Sunday, January 19, 2014

Final Audiobook Reviews of my Sabbatical

Earlier in the fall, during the boring process of applying underglaze to my pieces, I wrote about the audiobooks that kept me company in the studio for the past six months of my sabbatical. Later, while I was putting the work together and installing my show, I had more interesting things to write about (and more pictures to share), but I still have quite a few audiobooks I never got to review. Since some of the later books were some of the best (and one of the worst), I thought I'd get around to reviewing them today.

"Biomorph" from the stairway at the end of the reception

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
This was a terrible book. Horrible. Basically, Holden Caulfield is a teenage wizard. He goes to a nihilistic school for wizards. The listener's depression sets in. I am supposed to compare this book to Harry Potter, but I don't feel like insulting J. K. Rowling. The audiobook was due before I finished the last CD. I returned it anyway.

Longbourn by Jo Baker
I liked this book but the reviews I've read have been mixed. The story follows the original story of Pride and Prejudice without changes in events. We hear little of the goings on of the Bennett family, instead Baker's focus is on the servants. Unsurprisingly the servants have interesting lives apart from the family and their concerns are not directly the concerns of the family. I appreciated Baker's description of the more mundane aspects of work performed by the servants. Some readers were offended by a past relationship that involved a member of the Bennett family. I thought it seemed possible, even plausible, and didn't contradict anything written by Austen, though I don't suspect Austen intended it to be.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
This book was lots of fun. It is set, at least most of the time, in Seattle. I thought the characters were likable (even if you might not want to actually try to work or live with them) and the way the story was put together from e-mails, notes, articles and other written documents was surprisingly fun to read. Especially if you're a bit familiar with Seattle, you should read this. However, if you've never been to Seattle, I still think you should read this.

Into the Beautiful North by Jose Alberto Urrea
This was the Big Read for Yakima this year. I am glad I read it, though I'm not sure I entirely enjoyed listening to the story. I sometimes have trouble with books that start out realistic then veer into highly improbable situations. That said, I didn't dislike it. I might even recommend it, but warn people to "willfully suspend their disbelief" when the characters seem to have an incredible run of lucky coincidences.

Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen
This was a book. It was a daily deal on Audible. I read it and it didn't make me mad.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
This one was excellent, but I feel like to tell too much would be to take away from future readers' enjoyment. I went into it knowing it was about two British women in WW2, one of them a pilot. I might have known the other was a spy. I expected great sadness and pain, but I didn't expect the excellent storytelling and wonderful characters. My favorite aspect of the book was the puzzle of how everything fit together. Oh, go read it before I spoil it!

Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi
Another great book with interesting characters who develop and react to events like real people (flaws and all), a complex situation with a range of possible interpretations, some science fiction, some political/social commentary (subtle, but still), and excellent storytelling and surprises. Put this on your list. Also, the audiobook is read by Will Wheaton. This was the second book I listened to in 2013 read by him; I'll look for more.

Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore
The requisite art book for November, this book was sorta about painters and color but more about monsters. Ok, monsters might be a little excessive, but weird stuff happens. As a weird supernatural Christopher Moore book, it was decent. The art references were a nice addition. As an art book, it was lame. I guess I like my art books steeped in realistic history and complete accurate--that is to say, non-fiction.

Blackout by Connie Willis
Connie Willis is my new favorite author. I loved this book--not quite as hard as I loved The Doomsday Book, but it was pretty great. Fortunately or unfortunately, the book is only really half the story, so I had to read All Clear, the sequel, immediately. Both start with time traveling historians in 2060 but spend most of their time in London during the blitz. Lots of characters, lots of action, misunderstandings, history... Love it.

All Clear by Connie Willis
My main problem with Connie Willis' Oxford historians books is that there aren't enough of them. Willis has written other stuff, but I want to spend more time with these characters. Immediately.

Unnatural Selection by Mara Hvistendahl
The book is subtitled "choosing boys over girls and the consequences of a world full of men." The focus is not just on China's one child policy, but also on other countries (many of them is Asia, but not all) where sex selective abortion is allowing families with few children to choose boys and abort female fetuses. This trend stems from the traditionally higher value placed on men and boys. Contrary to what one might expect, fewer women in a society can actually put women in danger of sex slavery, violence and abduction. This book was fascinating. I thought I knew what to expect when I began to read but I was surprised over and over again. I highly recommend this book.

Bellwether by Connie Willis
After a brief Connie Willis hiatus, I needed to find more. This story does not involve time travel but it does involve science, sheep, fads and undercover administrative assistants. What's not to love?

Shakespeare's Local by Pete Brown
This sounded cooler than it was. If you're going to be in London, or if you are more familiar with London than I am, it is a neat, narrowly focused history. I would have enjoyed it at half the length, or on vacation in London.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Eugenides is the author of The Virgin Suicides which I watched, but I don't really remember. I wanted the book to be Middlemarch and in some ways the sprawling epic story of three generations of a family had something in common with the George Eliot tome. The focus, as the author reminded us frequently, was on the youngest of the protagonists, a hermaphrodite raises as female Callie, later telling us the story as adult male Cal. The topic was interesting, the history too, but the whole didn't quite come together for me as an enjoyable read. It's one of those books with nothing wrong, exactly, but nothing quite good enough to make me like it. The one exception was descriptions of Detroit, which I enjoyed.

The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins
The book is well written but dated. It was published in 1986 and the author frequently compares his evolutionary data to computer technology that seems laughably limited by today's standards. I still liked the book a lot, but I found myself wanting an updated version--and not just to provide more appropriate analogies. I was especially curious to know what Dawkins would say to more recent articles and studies that seem to support a version of inherited acquired characteristics or Lamarckism. Dawkins completely refutes the concept with examples of how people used to believe that blacksmith's children inherited their fathers' upper body strength. I remember, however, reading about the possibility of inheriting acquired characteristics on a small scale in Discover or Smithsonian. The magazine's study came much later than Dawkin's book and I can only find minimal discussion of the idea in his contemporary writing. I'd love to hear him strongly refute the idea or adjust his explanations to account for the possibility of inheriting acquired characteristics.

view of the Esvelt Gallery from the third floor

You can still see my show, "Biomorph" at Esvelt Gallery on the Columbia Basic College campus in Pasco, WA through February 6, 2014. Gallery hours are M-Th 8am - 8:30pm and Friday 8am - noon. Admission is free. 

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