Armchair Audies: Lit-Fiction and Classics

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The Armchair Audies is an annual, unofficial event in which audiobook fans each pick a category from the APA Audies Finalists announcement, and listen to each of the 4-6 titles nominated. After listening, and reviewing each of the contenders, the listener(s) pick(s) the winner for his/her selected category. This year, I listened to the finalists in the Classics & Literary Fiction category along with The Sleepless Reader. You can click on the titles for each of the audiobooks listed below to check out my full reviews (with the exception of ‘Til the Well Runs Dry.) At the end of the list, is “My Pick” 🙂

The five finalists in the Classics and Literary Fiction category year are:

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The Fishermen (by Chigozie Obioma; narrated by Chukwudi Iwuji; published by Hachette Audio )
+ Excellent Story of pride, loyalty, extreme and graphic violence, superstition, vengeance, and ideas of redemption. Don’t let the premise of “four boys who decide to go fishing one day” lull you into thinking this is some sleepy, exotic tale; or a navel-gazing lit-fic piece.
+ Excellent Narration: The narrator is Nigerian and reads the text with native cadences, bringing the  various characters to life; and reads the textual cues (so when the author writes that a word is stressed a certain way, the narrator actually takes it as direction instead of blowing it off.)
+ Excellent Production Values, meaning no discernible issues that I could detect.

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Kidnapped (by Robert Louis Stevenson; narrated by Kieron Elliott; published by Recorded Books)
+ Classic Tale of swashbuckling heroism, clever ruses, and breath taking scenes of danger!
+ Decent Narration – Native Scotsman reads carefully, preserving the special (nautical), archaic, and idiomatic language of the novel
Perhaps the narration could have been a wee bit faster in delivery. The pace was rather slow, counter to the tempos in the story
+ Excellent Production Values, meaning no discernible issues that I could detect
+ Bonus: The narrator looks like a young Sean Connery. Not really a consideration when evaluating the audiobook; but it certainly doesn’t hurt!

Little Big Man S
Little Big Man (by Thomas Berger, narrated by Scott Sowers, cameo by David Aaron Baker; with an essay by Larry McMurty narrated by Henry Strozier;  published by Recorded Books)
+ Well Researched American Classic serving as a satire of America’s Old West
+ Essay at the end of the story works as a nice summary of the books’s approach
+ Narrators nail their respective characters or roles
Production Values were terrible: On Sowers’ section, there were page turns, mouth noises, booth noises, at least one repeating sentence, a couple sections out of order, and overall it didn’t sound as clean as the parts narrated by David Aaron Baker or Henry Strozier.

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Sweetland (by Michael Crummey; narrated by John Lee; published by HighBridge Audio/Recorded Books
“OK”premise for a story: A man whose ancestors founded a Canadian Island, is one of the holdouts when the government seeks to resettle the inhabitants. But, there is an emotional disconnectedness between the text and the story, and the story and the listener. The author also manages to spoil his own plot, diffusing the tensions within. The overall story seems to borrow a bit from other books I have read too, which makes it feel not altogether original.
John Lee barreled though the text; and kept mispronouncing some place names, most notably, “Newfoundland” (which should have been native to the protagonist.)  Though John Lee is not a Newfie, this could have been avoided with just a little bit of research.
+ Excellent Production Values, meaning no discernible issues that I could detect.

 

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‘Til the Well Runs Dry (by Lauren Francis-Sharma, narrated by Ron Butler and Bahni Turpin; published by Tantor Media)
+ Some great dramatic scenes
No inherent narrative tension: Whatever momentum the dramatic scenes carry is dissipated in the next section.
After a while, the story feels like rummaging through other people’s dirty laundry.
+ Narrators are clear in their delivery
But neither narrators are native to Trinidad. Accents/rhythms sound forced. Despite their efforts in adding a bit of regional color, in a category where you have excellent native narrators (A Nigerian, a Scotsman, and an American each reading material set in their respective countries,) this is  a minus.
Ultimately, I could not finish listening to this audiobook. Just shy of the half-way mark, I started avoiding my iPhone. For two weeks I tried to force myself to finish, but I realized that the audio experience just wasn’t working for me.
* You can read Alex’s review of ‘Til the Well Runs Dry on her blog, The Sleepless Reader.com

☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆MY PICK☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

The Fishermen (by Chigozie Obioma; narrated by Chukwudi Iwuji; published by Hachette Audio)
☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

* You can read Alex’s prediction for the winner on her blog, The Sleepless Reader 🙂

OTHER:
I purchased The Fishermen: A Novel (by Chigozie Obioma; narrated by Chukwudi Iwuji) from audible.com;
I received a CD Library edition of  Kidnapped (by Robert Louis Stevenson; narrated by Kieron Elliott) from Recorded Books in exchange for review;
I dnloaded a CD digital copy of  Little Big Man (by Thomas Berger
narrated by David Aaron Baker and Scott Sowers; with an Essay by Larry McMurty narrated by Henry Strozier) from Downpour.com;
I listened to a digital copy of Sweetland (by Michael Crummey; narrated by John Lee) from Scribd.com;
I listened to a digital copy of ‘Til the Well Runs Dry (by Lauren Francis-Sharma; narrated by Ron Butler and Bahni Turpin) from Scribd.com.

I receive no monies, goods (beyond the audiobooks) or services in exchange for reviewing the products and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

EDIT:
11MAY2016 – Added line about Alex’s review of ‘Til the Well Runs Dry; Added link
11MAY2016 – Added line abour Alex’s prediction; Added link

 

Audiobook Review: Kidnapped

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Kidnapped
By Robert Louis Stevenson
Narrated by Kieron Elliott
Ⓟ 2015, Recorded Books
9 hrs and 7 mins
CLASSIC / ADVENTURE

Set in the eighteenth century, newly orphaned seventeen-year old David Balfour, discovers that he is of the wealthy House of Shaws and heads to Edinburgh to meet his relatives. Once in the city, however, he finds that his only extant relative is a squirrelly uncle who is clearly a threat to David’s own life. After a particularly close brush with death, David is tricked onboard a ship and whisked away on to a life of hardship and adventure including ship battles, ship wreck, mutiny, and running with outlaws. The story is everything you would want and expect for a tale of swashbuckling heroism, clever ruses, and breath taking scenes of danger! The only thing missing is a damsel in distress; but as a “boy’s tale” the lack of a romance isn’t surprising.

Kieron Elliot is a “Scottish actor, host, voice over artist and comedian” who narrats this classic tale, slowly and carefully; and with a full-on Scottish brogue. There is the temptation to speed up the recording; but the special (nautical), archaic, and idiomatic language of the novel demands a more considered approach, especially to American listeners’ ears.  However, as much  of a sucker for a Scottish accent that you may be  [Ahem, me], his deliberate pace and lack of narrative flow  mark him as a novice audiobook narrator. Indeed, it appears that he has only narrated one other audiobook, a romance for Harper Audio under the name Kieran Elliott, To Marry A Scottish Laird (by Lyndsey Sands). Still, I would have liked to have heard more from this narrator. There is the sense that once he “gets” narration as an admixture of voice over and performance, he would be a top tier narrator.



OTHER:
I received a CD Library edition of  Kidnapped (by Robert Louis Stevenson; narrated by Kieron Elliott) from Recorded Books in exchange for review. I receive no monies, goods (beyond the audiobook) or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

Kidnapped (by Robert Louis Stevenson; narrated by Kieron Elliott) is a finalist in the 2016 APA Audie Awards in the Classics & Literary Fiction category.

The Armchair Audies is an annual, unofficial event in which audiobook fans each pick a category from the APA Audies Finalists announcement, and listen to each of the 4-6 titles nominated. After listening, and reviewing each of the contenders, the listener(s) picks the winner for his/her selected category. This year, I’m listening to the finalists in the Classics & Literary Fiction category along with The Sleepless Reader.

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Also, I’m just gonna leave this here:

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The Narrator, Kieron Elliott  – This is what happens what you let them out of the booth!

PHOTO SOURCE OF KIERON ELLIOTT:
(https://commercialhunks.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/kelloggs-scottish-genie/)

EDIT:
03/28/2016: Added  2016 APA Audie Award line;
03/28/2016: Added Armchair Audies logo;
03/28/2016: Added caption to picture of Kieron Elliott
03/28/2016: Added “PHOTO SOURCE” header
03/29/2016: Added Armchair Audies paragraph including links to The Armchair Audies, and to the APA Audies finalists announcement

The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Introduction and Notes by Nancy Stade
General Consulting Editor, George Stade
The Scarlet Letter was first published in 1850.
This trade paperback edition was published in 2005.
Why should we read the Classics? One reason is for the history not only of the time and place; but for the ideas that have found expression through the writer. Roughly 4500 years ago, some scribe marked up The Epic of Gilgamesh into clay tablets. We have an intriguing glimpse into the time and place and some action points to string a story together; but we don’t have a sense of what the characters were really thinking or what sensibility guided their thought processes. What was it like to live in a world where you perceived time as circular and cyclical, not linearly? How did the concepts of civilization, a major shift from the nomadic and animistic lifestyle change their worldview? How did the oral tradition and sense of history transmute their own sense of culture? Unfortunately, it is unlikely that we will ever know because the story contains no explanation. It is no more than a historic artifact celebrated for being the oldest written story. The Classics, however, tell us more. The Classics provide a sense of “interior history,” ideas that had currency when they were written and still inform our culture today.
But why should you read The Scarlet Letter? The events that make up the main body of the work were not contemporary to the writer so how could he posit a credible story that reflects a mindset of a society that he could not have possibly have experienced? But the thing is, he did. No, Hawthorne did not live in the 17th century; but he did live in a small town with a strong cultural legacy to that time and; family ties bound him to the history of which he wrote. He was living with the effects a Puritanical society that embedded itself into the political consciousness of his day and, actually still lives with us even now (Don’t fool yourself that because we don’t put people in stocks or force them to wear a scarlet “A” upon their breasts, that we don’t excoriate adulterers, especially if they happen to be public figures.) Hawthorne builds the first bridge between the events of 1650 and 1850 by creating prologue in which he discovers the documents that purportedly contain the events of the main body of the story. The second bridge is the one created by the reader’s connection to the text. The second bridge is a meta-literary experience that elevates the text from being an artifact to being historically relevant, something from which, like all history, we can extricate meaning to our current lives.
The Scarlet Letter is an exposition of how religious and political thought cohered to create an inheritance of our American culture: a paradox of sex and sexuality, religious freedom that incarcerates and the punishment that frees. Hester Prynne falls in love with a man and gets pregnant by him; but does not enjoy the benefits of marriage which apparently include not being shoved into a jail cell, being publicly called out for her sin, reminding everyone else of her indiscretion by wearing a red “A” upon her chest and, being pretty much excluded from town life. Had she been married to the man, this would not have happened. So, falling in love and having sex with the man is a sin when the sanctity of marriage is not conferred by the town-church; but falling in love and having sex with a man becomes the consecration of life affirming values when you add in the public endorsement of marriage. It’s a fine line between hypocrisy and relative morality. Hester Prynne is punished for her transgression; but her moment in the the town square (wherein she is brought out before all the townspeople) is meant to be an occasion for her not only to renounce her sin; but to give up the name of her lover as well so that he too may be free of guilt. Only through renunciation can the opportunity exist for forgiveness. There is an celebratory atmosphere to the denunciation of Hester Prynne. A zealful, but compassionless event in which Hester Prynne’s pride is sacrificed to the self-righteous crowd. Except that Hester doesn’t renounce her sin, give up her lover’s name and, the public does not forgive or even really seem inclined to do so (after all the punishment begins before the possibility of her renouncement.) Ironically, Hester Prynne’s punishment actually does free her: Her isolation forms her into a woman of independent thought, devoid of the hobbling dictates of the Puritan community.
The Scarlet Letter offers a lot in terms of ideas as to who we were, who we are and through the second bridge, who we can be.
Other Stuff: The Scarlet Letter (by Nathaniel Hawthorne) qualifies for
  • The What’s in a Name? Challenge #5 hosted by @BethFishReads as a “book with something you’d carry in your pocket, purse, or backpack in the title [e.g.] Sarah’s Key, The Scarlet Letter, Devlin Diary”


I purchased The Scarlet Letter (by Nathaniel Hawthorne) from the Barnes & Noble store in Medford, OR. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
— John 8: 32

A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol

by Charles Dickens
narrated by Tim Curry
Ⓟ 2010, audible.com
3.5 hours
Yeah, you think you know the story; but unless you’ve read the actual work or listened to an unabridged recording of the Classic tale, you don’t. That’s right, as much as the premise of this story has permeated our Western culture, you probably only know it as the tale of Mr Scrooge being visited by three ghosts, Past, Present and, Future; and how these visits transform Scrooge from a cold, miserly curmudgeon into a generous and loving soul. There’s a crippled little boy who pulls at our heartstrings by refusing to be bitter and wishing all and everyone good cheer. But this story has been adapted, re-interpreted, and bastardized so often, that the original is sure to surprise anyone who ventures to try it. One element that is often overlooked when repackaging A Christmas Carol as family fare is that there are some truly scary things in it, that the story might more accurately be categorized as a Horror piece. There are careening black horses drawing a hearse, ghosts that outright terrify, visions of sick, starving and dying children, not to mention the cold-heartedness not only of Scrooge; but of Victorian England’s penchant for orphanages and workhouses. While Dickens no doubted wanted to call attention to these social injustices and perhaps motivate others to rectify them, the fact is that the social commentary is often suppressed in modern re-makings of the tale, as if children no longer suffer because of [insert any country’s name here] government’s domestic policy or that social inequity is a quaint artifact of history. What Dickens didn’t know was that, in setting his tale at Christmas, the story would be highjacked into a heartwarming, if slightly cautionary tale that limited the wrongs to belonging to just Scrooge. Whereas in the original work, Mr. Scrooge is emblematic of all that is wrong in society, very often Scrooge is now portrayed as the sole miscreant.
This particular edition of A Christmas Carol tips the listener off that it may not be the story that you might expect by starting off with a music tag that sounds more appropriate to a Halloween tale. From the intro, the audio segues into the rather lackadaisical narration by Tim Curry. If you like celebrity reads, no doubt this audio will provide its own inherent charms; but for others who are less starstruck, it’s bit disappointing.

Ignorance and Want

John Leech

1843

Wood engraving

Full-page illustration for Dickens’sChristmas Carol: Ignorance and Want

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.

Other Stuff: I dnloaded A Christmas Carol (by Charles Dickens; narrated by Tim Curry) from audible.com as part of a free dnload promotion for audible.com members in 2010. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing this product and/or mentioning any of the persons, companies and/or challenges that are, or may be implied in this post.

Frankenstein

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus
by Mary Shelley
narrated by Simon Vance
Ⓟ 2008, Tantor Audio
8.50 hours
CLASSIC/HORROR

 
For those who have not read the novel and only been subjected to film versions, it’s “nothing” like the movies. The doctor, not the monster, is named Frankenstein and, the monster fully develops as a sentient being, not as a green, square-headed zombie with bolts stuck in the side of his head! The story is heavily influenced by Milton’s Paradise Lost and some radical social theory at the time, something along the lines that a man’s nature is most profoundly influenced in reaction to his societal upbringing, an earlier version of “it takes a village.”

Many, many years ago, a friend in college, for whom this was his favorite book, lent me his copy. I read it and was moved to tears by the monster’s plight and could not help but feel that my friend identified with the monster. By extension, I felt that I understood my friend better. I returned the book; but always meant to come back to it. Flash forward many, many years later and I’ve settled down to re-read this Classic. I was absolutely bemused that I did not recognize the story at all! Not only was the story coming across as completely new-to-me, I had no sympathy for the monster whatsoever! I have to admit I didn’t like the novel as much this time around, but that may be my inner existentialist reacting against the moral equivocation about responsibility for one’s own actions. I’ve come back to Frankenstein again in hopes of rediscovering what its was that appealed to me the first time I experienced it.
 
Frankenstein is a book that definitely bears rereading. There are multiple layers and approaches to take to the story: literally, emotionally, philosophically and metaphorically. On the basic linear narrative level, it is the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young ambitious man who leaves home and pursues his studies in Ingolstadt, Germany. His interests lie in the life sciences and his passion leads him to the secret of reanimating dead flesh into a living, sentient being. Mary Shelley, pulls the reader into the sympathies of both Frankenstein and his unnamed creature by creating pathos- and angst-ridden first person narratives into the story for both characters. Philosophically, there’s plenty of material to vet: theism, existentialism, free will, fate vs destiny, Nature vs Nurture… The author makes several allusions to Milton’s Paradise Lost; but comparisons to Dante’s Inferno from The Divine Comedy are equally obvious and relevant. Milton’s and Dante’s works deal with the fall from divine grace and the soul’s state of disgrace and, like Milton’s and Dante’s works, the listener cannot help but wonder if the story of Frankenstein is also a reflection of an interior journey.
 

Simon Vance narrates the Tantor edition of Frankenstein. His consummate skill with character-work comes to the fore and, bears an uncanny resemblance to his voices for The Millennium Trilogy 🙂

 

 
Other Stuff: I do not recall what edition or publisher produced the copy that my friend lent me. I only recall that it was a mass market paperback with a black cover and a small rectangular picture inset on the front. I want to say it was a Signet Classic; but I’m not sure.
I purchased a Barnes & Noble Classics edition copy from the Barnes & Noble store in Medford, OR in 2009.
 
I dnloaded a copy of Frankenstein (narrated by Simon Vance) from the Audiobook Community’s SYNC YA program in 2010.
 

The Nightmare (by Henry Fuseli)

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

by Lewis Carroll
narrated by Michael York
3.10 hours




Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is the Classic nonsense tale of an English girl falling down a rabbit hole, there to encounter the strange world of absurdly anthropomorphized animals and playing cards, enigmatic messages and, well, sizing issues 😀
A Classic is usually a novel that has become so ingrained in the collective memory or culture, that one might not be sure whether one has read it or not. The reputation of the book itself precedes the actual experience of reading it and the characters are often the prototypes of later iterations and any number of adaptations. If you’ve never experienced Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, or read it once before, or even if you’ve read it multiple times, it bears (another) reading. As familiar as many are with the tale, to actually read or hear the original, un-Disneyfied tale is a pleasure as the nuances of the language surface and fade in ephemeral logic and gently wry humor. The subtlety, whimsy and detail of Wonderland, its inhabitants and their language lends itself to repeated discoveries.
Michael York as the narrator of this audiobook edition brings a nice range of character voices to the story, never sounded absurd himself as he renders the tale of Alice with obvious affection and a master storyteller’s grace. His smooth, somewhat effete British voice evokes the romance of an afternoon spent on the Thames and brings the curiouser and curiouser world of Carroll’s creation to life.

Other Stuff: I dnloaded this copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland from The Audiobook Community forum during their SYNC (YA) listening program in the summer of 2010.
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The first question of course, was how to get dry again… “Ahem,” said the mouse with an important air. “Are you all ready? This is the driest thing I know. Silence all around, if you please! ‘William the Conquerer, whose cause was favored by the pope, was soon submitted to by the English, who wanted leaders, and had been of late much accustomed to usurpation and conquest. Edwin and Morcar, the earl of Merica and Nothumbria ——-‘