt’s been a good week for reading. I finished V for Vendetta after last TSS, finished Eugene Onegin by Wednesday and I listened to Shakespeare: The World As Stage by Bill Bryson yesterday (review below). Today, I started to read Life and Times of Michael K by J. M. Coetzee. I am about half way through the book now. It is not very long, but there are no chapters. It reminds me a bit of McCarthy’s The Road. I only learned recently Coetzee is South African, and I did not know anything about the book before I started reading it today. With a lot of books, I have no idea what the plot will be. I rather just dive in to the story than look at the synopsis on the cover. It makes the reading experience more interesting. I also find that plots that may sound boring end up being well told and engaging with its characters. A plot summary can seem interesting, but the writing can be slow as molasses.

Now a review of Shakespeare: The World As Stage by Bill Bryson.

I listened to the complete audiobook yesterday. It’s quite a short book about Shakespeare, but it covers many details and the lack there of of William Shakespeare’s life. Bill Bryson is an author I’ve liked for years, and he is consistently an informative and shrewd writer. This was my first time reading a book of Shakespeare’s life, but I’ve been aware of the debates of the doubts of his identity, sexuality, genius, etc. What Bryson sought out to do in the book is to avoid speculation that seems to run rampant among scholars and other biographies about Shakespeare. He evaluates and summarises the small amount of real information about Shakespeare we have at present. The book is a good as a brush up on the Elizabethan and early Jacobite eras. I learned quite a bit about the evolution of the human language, people, dress, and cities of the time. Bryson avoids making any big and blanket statements about the kind of man Shakespeare was, but he does shoot down theories about the idea that William Shakespeare was actually Bacon/ Marlowe/ Earl of Oxford/ your mother, etc. He also provides insights from historians and scholars either directly interviewing them or referencing their work. I think it is a really good introduction to Shakespeare that can provide grounding for further scholarly study about the man and the myth. A quick and recommended read.

Beowulf: A New Verse Translation

BeowfulfMany people who have read Beowulf are rather turned off by its old style, slow story, and almost complete lack of characterization among other things. I never studied this in school, but I think I would have liked it more if a passionate English teacher had done so especially with this translation of the story. I am not going to lie; I found the story rather long and ardurous. My mind wandered quite a bit while reading this text. It was not the most enjoyable thing I’ve read in awhile. On the other hand, I really appreciated the translation by Irish poet Seamus Heaney. There were some margin notes and the original text on the left page to guide you through the book. There is something in the prose of the translation and the arrangement of the text that makes me aware that Heaney is a poet, and this work has been well thought out.

I love a good translation; it really can make or break the story. When I was 13, I read a very old translation of The Iliad and The Odyssey, but in my last year of high school, I found the best translation in Robert Fagles’s version. I highly recommend his translations if you are undertaking the two Greek texts.

Even with a good translation, this is still Beowulf. I think part of the problem is that these stories are so different from present conventions and not created originally for a literary text form or modern prose. I would have much rather listened to this story as it is meant to be. These stories are meant to be recounted by a talented storyteller with a booming bard voice. I’m pleased to say that Seamus Heaney has recorded an audiobook, and exerpts from it can be heard at Northon Anthology.

In the end, I’m still glad I read this classic as it does give me more ideas of the Dark Ages and the literary traditions that have derived from this era. I doubt I’ll read

Read for the Book Awards Challenge. Text won the Costa/Whitbread award and Seamus Heaney received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995.