Listening to Lincoln

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

3 words: melancholy, gentle, eccentric

 

I’m guessing you might’ve heard this by now, but… this is The Big Audiobook of The Year.

And it’s not because there are more than 160 narrators, though that’s certainly a source of much of the buzz.

And it’s not because the cast contains tons of famous actors, though that’s true, too.

And it’s not because all of this fuss is over the author’s debut novel.

All of those things contribute, but for me, there are three other factors that make this thing so amazing.

First, the story makes you feel all the feels. At one point, I had to turn off the audiobook, because otherwise serious sobbing would’ve ensued, and I was pulling into the parking lot at work. That wouldn’t do.

This book is a magical realism-tinged look at the days following Willie Lincoln’s death in 1862. The Civil War is raging away, and then Lincoln lost his beloved son. And the way Saunders writes, you feel it.

But because this book is narrated by lots of dead people in the cemetery, you also feel lots of other things, because they represent a cross-section of humanity. So there are kind souls and there are brutes, and there’s gentleness and there’s crassness.

Second, the author tells the story in an inventive way. Not only is much of the book narrated by the dead, but there are also sections of knit-together excerpts of writings of the time, describing things like Willie’s death, and the Lincolns’ parenting style, and Lincoln’s personality and appearance. And the opinions differed widely, so you see the difficulty of getting at “the truth” of a person or a situation. But throughout, the greatness of Lincoln shines through.

And third, Nick Offerman. The man’s a narrating genius. He and David Sedaris read the two main roles, and I gotta say: Offerman’s subtle, understated way completely slayed me. The nuance in his voice conveys ten times more than dramatic flailings could even hint at. His character is in denial about his own death, and each time any of the ghosts is about to say “casket,” he substitutes “sick box.” It nearly choked me up.

If you’re going to read this book, I sure hope you’ll listen to it. The beauty of the narration — by all those 166 narrators — adds texture and emotion to an already remarkable story.

Give this book a whirl if you like…Lincoln, cemeteries, ghosts, books that include snippets of real historical accounts, sad stories, a bit of earthiness, The Graveyard Book, The Spoon River Anthology

Bite size reviews

I’m cramming for two upcoming book discussions, so this week we’ve got… the Bite Size Reviews.

Here we have three books I’ve read recently, liked just fine, and then completely not written about here.

Ready?

 

Teammate: My Journey in Baseball and a World Series for the Ages by David Ross

3 words: revealing, fast-paced, casual

Delectable quote: “Don’s idea was that this book be about exactly that, passing along all that I’ve learned from others on an important subject: how to make yourself valuable, even if you’re not the most valuable.” (p. xix)

Give this book a whirl if you like… teamwork, self-improvement, being there for others, baseball, sports memoirs, the Chicago Cubs

 

The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay

3 words: lyrical, contemplative, philosophical

Delectable quote: “‘Take my camel, dear,’ said my aunt Dot, climbing down from that animal on her return from high Mass.” (p. 1)

Give this book a whirl if you like… long, witty sentences; exploring religious beliefs, British humor

 

Moonglow by Michael Chabon

3 words: complex, unfolding, unsentimental

Delectable quote: “Keeping secrets was a family business.”

Give this book a whirl if you like… anecdotal storytelling, family secrets revealed, fascinating fictional lives, non-consecutive narratives, the Space Race, spies, gruff older fellows

 

What books have you read (and not had time to write about) lately ?

June is Audiobook Month

It’s Audiobook Month, my friends!

Anyone out there a compulsive audiobook listener who gets twitchy when there are only 2 discs left, and you don’t have the next audiobook queued up yet?

Me, too.

So here’s some help.

This year, I’m focusing on great audiobooks narrated by their author.

Sometimes, when the author reads the audiobook, it ain’t good.

But sometimes, it’s perfection.

Here are some of the happier cases.

If you’re in the mood for…

 

And now I’m wondering… what author-narrated audiobooks would you add to this list?

 

Bookish Tourist: Parnassus Books

3 words: blissful, family, all-encompassing

This is the story of the day we visited Parnassus Books, aka The Day I Just Kept Flapping.

On our recent trip to Nashville, the Dear Man, his Dear Dad, and his Dear Sister met up with his Dear Nephew and Dear Nephew’s Dear Girlfriend (we have a serious entourage) to visit Ann Patchett’s bookstore.

I’ve been ogling the place on Instagram for months now, and visiting the place is (of course) so much better!

I was instantly taken in by the shelf of “Penned & Picked By Patchett.” There were shelf talkers containing blurbs she wrote, recommending books!

(italics, in this post, denote “blogger flapping with joy”)

Completely thrilling.

We all book chatted our way through the bookstore, and the Dear Nephew bought a book I recommended, based on his reading tastes (Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel).

And the Dear Man and his Dear Dad got to hang out with one of the shop dogs.

The bookstore is utterly seductive: wood floors, comfy chairs, friendly dogs, a piano, and tons of carefully selected books on the shelves. Seriously: their backlist picks are inspired.

 

There were so many books I could’ve bought (for a moment, I thought it would be this one…)

This is what a librarian looks like

 

…but I chose This Is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick, because it’s a book I really want to re-read.

While this bookstore is delightful on its own, knowing that Ann Patchett co-owns it and is involved with its design and operation — that adds some serious sparkle. I felt a little bit starstruck when we were there.

And then… I didn’t want to leave.

Purchase in hand… still seduced by the window display

 

But then: smart man (who knows me well) reminded me that a visit to Fox’s Donut Den was up next. Here we are, after the eating of the quite remarkable apple fritter…

 

If you’re ever anywhere even close to Nashville, my fellow readers, all I can say is: Get thee to this bookstore.

It’s pure magic.

George Rogers Clark: this is one sad story

George Rogers Clark: I Glory in War by William R. Nester

3 words: detailed, accessible, revealing

OK, guys. Things are about to get super geeky here.

Today we’re talking George Rogers Clark.

Here’s my reintroduction to the dude… The Dear Man and I were touring Cave Hill Cemetery a couple of years ago, so we could visit the grave of Col. Sanders.

So the guy at the gate gave us a map that showed the locations of all of the famous people’s graves. And George Rogers Clark was on the map. We discussed the fact that we pretty much didn’t know who that was, other than: 1700s? Military leader, maybe?

So: learning.

Here’s the quick synopsis of his life…

First, The Good:

  • Revolutionary War hero, but in the West
  • Led a military unit that captured forts in current-day Illinois and Indiana
  • Founder of Louisville

Next, The Bad (aka The Sad):

  • He had a serious drinking problem
  • He peaked in his 20s
  • He fell into poverty

And finally… The Ugly:

  • Late in life, he betrayed his country by making deals with France and with Spain
  • He was an angry, bitter, resentful man in his later years

 

So there we have quite the story arc. The early rise, and the long downward spiral thereafter.

Which makes this book not the most jolly of stories.

 

Locust Grove

Nevertheless, the reading experience was a really good one, because the writing is fluid, the narrative is dynamic, and the subject matter is pretty darn fascinating. We got ourselves a seriously flawed hero here, guys.

I finished reading the book during our recent canoe trip to the Lexington area, which involved a stop in Louisville. Because we are some serious history geeks (when we’re not being fast food geeks [I was serious when I said we were visiting Col. Sanders’s grave]), we visited Locust Grove, the final home of George Rogers Clark. The house actually belonged to his sister and brother-in-law, but Clark lived there for the last several years of his life, when he was an invalid.

 

The office at Locust Grove

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… the American Revolution, narrative nonfiction about forgotten episodes of major historical events, true stories of the downward spiral, flawed historical figures

 

So, my fellow readers… what semi-obscure historical figure have you found fascinating?

Book club update: spring 2017

Sometimes our book club reads by theme, and sometimes we’re random.

Current phase: random. Here’s what we’ve done in the past quarter…

 

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Discussability Score: 4

Because: Wow! We talked forever about this book, without taking any side roads to other places. We stayed right with the book for nearly an hour, and there was so much to analyze. First, I was the only person who liked the book. The others found it frustrating, trite, and overly wordy. And when he described a scene in great detail, some thought he was telling rather than showing. I proceeded to explain all the reasons why I thought it was otherwise. Great discussion.

 

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Discussability Score: 4

Because: We talked about the characters’ motivations and decisions (believable or not?) and the structure of the book. (I really liked the way the author interspersed the character’s blog posts into the narrative.) And we talked about the way the author and her characters approach issues of race. A lively, vibrant discussion.

 

The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay

Discussability Score: 3

Because: We none of us liked this book. But that didn’t hamper discussion. We talked about how the writing style didn’t work for us, but also about the key question: Is the narrator female or male?

 

Next up: Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

(not the beginning of another dystopian spree, I’ve been promised)

 

For more things book club… head on over to Book Club Central, where I tell the whole story.

Memoir of a super tough swimmer

Find a Way by Diana Nyad

3 words: forthright, vigorous, candid

Wow. I mean: seriously.

When I heard about Diana Nyad’s historic swim from Cuba to Florida, I was impressed. But reading her account of the lifelong journey she took to accomplish this goal… Wow.

I’m not sure what knocked me over more:

  • It took five attempts (over the course of 30+ years) to complete the swim
  • She began training for the Cuba crossing after a 30-year hiatus from swimming
  • Nyad was 64 years old when she successfully finished the swim
  • The effort that went into engineering the swim so it wouldn’t kill her (a series of jellyfish stings nearly ended her life during a 2011 swim)
  • The sheer strength of will she personified

And then there’s her remarkable backstory. After doing several landmark open water swims in her 20s, Nyad left swimming and became a sports reporter.

It was only when she reached age 60 that she realized she needed to do something momentous to get her life out of autopilot. And then she set about doing that thing.

Nyad also addresses the sexual abuse she suffered as a child. And it’s both horrific that she had to experience such abuse, and inspiring to see how she overcame it. It’s an unexpected part of her story that surprised me and nearly broke my heart.

So when she goes on to live a big, bold life that she built with her own strength and with the love and support of her loved ones, it’s powerful stuff.

Nyad reads the audiobook, and I’m also glad she did. She’s a talented broadcaster, and she brings emotion to her reading.

Finally, this book is a remarkable thing because of the team Nyad assembled to help her achieve the Cuba swim. Reading about the way the team worked together–and especially the key role played by her head handler, Bonnie–I’m awed. It’s a beautiful thing, this story. There’s plenty of shadow, yes, but: the light, people! This story is filled with light breaking through the dark.
Give this book a whirl if you like… swimming, extreme sports, strong women, perseverance, stories of abuse survivors, senior power, living a bold life

 

So, folks… Whose stories have you found completely awe-inspiring?

Bookish Tourist: Joseph-Beth Booksellers

During a recent canoe trip in Kentucky, the Dear Man and I did that thing that we do when we travel: we packed in all the goodness we could find.

And one of our travel days, this meant we dashed across Lexington to hit a bookstore in the half hour before it closed.

Not enough time!

But still: so worth it. And now we’ve added Joseph-Beth Booksellers to our Return to Lexington list.

Here’s why:

First: Spaciousness! This place has a high, tent-like ceiling that makes it feel very open. And there’s tons of natural light.

 

Second: Browseability! Many of the shelves are arranged in a pinwheel around the central core, and there are enough face-out displays to keep a person entranced for way longer than a half hour.

 

Third: Selection! I found several books I wanted to read, but in the end, I bought only one… and it was a good one.

 

Fourth: Size! This place is huge. Yet it’s comfortable and welcoming.

The bad news: We had only half an hour there, and it wasn’t enough time.

The good news: We are going back to Lexington.

 

So, my fellow readers… What’s the most surprising bookstore discovery you’ve made on vacation?

Claire of the Sea Light

Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

3 words: somber, lyrical, layered

Is it because I grew up in landlocked Iowa, that I’ve always loved novels of the sea?

An ocean setting is one of the things I most romanticize. Even when there’s really bad crap going down.

So the title of this book drew me in.

And I’ve been hearing great things about Edwidge Danticat’s books for years, so: another bonus.

The short blurb I read about this book emphasized the plotline involving a missing seven-year-old girl and the effect on the community. But really, that’s just a leaping off point to tell the stories of several people who live in her small fishing village in Haiti.

The novel is constructed as though it were several linked short stories that combine to tell the story of this village.

The central character is a widowed fisherman who is on the verge of giving his young daughter to a more well-to-do woman, so his daughter can live a better life. Then the little girl goes missing.

And that storyline would be enough, but Danticat adds several layers to the story by introducing several more characters and diving deep into their backstory. The town and its residents relationships are really at the heart of this story, which was sometimes mystical, sometimes harsh, and sometimes poignant.

Give this book a whirl if you like… interwoven stories, settings involving the sea, Haiti, and small towns where everyone knows your business

So, my fellow readers… wanna suggest some other books about the sea for me to read?

Gilmore Girls withdrawal cure

Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (And Everything In Between) by Lauren Graham

3 words: quick, funny, entertaining

 

 

You know how sometimes, when you really love a TV show, you kinda dread it when one of the actors writes a memoir? Because what if you don’t like them? What if they’re arrogant or  unrelatable or otherwise incompatible with you? Or what if they simply don’t match up with the way you want them to resemble the character you most adore, and that’s just a big old disappointment?

Well, my friends… if you’re a fan of The Gilmore Girls, your mind can rest easy. You can safely enter into this reading experience, knowing that it will all turn out fine in the end.

Because it turns out that Lauren Graham–the actor and real-life human being–is delightfully similar to the fictional character Loralai Gilmore.

I know: weird.

But also: wonderful.

There’s lots of talk about the delight of creating The Gilmore Girls not only once, but twice. But also a candid (and often very funny) description of life as a struggling actor–the strange part-time jobs, the horrible tiny apartments, the hoping against hope.

And more funny stuff about the life of a reasonably successful actor–trying all the diets, being single for a long time (not necessarily totally by choice), and learning that your show’s reboot is happening by reading about it online.

If you’re going to read this book, don’t. Listen to it instead. Lauren Graham reads it herself, so it’s like you’re hearing Loralai telling you the story of Lauren’s life. It’s pretty terrific.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… celebrity memoirs, a chatty tone, and the quick wit of The Gilmore Girls

 

So tell me… what celebrity memoirs have caught your eye lately?