Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Week 26, and we had a problem...

Lest we forget, the whole point of this blog is to record my efforts to listen to 52 full length Librivox audiobooks in a year. This is week 26, and I am in the middle of my 26th audiobook. All seemed to be going to plan, until, today, my iPod cut out in the middle of Hugh McGuire's heartfelt reading of section 10 of Ulysses, and gave me a sad face. And refused to reboot. I was torn between annoyance, and delight that I would have a perfect excuse to buy a new one.
I tried everything Apple suggested, but noticed that the hard disk was not spinning. Seemed bad. So I googled it. Led me here. Basically told me to whack it.
Worked like a charm.
I wonder if there is a name for the emotion: 'Yay! it works!' blending seamlessly with 'Aw! No new iPod!'

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Starting Ulysses

I wanted to start Ulysses on Bloomsday, to give me an added incentive to read a book I have attempted so many times before. The whole book was only just ready in time, so I downloaded the first chapter from the forum page, to have something to be getting on with.
I had some chores to do on the Sunday, so I got my iPod, and started listening. It was strange, really. The first chapter is recorded in a pub, it seems, with loads of background noise, and with the book being passed between various people, some of whom take the whole thing more seriously than others.
My first reaction was disappointment, and to turn off the recording, and read it properly: I felt the readers were not showing enough respect to such a complex work, and one with which I needed all the help I could get. So I did turn it off, and read it from my old paperback copy.
When I set off to work the next day, however, I still only had the first chapter on my iPod. So I decided to listen to chapter one again. And this time, I realised one of the biggest problems I had with it in the past was that is was SUCH a rite-of-passage type literary monument, that I gave it TOO MUCH respect. I always wanted to understand every word. Reading the book myself, I was transported back to being nineteen and confused, disappointed with myself for being so baffled. Having it read by a bunch of chuckling rugby players (just a guess, there) made me realise: It's Just A Book. Thats All. Just Read It.
Don't expect to get every reference to the Roman Catholic sacrament, or Irish street songs. Get what you can from it, and move on. This is not a test.
So - thanks, rugby guys, who I am sure would find such soul-searching hilarious.

Review: Whose Body? by Dorothy L Sayers

Get it here.
A real surprise. I expected Agatha Christie, and got P G Wodehouse with added death. Very funny in places, and written with the touch of an angel. And all the clues are there, if you want to solve the riddle yourself. But there is a lot going on besides the mystery, including a very post-modern series of references to the short-comings of detective fiction. There is some very out-of-date anti-semitism on show from some of the characters, which I hope dates the book, but other than that it is a fresh, interesting piece, with deeper themes which would reward deeper analysis. Sayers was a Dante scholar of renown, and a theologian also, so I doubt she wrote much without a purpose.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Review: Sarrasine by Honore de Balzac

Get it here.
A can't really give a brief outline of the plot without giving it all away - and a great deal of the effect of the story derives from the surprise ending.
I have read some Balzac, but had forgotten how beautifully he writes - he can take a long time to get to the point, and you just don't care.
This solo is read by ChipDoc, a librivox stalwart, who has read many chapters in other works, and he has a wonderful reading voice. Do yourself a favour: download this book and listen to it. It is shocking, funny, thought provoking and read by a man with a voice that conjours up visions of a book lined study, late at night, after a few glasses of fine brandy. He puts down his cigar and tells you a fantastic story, that you only half believe. But I bet you don't forget it.

Next: Whose Body by Dorothy L Sayers, read by my near namesake Kristin Hughes, and the incomparable Kayray. Yay! I plan to finish this by Bloomsday, so that I start another assault on Mt. Ulysses, this time from the South Face.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Review: Washington Square by Henry James

Get it here
At first I was fairly sure I would not enjoy this book. It starts slowly, but I could not work out why - Mr James writes very well, but I felt it lacked something. At the start of chapter four I realised what it was: dialogue. Because when it starts, things really start moving, and such great dialogue it is.
The plot concerns a young women, who is prevented from marrying her lover, due to the opposition of her father. The fact that her father's misgivings are entirely justified is what gives the book its potency: father and daughter are locked in a delicate battle that neither can win. In fact, the conclusion of the plot reveals how similar they both are at core, despite being told the opposite several times: both have had an awful experience of loss, from which neither can ever recover. The lady's aunt supplies the comic relief, and she is great value.
I have seen this novel compared to Jane Austen elsewhere, and there are similarities - at one stage the book felt like Pride and Prejudice with Jane Bennet as the heroine. However, the book overall lacks one of Austen's great virtues: she cares for all the characters in her books, most probably because she was related to them herself, and could see their strengths and weaknesses co-mingled. Henry James sometimes seems to be looking at his creations like a biologist peering down a microscope.

This audiobook was a solo recording by Dawn Murphy, who brings a warm and friendly voice to the novel, and was an absolute pleasure to listen to.