Me – not my books. Not yet, at any rate.
Bruce and I have recently discovered audio books and we are thrilled.
I can only rave! Prepare yourself. We’ve always loved radio and we’ve often listened to podcasts in the evenings. Mostly news or political commentary. Hearing great books read aloud is a change of genre rather than medium. At the same time, what a change! Bruce and I have often read the same book and then discussed it. We’ve never experienced the same book at the same time. Wow!
We first ventured out on audio with the free one-month subscription to Audible and downloaded Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. The write-up hooked me! Plus the 166 member cast that it took to bring this novel to the audio world. Listen to what Amazon says about Saunders’ work:
Winner, 2018 APA Audie Awards – Audiobook of the Year
Winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize
The long-awaited first novel from the author of Tenth of December: a moving and original father-son story featuring none other than Abraham Lincoln, as well as an unforgettable cast of supporting characters, living and dead, historical and invented.
February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved 11-year-old son, Willie, is gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns, alone, to the crypt several times to hold his boy’s body.
From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state (called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo) a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.
Lincoln in the Bardo is an astonishing feat of imagination and a bold step forward from one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Formally daring, generous in spirit, deeply concerned with matters of the heart, it is a testament to fiction’s ability to speak honestly and powerfully to the things that really matter to us. Saunders has invented a thrilling new form that deploys a kaleidoscopic, theatrical panorama of voices to ask a timeless, profound question: How do we live and love when we know that everything we love must end?
Bruce joined me for the first hour, then said I should go on without him. He found it strange. Good way to describe the experience. But the novel isn’t just strange for the way it draws heavily on historical accounts of Abraham Lincoln at the time of his son’s death, or for its bizarre long-dead characters, or the ghostly and often bawdy graveyard antics that made me laugh and shudder in turn. It’s also a challenging first-ever audio book experience. The medium is a world away from reading.
Let me explain. If I’m confused at the start of a novel, I reread the first few paragraphs. Reading allows such review. With audio, you are right in the thick of it from the first moment and the narration just goes on. You must accept the ambiguity until it all starts to gel. Either that or spend endless amounts of time rewinding.
I persevered with Lincoln in the Bardo, and what a fantastical, amazing journey.
Next came Conclave by Robert Harris. I’m a huge fan of Robert Harris’ work and have read all his novels. I wanted to share Conclave with Bruce, but I only had it as an e-book. Bruce prefers a ‘real’ book experience.
Check out the Amazon write-up to see if you’d be interested:
What happens behind the closed doors of the Roman Catholic Conclave? The mysterious rituals surrounding the congregation of cardinal electors responsible for electing a new pope is brilliantly researched by Robert Harris, bringing an age-old tradition to life. Set against the swirling of religious theory comes an explosive political drama that will have you on the edge of your seat. The Pope is dead. Behind the locked doors of the Sistine Chapel, 118 cardinals from all over the globe will cast their votes in the world’s most secretive election. They are holy men. But they have ambition. And they have rivals. Over the next 72 hours, one of them will become the most powerful spiritual figure on earth.
We listened to this one together and loved the experience. The narration, which should really be called a performance, was superb. How one narrator could bring a unique voice to each character is an amazing feat.
I stayed in Audible for another month so I could download another Robert Harris book. An Officer and a Spy. Historical fiction at its best and I know because I’ve read the e-book.
They lied to protect their country. He told the truth to save it. A gripping historical thriller from the best-selling author of Fatherland.
January 1895: On a freezing morning in the heart of Paris, an army officer, Georges Picquart, witnesses a convicted spy, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, being publicly humiliated in front of 20,000 spectators baying ‘Death to the Jew!’ The officer is rewarded with promotion: Picquart is made the French army’s youngest colonel and put in command of ‘the Statistical Section’ – the shadowy intelligence unit that tracked down Dreyfus.
The spy, meanwhile, is given a punishment of medieval cruelty: Dreyfus is shipped off to a lifetime of solitary confinement on Devil’s Island – unable to speak to anyone, not even his guards, his case seems closed forever. But gradually Picquart comes to believe there is something rotten at the heart of the Statistical Section. When he discovers another German spy operating on French soil, his superiors are oddly reluctant to pursue it. Despite official warnings, Picquart persists, and soon the officer and the spy are in the same predicament….
Narrated by Picquart, An Officer and a Spy is a compelling recreation of a scandal that became the most famous miscarriage of justice in history. Compelling, too, are the echoes for our modern world: an intelligence agency gone rogue, justice corrupted in the name of national security, a newspaper witch hunt of a persecuted minority, and the age-old instinct of those in power to cover-up their crimes.
This one is in our line-up for later.
Reflecting on the cost of an Audible monthly subscription (14.95) and how that would only give us access to one free book per month and a 30% discount on any we would purchase (which, in Canada, are upwards of 28.00 each) we decided the whole endeavour, though enjoyable, was somewhat pricey.
I checked out what our local library had to offer. I downloaded the Libby app (which is amazing) and checked out our first audio book. Andre Alexis’ Fifteen Dogs.
WINNER OF THE 2015 GILLER PRIZE
WINNER OF THE 2015 ROGERS WRITERS’ TRUST FICTION PRIZE
FINALIST FOR THE 2015 TORONTO BOOK AWARDS
“I wonder,” said Hermes, “what it would be like if animals had human intelligence.”
“I’ll wager a year’s servitude,” answered Apollo, “that animals – any animal you like – would be even more unhappy than humans are if they were given human intelligence.”
And so it begins: a bet between the gods Hermes and Apollo leads them to grant human consciousness and language to a group of dogs overnighting at a Toronto veterinary clinic. Suddenly capable of more complex thought, the pack is torn between those who resist the new ways of thinking, preferring the old dog ways, and those who embrace the change. The gods watch from above as the dogs venture into their newly unfamiliar world, as they become divided among themselves, as each struggles with new thoughts and feelings. Wily Benjy moves from home to home, Prince becomes a poet, and Majnoun forges a relationship with a kind couple that stops even the Fates in their tracks.
André Alexis’ contemporary take on the apologue offers an utterly compelling and affecting look at the beauty and perils of human consciousness. By turns meditative and devastating, charming and strange, Fifteen Dogs shows you can teach an old genre new tricks.
This book is narrated by Alexis himself and after listening, I’m not sure anyone else but the author could have pulled it off. We spent a wildly hilarious and moving 6.5 hours over four nights loving this novel. I will never look or speak to a dog the same way again. While we listen, I usually knit on my various sock projects and one night, Bruce put together plumbing parts for a next day job. Listening lends itself to certain pursuits that television viewing doesn’t allow.
I am now listening to an Isabele Allende’s novel – Ripper.
Indiana Jackson is thirty-three years old and works in San Francisco at an alternative medicine clinic that attracts all sorts of characters, some of them skeptics, who fall for her candour and humility. Her teenage daughter, Amanda, likes noir literature and hopes to attend MIT, where she will be with Bradley, an old friend that she plans to marry, with or without his consent. In her free time, she plays Ripper, an online role-playing game that involves solving real-life mysteries and crimes using information collected by Amanda’s father, the Chief Inspector of the San Francisco police. Amanda plays the game via Skype with adolescents from all over the world and with her best friend, her grandfather Blake.
Each player in the game has a virtual personality: Amanda is the game master, and Blake is her henchman; the others are Sherlock Holmes, Colonel Paddington, Esmeralda and the psychic Abatha.
When Ripper’s latest murder mystery-the case of the misplaced bat-begins to touch their real-world lives, Amanda and her friends know they must find the murderer before he can strike again.
Ripper is a true thriller, with twists, surprises, well-placed clues and revelations leading to a climactic finale.
Bruce is passing on this one because he doesn’t like too much bloodshed. I think he would love Allende’s characters, though, and I may convince him to give it a try. He is waiting for the new Barbara Kingsolver novel, Unsheltered, to show up. We have a library order in for it and must wait our turn. Estimated time is 14 weeks!
Rest assured, now that we have discovered this new medium, we’ll be filling our waiting time with more easily available treats.
This is lovely Francis. Keep writing and sharing your world. I was almost set to hire voice talent to do an Audible of The Woods, but then decided I would be disappointed with the sales. So I stopped. I love hearing about your world. Ron
I am smiling! Audible books is something I never seemed to have interest in until recently. I’m starting to find it very pleasurable, however. I get most of mine through Libby, but I may need to expand. I read “Lincoln in the Bardo” and was fascinated. I think if I could hear it with all the voices it would be a completely different experience, however, and I wonder if it would be almost overwhelming to me. Such a fascinating book. I love hearing about what your reading/listening experience. I’m a radio and podcast person, as well, and find that my husband will join me, but then often falls asleep. LOL!
Francis just posted on her blog after 2 years and as I was reading it I scrolled a bit lower to this post and your comment….. I had to laugh out loud, because I too (like your husband) sometimes fall asleep while listening with Fran to a podcast or an “audible”.
We have been trying to understand and learn more about United States in recent years… you, who are our American cousins. Audibles and podcast (novels and books too) are our favorite way. It used to be U.S. travel… but after your 2016 election we boycotted that.
Recent audibles for us the past few months were The Autobiography of Malcolm X…. wow. hard and brutal truths at times, but in the end he really blew us away (in the good sense of that). The realization that all people can change and grow.
Then we listened to Washington Black, a novel about slavery. After that during Christmas it was,The Promised Land… all 27 hours of it, and only part 1! Barack Obama was very detailed and inspired and he definitely gave the inside scoop. Now we have began James Comey’s new book Justice: Truth, Transparency and Trust…. another wowww!
Fran gets a free audible once a month which makes it a reasonable expense for us…. but we were surprised that Comey’s audible was priced so very high. Now listening to it I joked to Fran that is obvious why…. because Comey got paid such a pittance over the years as a public servant. He doesn’t complain about that… but his family always seemed to have find a less expensive apartment or house to live in. And he ate Tuna and ham sandwiches for lunch during his time as assistant Attorney General at the White House. Such frugality says a lot for me.
A joke many Canadians have is this: If asked to define who we are our answer is this: “We are not American.” And yet, in many ways we are so alike. I have always felt that the USA is filled up with some of the best most collectively inspiring people in the world – you among them.
Well, unfortunately also some of the worst as the world has recently witnessed. Having said this I add with all humility, every country (and every person) has a ghost in their closet. We are merely human, after all.
Cheers to you,