Love and Hate in the Time of Audiobooks

Back in the fall I got a new car, the result of an accident involving the Jaws of Life, a night in the hospital, and a hematoma that just won’t quit.  On the brighter side, my shiny, purple RAV4 has brought me into the 21st century with Bluetooth capabilities and a nice sound system.  Eventually, I realized that these could be used to listen to audiobooks on my commute thanks to Libby, the amazing library app.

I was pretty stoked until I remembered that I don’t actually like listening to audiobooks because my mind wanders, and I miss things.  But I gave it a shot anyway.  I started with Julie Shumacher’s Dear Committee Members, a novel told through a series of letters.  I thought the format lent itself to audio because it’s told in only one voice.  I was reminded of the other reason I don’t listen to audiobooks when I tried French Exit by Patrick deWitt.  The narrator worked for the voice of our protagonist, an aging New York aristocrat, but when she read as the male characters, it was not a pleasing auditory experience.  Also, I wasn’t into the story, so I abandoned it.

I thought I would give up on the experiment until Aha! Of course!  Non-fiction!  This will solve the problem of multiple voices since it’s merely recounting the true experiences of others.  It won’t, however, solve the problem of my attention span, but we can’t have it all.  So, I settled on Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker.  It was pleasing to the ear but not the best true-crime I’ve read/listened to/absorbed/whatever.  That brings up another issue.  What do you say when you’ve finished an audiobook?  I listened to Insert Book Title?  Does that count as “read” even if you didn’t actually eyeball the book?  Do I need a separate list on Goodreads?

Sigh.  I suppose that’s a personal choice, how you classify your audio/reading experience.  I definitely prefer the reading of a book to the listening of one but when you’re trapped in a car (regardless of how nice) for an hour a day, we beggars can’t be choosers.

Happy reading/listening/whatever, y’all!

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Magnolia Run Available Now

Hello, happy readers!  Just wanted to let everybody know that my book Magnolia Run is now available via Christian Faith Publishing.  Find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes.  You can also follow me on Goodreads.

This has been a singular experience.  It’s been nine months since I was told my book would be published and there are still days when I can’t believe it.  I guess I just don’t know how to handle that dream-come-true moment.  The idea of getting published was always more of a daydream than an actual this-will-happen-someday dream.  If I’m honest, I never thought I could write a book that someone else would actually read.  But I did.  And I’m here.  And it’s available.  Check it out and let me know what you think.  Happy reading, y’all!

Book or Movie?

As I was facing a Saturday night alone with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, I turned to the interwebs for something to entertain me.  It turns out that they recently adapted the Nick Hornby novel Juliet, Naked.  Last April when I went to Taiwan I bought that novel to read on the excruciatingly long flight.  (No, really, it was thirteen hours.)  I was drawn to the off-beat plot of a woman in a dead-end relationship who starts up an accidental correspondence with her boyfriend’s musical idol.  But I found it to be pretty boring.  The writing was bland and it dragged, not really giving me anything to connect to.  I got through maybe a third before moving on to something else.  That’s why you always put multiple books on your Kindle before flying to the other side of the world, am I right?

So, why would I want to watch the movie you ask.  The book is always better than the movie, right?  They even have t-shirts that say “The book was better,” so everyone knows it.  Well, call me crazy but I’m squarely in the camp of Not Necessarily.

Books and movies are different mediums.  Some stories work really well in book form and lose something in translation.  I’m sure you can find many a rant online about why your favorite book didn’t fare well in Hollywood.  And a lot of times that’s true.

I heard great things about that movie The Notebook.  Everybody loved it and it was just the most romantic and beautiful love story.  As any good reader I said, “I’ll read the book first.”  So I did and it was…terrible.  Oh, M. Goodness, so overblown and melodramatic.  I was expecting more from Nicolas Sparks, having seen the film version of Nights in Rodanthe, which was pretty good if you’re into that kind of thing.  So what was I missing?  I came to the realization that some authors and their stories are just better suited to film.  I think Nicolas Sparks is one of them.

So that brings me back to Juliet, Naked.  I watched it and really enjoyed it.  Everything that was flat on the page was bright on screen.  The connections between the characters were genuine and not overdone.  I particularly connected with Annie.  She felt real and believable.  It’s not your typical rom-com and if you find yourself with a Saturday night in, I recommend it.  I also recommend High Fidelity, another Nick Hornby novel that was adapted in 2000.  I’ve never read the book so you’ll have to make your own judgement there.

I have seen some really bad adaptations (I’m looking at you, It) but I’ve also seen some good ones.  I may be standing alone, but I’ll stand up for those films that are truly better than the book.  Always is a strong word, but life has taught me that there are always exceptions that prove the rule.

A Year in Reading

It’s that time of year again.  When we start looking back at the events that shaped the last eleven and half months and if you’re like me, the books that delighted us during that time.  I’ve been pouring over my stats on Goodreads and marveling at how many thrillers and mysteries I read.

When I was in Taiwan earlier this year hanging out with Rhonda, the lady of the missionary household, she asked me what people are reading right now.  I raddled off some names, you know, Ruth Ware, Tana French, the new Paula Hawkins.  It was only after the words were out of my mouth that I realized she meant church people.  What are they reading in Christian self-help, Kim, not the latest in chick thrillers.  Oh.  No wonder she was looking at me funny.

The year saw my introduction to historical fiction thanks to Beatriz Williams and her marvelous novel The Summer Wives.  I have a huge author crush on Ms. Williams and I’m current delving into her Schuyler Sisters series.  I admit it, I’m addicted.  I also enjoyed The English Wife by Lauren Willig and The Alice Network by Kate Quinn.  I had high hopes for The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton but it was disappointing.

This was also a big year for true crime.  I recently read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara.  That’s an incredible story made even more remarkable that the Golden State killer has been caught and Ms. McNamara is not here to see it.  It’s a sad story all around and one I’m going to watch as it develops in the news.  Other well-done true crime was The Dark Heart by Joakim Palmkvist and the Bloodlands series by Harold Schechter.

Memoir was down this year.  I usually have several under my belt by this time but in 2018 only two made the list, Hillbilly Elegy by J.D Vance and Cheryl Strayed’s beautiful story Wild.  I recommend them both.

A highlight in general fiction was Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove.  It’s a delightful story that strikes that difficult balance between poignant and amusing.  I also enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.  She’s at once off-putting and relatable, making for a page-turning romp that’s also like watching a train wreck.

Here’s to the great reads of the past year and all the great ones yet to come.  Merry Christmas, y’all!

Bridge to Nowhere

Have you heard about Markus Zuzak’s new book Bridge of Clay?  You probably have because the whole world loved The Book Thief and have waited forever.  No really, it’s been thirteen years.  That’s the first red flag.

When I heard Mr. Zuzak was publishing a new book I was excited because I loved the writing of The Book Thief.  I thought the plot wasn’t that original or exciting but the style was awesome.  I also loved I Am the Messenger because the story was so off beat and interesting.  If we could have a book that married the amazing prose of The Book Thief with a charming plot like I Am the Messenger, we might have a contender for Favorite Book.

But it was not to be.  I read an interview on Goodreads where Zuzak said he had been trying to write this book since he was really young and he agonized over everything, making sure it was perfect.  Uh-oh.  Red Flag number two.  Something that personal does not usually translate.  Mostly it’ll resonate with, well, you.  Despite this reservation I gave it a shot.

What we have here is a failure to communicate.  I read about half of the book and I have no idea what we’re supposed to be getting from it.  We start out with five boisterous teenage boys taking care of themselves with a bunch of animals running around.  That was actually the part I liked.  They were interesting, I liked the way they interacted, each with his own unique personality.  Enter the deadbeat father who asks them if they’d like to come with him out to the middle of nowhere and build a bridge.  Um, okay.  So one of them decides it’d be a good idea to quit school and go to the middle of nowhere with a man he hardly knows to dig holes in the hot sun so they can put a bridge over a mostly dry river bed.  Um, okaaayyy…

Most of the 250 pages I read didn’t even have anything to do with Clay or his brothers.  It was all about their mother’s childhood behind the Iron Curtain and how she got to Australia and their father’s childhood and how he married one girl and then got divorced.  Why do I care?

I’m sorry, but you introduced a whole group of really interesting characters and then left them for half a book to talk about their parents’ pasts?  What does that have to do with anything?  Not to mention this is supposed to be a first person narrative.  The narrator is the oldest brother who isn’t seeing any of this first hand and yet writes like he has intimate knowledge.

To me, this book was a mess.  I think this is what happens when a story marinates too long in the writer’s head.  He gets too close and loses perspective.  Zuzak wanted to convey some awesome family saga with great points about healing and forgiveness but really it’s just a bunch of sound and fury signifying nothing.

As much as it pains me to say it, I think Mr. Zuzak missed the mark this time.  I would give this one a wide berth.

Book Reviews: Non-Fiction

Ok, another round-up of book reviews.  This time we turn to non-fiction.  I love a good true crime but I also love biography and memoir, so this is a bit of all three.  Enjoy.

Blood Lands Series by Harold Schechter

I thoroughly enjoyed these short works by Harold Schechter.  Each one focused on a lesser-known true crime story in American history and only took around an hour to read.  I especially liked the one about the family of murderers living across the prairie from Laura Ingalls Wilder.  It was aptly titled Little Slaughterhouse on the Prairie.  The other one I liked was The Pied Piper about a young man in the 1950’s who committed Manson-style murders by holding other young people in thrall.  I would suggest this series of short reads for anyone just getting into true crime.  They get in and get out and don’t have time to get dull and repetitive like so many I’ve abandoned over the years.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Before I traveled to Taiwan I felt that I needed to read Cheryl Strayed’s memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone.  It was well-written and quick and deeply poignant.  There’s something about solitude that really centers us.  One thing that stood out to me was the mental toughness it took to do something like that.  It wasn’t just physical.  It took a lot of “mind over matter” to get through it.  That idea of pushing through and overcoming really spoke to me.  I definitely suggest this one even if, like me, you have no intention of hiking anywhere, alone or otherwise.

In Search of Mary Shelley by Fiona Sampson

I realized recently that while Frankenstein is a masterful work and is still relevant today, I knew very little about the woman who wrote it.  So I read In Search of Mary Shelley by Fiona Sampson.  It was a little long but it kept me engaged throughout.  I think it’s amazing that Shelley wrote Frankenstein when she was only nineteen.  People have mocked Shelley for being obsessed with death but death was all around her.  Her mother died at Mary’s birth, her half-sister committed suicide, her husband was killed in a boating accident, and only one of her four children lived to adulthood.  I think Mrs. Shelley can be forgiven for having a preoccupation with death.  Frankenstein is much more than a monster story.  It goes to the heart of what it means to be human and what happens when humans attempt to create life.  In Search of Mary Shelley is a good read and I recommend it for biography lovers.

The Dark Heart by Joakim Palmkvist

This is the best true crime I’ve read in awhile.  Set in Sweden, it follows the missing persons case of Goren Lundblad in 2012.  An interesting twist to the story was the role of Therese Tang, an investigator with non-profit organization Missing Persons Sweden.  Though not law enforcement, Therese blows the case wide open.  But the best thing about this one was the dramatization of scenes without straying into fiction.  I never thought Capote was successful in mashing up true crime and fiction in In Cold Blood.  This seemed to be much more fluid and engaging, without crossing any lines.  I recommend The Dark Heart for true crime buffs and anyone looking for a good whodunit.

That’s all for now.  Happy reading, y’all!

Book Review: Hillbilly Elegy

I just finished J.D. Vance’s memoir Hillbilly Elegy about a kid growing up in Ohio, a grandchild of the hillbillies who made the trek from the hills of Kentucky after WWII in search of opportunity and the American Dream.  It was good to see the white working-class (lovingly called hillbillies) so well represented.  Mr. Vance is my age, early thirties, grew up poor and disadvantaged in the Rust Belt.  A lot of his experiences are extreme, and I grew up in an intact family with all the opportunity to achieve what I wanted, but his family members and some experiences seemed very familiar to me.  I have some nuts hanging from the family tree (thankfully they were not a large part of my formative years), but mostly what I recognized were the kids I went to school with.

The South has its own version of hillbillies called (lovingly or not depending on who you talk to) rednecks.  Rednecks come from the same Scots-Irish tradition as hillbillies and have the same honor code and are just as quick to fight.  It’s a deep and ingrained culture in the South and it makes no difference how much money you make or what subdivision you live in, a redneck will usually stay a redneck.  And be proud of it.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with tradition and sticking by your kin.  What’s wrong is being content with a rotten life because that’s what you’ve always known, and you can’t see a way out.  These are the points Mr. Vance makes in his book.  Government policies, more school funding, more welfare.  These are not the things that help disadvantaged kids in these areas.  It’s people who make the difference.  Mr. Vance had people, family members, teachers, friends, who made him see that there was something more than the misery of his current situation.

People need Jesus.  And not just as a get-into-heaven-free card.  They need the power of the Lord to breakdown those demonic barriers that keep people fighting and fleeing for generations.  It’s Satan’s most successful strategy in the modern Western world: keep families angry and hurt and resentful and vindictive.  Keep widening the criteria for victim-hood.  Keep preaching hate and divisive politics.  Mr. Vance makes the point that the government can’t save these communities with legislation.  The only way a culture will change is when the majority of its adherents finally say enough is enough.  It’s people who are going to make the difference and we as people need to recognize barriers that are keeping us apart and call on the Lord to pull down those strongholds.

Hillbilly Elegy really didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know, because I live in the same kind of culture, but I think it can be a wake-up call to those who don’t.  I recommend it for a quick read that’s also thought-provoking.