Friday, November 5, 2010

My favorite audio books of 2010

Since I spent a lot of time in front of the computer digitizing The Picture of Everything this year, I've had the opportunity to listen to a lot of audio books. Here are some reviews:

The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson
Actually 3 different audiobooks that separate "The Eye In The Pyramid", "The Golden Apple" and "Leviathan". It was great hearing these books, since they're my favorites of all time. Books 2 and 3 have a whole cast recording, which I found much better than the first book, where one of the readers with a thick English accent mispronounced quite a few words. Other than that, it was great to revisit this story since I hadn't read it in years. IMHO Hagbard Celine is the greatest anrachistic hero in literature!

"Ulysses" by James Joyce
I had always wanted to read this book, but could never find the patience to attempt to decipher it. Leopold Bloom's stream of consciousness for over a thousand pages can be daunting, and not knowing many of the Irish tunes he sings in his head can be a disadvantage. It was great to hear all those songs they way they should be sang. The audiobook makes you really feel like you're inside various people's thought processes. The last chapter switches from Leopold Bloom's thoughts, which makes up most of the story that occurs over the course of one day in Ireland in the early 20th century, to those of his wife. It's quite fascinating to see how Joyce writes in the mindset of a woman as well as a man. The musical interludes are great as well.

"A Series of Unfortunate Events" by Lemony Snicket
Count Olaf and The Baudelaire orphans are some of the most remarkable characters created in recent memory of children's literature. The 13 books that compose the series read like an epic serial adventure, with imaginative vistas of misery to play out the odyssey in each chapter. From towns of crow devotees to evil carnivals, from icy mountains to dark elevator shafts, Snicket's harrowing tales make dread and dismay not only entertaining, but wonderful literature. Many books are read by the legendary Tim Curry, who is always awesome. SPOILER: My only complaint was that the last book, The End, came to its climax with a whimper and not a bang. Perhaps this was the way it was intended, but a part of me wishes it was a bit more... I don't know... Satisfying. Lots of masonic symbolism here as well, especially in book #12 "The Penultimate Peril".

"Percy Jackson and The Olympians", "The Heroes Of Olympus" and "The Kane Chronicles" by Rick Riordan
Rick Riordan's books were compared to JK Rowlings Harry Potter series by a 13-year-old I know, who said he liked them BETTER. This quickly got me curious. Despite the movie not making much of a splash in Hollywood, these books are FANTASTIC. The 7 part Percy Jackson saga introduces Percy, son of Poseidon, as he makes his way to Camp Halfblood and teams up with his pals Annabeth and Grover the satyr on a series of adventures filled with monster fighting and teenage romance. Sounds a lot cornier than it actually is. The narration makes Percy, despite being a demigod, into a typical teenager who just happens to have fantastic fighting abilities and can breathe underwater. He may very well be the first character in fantasy literature to have a diagnosis of having ADHD. This common-man approach is one of many Harry Potter comparisons one could make, but it's not a bad thing and does make the story a quick read. As the epic tale progresses toward the second clash between the gods of Olympus and the Titans, it's obvious that Riordan knows how to plot a multi-book series. Characters serve their purposes through the course of the books, and nothing is introduced that doesn't have some sort of function or payoff in the story at large. Unlike "Lost", where you know the creators were making it up season by season, Riordan plans in advance where his characters will be going, and gives his readers these clues in entertaining ways, book by book. To me, this is a mark of a fantastic writer, and made me read his OTHER 2 series for young adults. "The Kane Chronicles" does for The Egyptian Mythos what Percy Jackson did for the Greek, introducing Carter and Sadie Kane, who can summon the powers of Horus and Isis, respectively. This book, which only has one volume out so far, is brilliant in the mental interaction the deities have with the 2 heroes, and the delicate balance between them. That and making Bast the cat goddess their ally sold me on this series. Riordan's latest book, "The Heroes of Olympus", which is set in the Percy Jackson world of Camp Halfblood, introduces 3 new characters in a brand new saga that emphasizes the distinctions between the Greek and Roman mythologies and actually makes me anxious to read the next one.

"Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley
I read a lot of Huxley in college, including "The Doors of Perception", "The Perennial Philosophy" and "Heaven and Hell", but never got to his most famous work. BNR is more relevant now than ever. Huxley's vision of the future, where mankind is born in giant test tube farms, genetically creating a more perfect human strain, makes the people born into this modern age think that the idea of having a "parent" is a repulsive one, as does having a monogamous relationship or reading the works of Shakespeare. When a "savage", naturally born to one woman as his "mother", is rescued and brought back into this society, his interactions serve as our own, and end in a pessimistic way. Still, the concepts of the euphoric drug Soma, Huxley's take on the individual vs. society and all his brilliant, descriptive narrative make this a classic.

"The Bedwetter, Stories of Courage, Redemption and Pee" by Sarah Silverman
Sarah is great. I've seen her do comedy live, enjoy her show, and find her hilarious. Her book was pretty good. It's a plus to hear her read it, and her trials with bedwetting are written and narrated like a bout with cancer. Yes that makes it funny. Reading about how hard she and the talented cast of her show worked to keep "The Sarah Silverman Show" going for 2 seasons on Comedy Central made me feel bummed out as I listened to the book, since they had just canceled it 2 weeks before. I miss that show.

"Life" by Keith Richards
Haven't started listening to this one yet, BUT I'll be doing so this month. How can this not be awesome? Johnny Depp narrates it. Nuff said!

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