Sunday, February 12, 2012

An All-Audiobook Update.

Getting hard to keep up the blog pace with the ferocious reading pace. Thus far I have not missed a day of my 100 page New Year's resolution, which is tricky when I'm also doing a major home repair. Tomorrow I expect to have two contractors, an electrician, the tile guy, and the new window guy all in the house, and to finish William Carlos Williams' Paterson. Phew.

Here are some books I've read that don't qualify for the resolution because they are all audiobooks. The good, the bad, and the ugly! Let's start with The Good:

The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner. How gorgeous is this book? Perhaps it's because the marriage depicted reminded me of my parents, but the writing is what makes this one of the best books ever. The diction, the precision, and the humor are splendid. I shall remember this main character for ever. And voice! Here not only does the writer shine through the words, but the narrator is perfectly matched to the material and wonderful.

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson. I shall be surprised and delighted if I find a better or equal book this year. Or next year. Yes, it has one of those annoying, editors-love-them-we-don't-know-why titles. Get it anyway. Want a master's course in subtext? In tension? In high-stakes brinksmanship? In making you root for a character, even one who has done some reprehensible things? Heck, just buy this book because you are a reader. If Stanford does not make Adam Johnson a full professor with tenure they are out of their tiny little minds. Every MFA program in the country should be charging hard to his doorstep. A new masterpiece.

The Bad...

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. This one got shut off about halfway through, so it doesn't really count as yet. I may restart it out of pure curiosity for the wonderful critical reception it has received. As near as I can tell, 100% of the admiration for this book must be due to the fact that it involves baseball. I don't care anything about baseball, but I am rather fond of a great story, great characters, and great writing, and this book is three strikes and out on those counts. One telling thing about the audiobook is that the narrator has used a rather enervated tone for the main character, which matches him perfectly. A less self-motivated main character has rarely been seen. As I said, I may finish this one, but there'd better be a pony in here somewhere.

The Ugly:

A Personal Matter by Kenzaburo Oe. I shut this book off once, but I was out in the car and had nothing else for the long drive home, so on it went again. This is a book so rife with loathsome characters, so filled with peculiar sexual behavior and relationships between the sexes, that it gave me the creeps. And not in a good way. There's an old story about someone admiring Philip Roth'sPortnoy's Complaint, but observing that they would not wish to shake his hand. Well, this was more unsettling. It is not fiction's place to make the reader comfortable, but this book committed the sin that the character's actions felt arbitrary. ***SPOILERS*** This was sealed in the last fifteen minutes of the book, in which the character completely reversed course, became a responsible citizen, shouldered his burdens (which were magically lifted, basically), and went on with his life. I think the writer got as tired of this character as I did.

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