The Alice Behind Wonderland

The Alice Behind Wonderland
by Simon Winchester
narrated by Simon Winchester
Harper Audio, Inc.

2.7 hours

The photograph that graces the cover of The Alice Behind Wonderland (and which is described in the text) is the catalyst into Simon Winchester’s explication of Dodgson as the photographer, erstwhile academe and poet who would find his greatest success as the writer of the enthralling tale about an English girl who falls down a rabbit hole. Familial, educational and religious influences are noted, as well as his relationship with the Lidells; but oddly, Dodgson’s work as a mathematician, inventor and creator of word games – all of which are evidenced in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, are omitted. Also curious is the overall subject matter of the book for, The Alice Behind Wonderland is a brief biographical sketch of Charles Dodgson (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll,) not of Alice Lidell, the muse of Caroll’s Classic nonsense tale. In addition to speculating on Dodgson’s probable influences on the creation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Winchester also devotes passages in refuting the never-proven idea that Dodgson was a pedophile. Winchester contradicts the argument, as most notably put forth in Karoline Leach’s In the Shadow of the Dreamchild, with a cultural explanation as to the high number of children-as-subject-matter of Dodgson’s photographs, as well as the fact that simply, no evidence exists to support Ms Leach’s claim. Far from being boring enough to dry you off from an unexpected swim in a puddle of your own tears, The Alice Behind Wonderland is an interesting profile of the man behind Lewis Carroll.

The material is narrated by the author himself in a clear, easy-to-understand British accent. The audio brings to mind a favored college lecturer who would entertain as well as enlighten.

Other stuff: I received a dnload copy of The Alice Behind Wonderland upon request from Harper Audio. Every month, their publicist sends out an e-mail highlighting their current offering for reviewers’ consideration.

Unfamiliar Fishes

Unfamiliar Fishes
written and narrated by Sarah Vowell
and featuring the voices of Fred Arminsen, Bill Hader, John Hodgeman, Catherine Keener, Edward Norton, Keanu Reeves, Paul Rudd, Maya Rudolph and, John Slattery
Simon and Schuster Audio
7.4 hours
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Unfamiliar Fishes is the fun, smart and entertaining history of Hawaii, the focus being on the nineteenth century when New England missionaries came to the islands and introduced Christianity, literacy, infectious diseases and, Western ideas like democracy, entrepreneurship and, marginalization. The topics may be heavy; but Sarah Vowell’s wry style of delivery makes this a relatively digestible lesson in history that probably wasn’t covered in your classroom.
Ms Vowell herself is funny and smart; but the novelty of having her narrate her own book wears thin after a little while. Because she includes personal memories or thoughts in the book, she is perhaps the best narrator for her own material; but her shuttered, neurotic clip and even a mispronunciation (“forecastle” should be pronounced “FŌK-sull”) may cause the listener to reflexively tune out as a defensive mechanism. The other voices listed as narrators occasionally pop in with a quote; but nothing substantive or consistent. Sometimes Sarah Vowell reads a quote, sometimes someone else. The celebrity guest roster of contributing narrators is impressive; but really no more than a gimmick and the intrusive edit-ins of their lines is disruptive to the listening experience, as is the music that signals the end of each chapter.
Recommendation: Check out Sarah Vowell on the book trailers, on the late night show circuit and even at any of her appearances on a book tour if you get the chance. She’s funny and delivers her bits flawlessly; but then go buy the print book.
Other Stuff: I bought a digital dnload copy from
This book qualifies for the Where Are You Reading? Challenge hosted by Sheila at her blog, Book Journey. Unfamiliar Fishes is set in Hawaii.

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A Study in Emerald

A Study in Emerald

by Neil Gaiman
narrated by Neil Gaiman
.80 hours
Harper Audio

This is a short mystery story set in London, 1881, told from the point of view of Retired Major S___ M____ – the friend, roommate and recruited sidekick of the unnamed Consulting Detective featured in this little thriller. The premise of the story is that a stabbed corpse has been discovered in Shoreditch and, the homicide is a matter of national security as the deceased was apparently a family member and friend of Queen Victoria. [How this is a matter of national security and not just embarrassment is beyond me, but the listener is expected to just roll with it…] The whole of the mystery is really a pretense by which Neil Gaiman gets to show off his character creations, Gothic atmospherics and, his own unique strangeness. The fact that the listener of this otherwise-whodunnit is never given the advantage of full disclosure of the evidence is nearly obscured by the smoke-and-mirrors of interstitial “ads,” intimations that the Royal family might be something-other-than-human and, the dynamics between the competing intellects of the characters. In and of itself, A Study in Emerald isn’t much in terms of a mystery; but it could more than ably serve as the opening chapter to a full-fledged novel. The tease of an arch-nemesis in the making is very titillating. Neil Gaiman narrates this short and his voice is appropriately clear, resonate, deep and drippy [reminds me of Alan Rickman, the actor.]

Recommendation: I’m not so sure that A Study in Emerald is a piece that would have you craving for more Neil Gaiman; but it is an entertaining diversion for about 45 minutes. And heck, it’s free! Yes, A Study in Emerald is a free dnload from! You can also get the print copy free from Neil Gaiman’s web-site too. Neil Gaiman has a rather controversial idea as to the efficacy of free and pirated material on the internet:

According to my notes for the What’s in a Name? Challenge, A Study in Emerald qualifies as “a boom with a germ/jewlry in the title.”

The Most They Ever Had

The Most They Ever Had

Written and narrated by Rick Bragg
4.20 hours
I do believe that Ms Guilianni, my sixth grade Social Studies teacher, is the one who tried to impress upon the class that history was not a bunch of dates and names and battles to be remembered. History was the story of people and The Most They Ever Had is a great example of what my teacher meant. The Most They Ever Had is the story of a community in Jacksonville, Alabama whose economy, whose lives, were predicated on cotton. The Profile cotton mill offered more than jobs for people, it offered them an opportunity to reach for the American Dream. For eighty years, Jacksonville’s destiny revolved around cotton and the mill. Then the mill closed and the world as they knew it, ended. Far from being an affectedly sentimental memoir about his hometown, Rick Bragg narrates his book with affection and candor (and a nice soft Alabamian drawl.) It’s not a ploy for sympathy so much as a nod of recognition towards the proud people who worked hard and, deserved dignity; but whose culture was destroyed in the name of global economics. While the book chronicles the history of the Alabamians who signed on at the Profile, the specific lot of a Southern community, the story is really about a lot of people, including the New England textile workers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the timber and lumber communities of today that stretch from Tunkhannock, PA to Southern Oregon, the citrus grovers from Florida to California and, even Silicon Valley. Just something to think about the next time you go to Wal-Mart and you buy a tee-shirt for $2.99: How much is it really costing you?
Other Stuff: I borrowed this book (library edition) from Blackstone Audio, Inc. purely on the qualification that it was set in Alabama. I listened to it as a part of the Where Are you Reading? Challenge hosted by Shiela at her blog, Book Journey.

Crush It!

Crush It!: Why Now is the Time to Cash in on Your Passion

Written and narrated by Gary Vaynerchuk
Harper Audio
3.70 RH

Gary Vaynerchuk spoke at APAC/BEA in NYC (in May) and my boss, Josh Stanton, attended the packed/SRO event. I’m not exactly sure what Gary said in his speech, but Josh came back charged with enthusiasm for social media. Upon his return to Ashland, OR, Josh approached me with a vague proposal about me handling social media for the company I work for (Blackstone Audio, Inc.) and encouraged me to read Gary Vaynerchuk’s book, CRUSH IT! I actually dnloaded the book from audible (it’s not an audio that our company carries – and no, the irony does not escape me there) and I have to tell you that I’m pretty sure Josh would not have recommended this book if he had actually read it himself! This is not a handbook for corporate types seeking to get rich quick using Facebook and Twitter. It is, however, a guide encouraging individuals to consider using the many social media platforms at their disposal to recreate their identities in the business world by hewing closer to their own passions.

Crush It! is, in equal parts, autobiographical, informational and motivational. The audiobook chronicles the success of Gary Vaynerchuk’s endeavor to promote wine via social media tools (check out and the correlative success of his family’s discount liquor store. Success stories such as Mr. Vaynerchuk’s are essential to the promotion of the book’s premise to prove that he isn’t blowing smoke up your chimney. He is the living proof that the approach works.

The information that should be gleaned from Crush It! is not about the specific social media platforms that Gary Vaynerchuk used in his success story (“do what speaks to your DNA!” and, moreover the specific platforms that he used may be passé by the time you get around to launching your own social media campaign,) but the overall business strategy of using social media to sculpt your identity in the business world. Gary Vaynerchuk inspires the listener to abandon traditional (and soon to be obsolete) business models and practices, to work on branding yourself, to monetize your passion and to go on to live a happier and enriched life. Listen to the audiobook, but don’t get too caught up in taking notes. There is an Appendix A near the end of the book that you can transcribe if you need to.

Gary Vaynerchuk often goes off-script (“that’s how he rolls”) and the result is a much more personable presentation than what the print edition has to offer. I like that; but that said, Gary Vaynerchuk comes across has not merely impassioned, but a bit hyper. His evangelistic zeal is an acquired taste, though I can definitely see how a live presentation would get an audience all fired up (After listening to the audio, I was ready to roll!)