This Week, I Read… (#21)

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#46 – The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman

  • Read: 5/14/16 – 5/21/16
  • Provenance: Library (audiobook)
  • Challenge: BookRiot Read Harder 2016
  • Task: Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

If I had to listen to one audiobook for my accumulated challenges, boy howdy, am I glad I picked this one. It’s phenomenal. I would have enjoyed the story if I were reading it, but listening to Gaiman’s excellent narration made it spectacular–the wide range of accents and voices he uses for the characters is impressive and charming.

And I got to knit while I listened, as evidenced by those three dishcloths I finished.

So I’d recommend it, obviously.

But this experience, as wonderful as it was in so many ways, has confirmed for me that I am not an audiobook person. The format doesn’t fit into my lifestyle. I don’t have a commute to listen during. My Kindle is awkward to lug around the house if I want to do chores, and I don’t have another device to use that’s more portable. Hoopla’s player has a 30-second rewind button, which is handy when I missed something, but I didn’t like how it automatically activated when I started a new session, so I ended up listening to the end of several chapters twice. (There may be a way to stop that from happening, but I couldn’t find it.) And because of the time involved in starting a session–waiting for the Kindle to boot up, untangling my always-tangled earbuds, and of course the 30-second rewind–I felt like I had to commit to at least half an hour at a time, a whole chapter if I could (they were usually around 45 minutes at 1x speed).

Whereas with a physical book, it’s much easier for me to pick it up and read for five minutes while I’ve got dishes soaking in the sink, then put it down again. I sneak a lot of reading in those bits and pieces–I don’t always have 45 minutes to spare in one long chunk.

These complaints are incredibly specific to my life and do not reflect back on the work itself–the only flaw I found in the audio was that the music at the beginning of each chapter tended to drown out the narration for a minute before it faded out. But I won’t be listening to any audiobooks again in the foreseeable future.

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#47 – Our Town, by Thornton Wilder

  • Read: 5/20/16 – 5/21/16
  • Provenance: Owned (paperback)
  • Challenge: BookRiot Read Harder 2016
  • Task: Read a play
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

The foreword of this edition begins by supposing the reader has already read Our Town, sometime in distant memory, perhaps for school.

This is true of me, so I immediately felt at ease. In fact, I had not read the entire play, only the third and final act–it was part of a collection of “short stories” my seventh-grade English class read, which was actually a series of excerpts from longer works. I don’t remember all of them, but Our Town was one, Flowers for Algernon another, and my favorite of the bunch was “The Bishop’s Silver,” which came from early in Les Miserables. (Which I went on to read, unabridged, in eighth grade. Took me a month, but I loved it.)

Now that I’ve read the entirety of the play, I’m positively boggled that anyone thought it was a good idea to have 11- and 12-year-olds read just the final act. No wonder it made no goddamn sense.

It makes a lot more sense now, two decades later, when I do catch myself wondering, sometimes, how time slips away from me.

That being said, I don’t know enough about the history of the theater to appreciate most of the extra materials in this book, so I only skimmed them. And while I enjoyed reading it, I think I’d prefer seeing a performance, so if I ever get the opportunity, I will.

48 - The Long Earth

#48 – The Long Earth, by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter

  • Read: 5/21/16 – 5/25/16
  • Provenance: Owned (hardcover)
  • Challenge: BookRiot Read Harder 2016
  • Task: Read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic book
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

It has been a long time since I read a sci-fi novel that felt new to me.

If you pick The Long Earth apart at the seams, there will be flaws, and there will be thematic similarities to older works–there are no new stories, nothing is written in a vacuum, and so on. The “new wave of humanity” aspect is a little X-Men. There’s a “hunting through ruins of unknown civilizations” bit that was a little Stargate SG-1 (and others, of course, but that’s my own personal touchstone for it.)

But at no point while I was reading this did I feel like I was slogging through a rehash of either of those two franchises. Or Star Trek in any of its forms. Or anything.

This felt new. The best sci-fi asks you to suspend your disbelief once, at the beginning, then never has to ask again because everything else should follow from it. The Long Earth felt eminently real–the ramifications of the discovery of “stepping”, of the Long Earth, smacked society in the face good and hard, then settled in for the slow dissolve of families, countries, and geopolitical structure.

It was utterly fascinating.

The narrative structure reinforces this, and I want to mention it specifically because it’s one I truly enjoy. At the beginning, individual chapters are devoted to the introductions of several characters. One of these is of course the main protagonist, and he’s easy to spot, but the others? You don’t immediately know their importance to the story. Are they Aftermath characters, whose brief stories give you interesting tidbits of worldbuilding, but never show up again? Are they going to reappear and do interesting things, cause interesting complications?

(Spoiler: They do.)

I love novels where the side plots are separate from the main arc, only to be neatly woven in when needed. And The Long Earth does it perfectly, not leaving a single character out, tying up all the truly loose ends, except the big fat one that leads to the next book.

The next book that I definitely need to lay hands on, and soon.


What did you read this week? Anything fantastic you want to recommend? I’m always happy to get suggestions to add to my TBR!

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