Thursday, June 30, 2011

June is Audiobook Month!

So as we know, I love audiobooks. Love 'em. Listen while I commute, listen while I do the dishes, listen on the rare occasions that I exercise, and listen while I work. (Well, as long as I'm not on the phone or writing more than a line or two of email. I mostly work with numbers, leaving the other half of my brain free to deal with words.)

June is, for whatever reason these things are decreed, audiobook month. Of course I had to celebrate, by... pretty much doing what I was doing anyway. But since it's now the end of June, and I'm a woman with a spreadsheet, I figured I'd go on a bit about the audiobooks I read this month. 15 of my 27 books this month were audio, which is a typical ratio. Here they are:

Bossypants by Tina Fey - narrated by the author. Hilarious, and probably the more fun for hearing Fey's narration than just reading it. A+ audiobook.
To Seduce a Sinner by Elizabeth Hoyt - Anne Flosnik is one of those narrators I follow around from author to author.
Already Home by Susan Mallery
Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party by Alexander McCall Smith - Lisette Lecat narrates all of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novels, and is incomparable. She's another one of the narrators I stalk. With my ears. 
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov - as I mentioned earlier, narrated by Jeremy Irons. Goosebumps.
Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny - is this first time I've heard Ralph Cosham's calm, mellifluous yet somehow gruff voice? I'm looking for more.
Quicksilver by Amanda Quick - Anne Flosnik again. 
The Lady Most Likely by Julia Quinn - Rosalyn Landor has brought me to so many different worlds and introduced me to several worthy authors - I always enjoy her narration.
Clouds of Witness by Dorothy Sayers
Unnatural Death by Dorothy Sayers
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy Sayers
Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers - all of the Sayers are narrated by Ian Carmichael, who has such a charming voice that I very much welcomed its infection of the Lord Peter stories I read on paper. 
Double Fault by Lionel Shriver
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot - This is the book I'll be finishing today, to round out #JIAM. I'm captivated by Cassandra Campbell's narration, and need to remember to follow her more consistently. I've actually listened to her for dozens of hours already, but I have failed to notice how much I like her. 'Twill be corrected!
The Goodbye Quilt by Susan Wiggs

So there you have it, complete with the ravest of my rave reviews. If you aren't convinced that audiobooks are superb, well, I just don't know what to say to you anymore.
(Kidding. I love you all. Thanks for reading!)

Tennis and Teen Girls

Double Fault: A NovelIn honor of Wimbledon or something, I finally brought Double Fault by Lionel Shriver out of the 'to be read' column of my spreadsheet. Maybe my long delay was prescient: I have been so captivated by everything else I've read by Shriver, but I just couldn't get into this one. Maybe both main characters were too flawed from start to finish, maybe there was an overabundance of telling not showing, but I felt divorced from their characters. (That tips at a pun, but not really, so don't worry about it.) Although, I do know a heck of a lot more about the game of tennis than I did before, which is something.

The Annotated Lolita (Penguin Modern Classics)Also tennis-adjacent, though far more tangentially: Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. In some ways, it was far creepier than when I read it in college (H.H. is so cavalier about his pedophilia! Plus I have kids now.) It was still very entertaining - and made me jones for a road trip in a way that doesn't feel entirely wholesome. Just for the succession of funny little landmarks and the changing landscape and so forth, not for the evading the law part of things. Of course. I mean, you knew that already, right? Anyway.... Nabokov is a giddy-making stylist, and I also must give many many props to Jeremy Irons's narration of the audiobook, which was delicious. I read a pile of Nabokov sometime around my senior year of college, and I'm glad to know it wasn't just my pretentious "intelligentsia" phase that made me appreciate him.

SpoiledFor teen girls with an entirely different sense of self, I grinned through Spoiled by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. You might know the authors from their fashion-skewering site, Go Fug Yourself, or maybe you knew one of them when she was a little child, like I did. (Oddly, though her big sister made my life worth living in my melodramatic late-elementary years, and I can still map out where her mom kept all the best snacks, we're not all BFFs and stuff. So it's more 'hey, that's... a thing' than 'hey, what an awesome claim to fame.') I was fans of their writing way before I figured out the connection - from recaps at TWOP, then their site - and was tickled to see they'd written a YA novel. It's set in fashionable, shallow Hollywood, where the insecure daughter of a Major Motion Star hunk-type is not happy to find out she has a practically farm-raised Midwestern half-sister of the same age. Or that Sis is loading up her stuff and moving to Beverley... Hills, that is. Swimming pools. Movie stars. Scary fashion-consciousness, and backstabbing, paparazzi, and of course teen angst, and daddy issues, and heartwarming growth with a cliffhanger epilogue that sets up an exciting Book Two premise. I told the soldier next to me on the plane home that it was bubblegummy, and a fun way to relax after the hectic pace of my two weeks of vacation in Ireland and England. And then he told me about having 12 days leave to see his friends and family after not being Stateside for five years. And then I let him have my packet of fancy crackers, because unlike Brick's daughter Brooke in the novel, I am not spoiled.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Things About London

Westminster Abbey: Poet's Corner, searching out Lewis and Dickens under the shadow of Shakespeare, plus Johnson (o rare one) while discovering Darwin. Not to mention the effigies mentioned in the Tower novel, to say nothing of emerging from the Westminster tube station into the looming presence of Big Ben in front of the clearest blue sky.

The British Library: Shakespeare's folios, Chaucer's bound manuscript, a Gutenberg, those gorgeous botanical texts, Beatles songs composed on the backs of envelopes and 2 year old Jude's birthday card. Plus a TARDIS. (Part of the Sci-Fi through the years exhibition. 11 year old – on a break from the “too many boring parts” War and Peace – bought War of the Worlds as his souvenir.) The calf-bound King's Library behind glass in front of which the users used wi-fi. Rudimentary advice to presumably distracted patrons.

The Tower of London: all of the promise of the Tower novel fulfilled. Beefeater Steve who abandoned our tour at the first hint of rain (it passed in seconds, Steve.) Axes and crossbows and cells and poisons and murder and mystery. Evil ravens. Itchy-looking uniforms. A thousand years of history.

As You Like It at the Globe Theatre: Despite aching feet, captivated by standing in the Yard while just-hammy-enough actors emoted their way through a comedy of mixed identities and love at first sight. Sliding homeward across the Millennium Bridge on a Shakespearean high.

The British Museum: has not lost its charm.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

London Calling!

The London Train (P.S.)First up, my review of The London Train by Tessa Hadley, which has just appeared in the Star Tribune. That's #1 in my "I'm about to go to London, plus, every book I read is set there" list. (And no, I'm not just reading the Frommer's Guide.)

The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise: A NovelBest for revving me up about tourism while simultaneously making me a bit sheepish about being a tourist is Julia Stuart's The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise. This is set almost entirely in the Tower of London, with delightful excursions to Westminster Abbey and the Lost Property Office of the London Underground. Many of the characters are Beefeaters, though now I know to call them Yeoman Warders instead, and to do my best to find the restrooms without asking them for directions. The unique and, in Stuart's hands, delightfully quirky yet humane world of the residents of the Tower is an excellent backdrop to Yeoman Warder Jones' personal and professional struggles. All of this, plus fun facts about cross-dressing as an escape method - you really can't go wrong.

One Day. David NichollsFor light but engrossing summer reading fun, One Day by David Nicholls is both funny and moving, and an unexpectedly complex examination of a friendship over time. We visit Em and Dex every July 15 from the day after their university graduation in the 80s through twenty years of travels and relationships and varying levels of dependence on each other. (Also, they spend a lot of time in London, separately and together, so it fits my apparent-fixation.) The conceit could be a bit precious, but Nicholls does a solid job of making one day a year momentous and telling, without resorting to credulity-stretching coincidences or the characters' imbuing that date with undue significance. 
It's very neatly done, and their friendship is rightfully abiding.

Desperate DuchessesOther than these, I've been reading a lot of the Desperate Dutchess and similar titles by Eloisa James, because London is also about ballrooms and aristocracy and riding through the park and bodices and scandal and the need for a beautiful and spirited woman to overcome obstacles so that she can find completion with a handsome yet secretly wounded man who never knew he needed her in his life. I'm not, however, planning on boring my sons with all that as I drag them from cathedral to museum to Shakespeare play. Some tourism should take place only in my mind.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Lest You Think I'm Not Enamoured of the Other Son

I am guilty! Guilty of blogging more complimentary things about one child than about the other. So herein I set the record straight. (I learned this from my mom. I am the 2nd of 4 children, all born within a 5 year span. It behooved Mom to ensure that we had the same number of jelly beans in our Easter baskets and an even rotation of grunt work on the chore chart. We'd be sure to let her know if anything was in any way unfair. I suspect I was the first to discern a slight. And if my pettiness made Mom the whiz at spreadsheets she is today, well, all I can say is, "You're welcome, Mom.")

So my firstborn, D. He hasn't read Tolstoy. Strangely enough, this hasn't devalued him in my eyes whatsoever. I have to admit, actually, to an unseemly amount of pride in this child. Back when he was an infant, and I was a new mom, I was obsessed with his every new syllable and the gleam in his steady brown eyes, etc., and I kept a monthly diary of his progress through life. He gnawed his toes! He grew 3/4"! He has the cutest chickpea-sized birthmark...! (Location of birthmark redacted due to his now being 15 years old and probably desirous of a certain amount of discretion from his mom.) Every once in a while I pull out that journal, but not as frequently as I might if I'd been as through with K's journal. (Ask my mom about our baby books. Or better yet, ask my oldest and youngest siblings. I tried to learn that lesson from her, too, but failed. Probably I should destroy all of the baby journaling, and not just because it's frighteningly apparent that I was pretty sure I was the most amazing mom of the most amazing baby in the universe.) So, I've been watching over this guy for a long time now, and have yet to find any major flaws. Not a lot of minor ones, either.

Here are some things about D of which I am not at all rightfully proud:

  • His musical ability. He picked up violin at 7, guitar at 12, bass guitar at 14. He writes music and sings with his band (you can buy their first single!) It's a definite talent, is what I'm saying. And I... I can't pick Middle C out of a lineup of nothing but C notes. That's all from his dad, and all I did was foster it when D decided he was interested.
  • His height. Isn't that a silly thing to be proud of? Especially as I'm 5' 4" (or 5' 3 1/2" if you ask my 5' 4" sister.) His dad's the one who's 6' 2" so D standing eye to eye with him has naught to do with me. I do love marking those pencil lines on the kitchen wall, though. 
  • His charmHe's an extrovert, and quick-witted, and sweet-tempered. Or at least I think so. (Re: sweet-tempered - most of the time.) While I like to think I can be funny, probably the fact that D, aged 3, memorably retorted, “Oh, you sarcastic woman!” when I was trying to harangue him into his car seat one day means that I don’t possess that subtle wry thing that D has. His dad is the master of the Embarrassing Dad Pun, so no help there. It’s clearly innate.
  • His smarts. Okay, he gets them from me. But the way he uses his intelligence impresses me. He's very goal-oriented, thinks long-range and figures out a plan and then - this is the part unlike me - sets about doing the necessary work. And self directed! I mean, it's not that I don't want him to take all honors level classes and make all As (good luck on those last 2 finals tomorrow, son) but I try to maintain the illusion that "doing your best is good enough" and all that no-pressure-parenting stuff. 
I won't go on an on. Well, I won't go on and on and on, at any rate. The point is: D is excellent, I admire him, I respect him, and I love him. And... now I've got a carte blanche to post anything I like about his excessive texting and dirty socks and the fact that I absolutely don't get nervous at all when he drives me on the freeway.