Friday, December 6, 2013

Dispatch From The Fields: Joe's Recommending Some Audio Books For Your Holiday Travels

If you're like me, you're going to be spending a lot of time in the car between now and New Year's. The best way I've found to pass the time driving across the country is to immerse yourself in an audio book.
Here are two audio book suggestions:
The Dinner by Herman Koch. I've been excited about this book since it became a VIB last year... Two couples meet at ridiculously fancy restaurant to discuss an uncomfortable topic concerning their sons. The premise seemed fascinating to me. The reality of the book was even better than its promise. Laid out over the courses of the meal, the story winds its way through time, as slowly the facts of the horrific act the two boys did and its implications become clearer. Herman Koch proves to be adept at balancing the story as it builds to its conclusion.

I know that reading a book is very different than listening to it on audio, and the make-it-or-break-it part of the audio is the performer. Clive Mantle brings the narrator and his story to life so vividly and with so much personality I was thrilled to be hearing the story. Every time Clive Mantle said the word "Serge", it was filled with so much emotion (hatred, annoyance, admiration). Listening to a book can make the book more immediate, and with the narrator of The Dinner, this was especially enjoyable. Paul Lohman was a most unreliable, but entertaining, narrator. I don't want to give away too much of the storyline, but Paul has secrets from his wife, who unbeknownst to Paul, has secrets from him. As the story continues, and Paul tells us things that have already happened, we begin to change our opinions of Paul... making him more unreliable, and honestly, upping the drama and possibility of violence. Paul skewers fancy restaurants, the pretentiousness of food and wine and the rich. At times this story is laugh-out-loud funny, and at others cringe-worthy. I found myself reacting one way or another throughout the book.

Although this story takes place in Holland, it could just easily take place in Denver, New York, or Chicago. Because of wonderful repetition of phrases (at times a quirk of Paul's, at other times a way of storytelling by Herman Koch) the tale is perfect for listening to, and one I highly recommend.
Stiff by Mary Roach.

I've known about this book for a long time, and have wanted to read it, but never got around to it. Listening to it in the car on a long, dark, winter night was perfect. This book is my introduction to Mary Roach, and I can say I'm hooked! Undeniably fascinating and humorous, I walked away from listening to this book feeling like I had actually learned a few things. I'd always wondered about how long embalming preserves a body. Now I know. I'd always wondered what happens during cremation. Now I know. The life of a cadaver is so multifaceted, and I had no idea how so.

Shelly Frasier's audio rendition of Mary Roach's book imbued the story with humor, bringing Roach's snide asides and surprise at what she learns alive. Stiff is an excellent way to learn a whole lot about a subject you may never have thought you wanted to learn anything about.


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