Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs – Audiobook Review

Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs, narrated by A.J. Jacobs
Published in audio by Simon Audio, published in print by Simon & Schuster

Synopsis:

After hospitalization for pneumonia in his forties, A.J. Jacobs realized he needed to get his act together in regards to his health, especially with his long-suffering wife Julie telling him that she had no desire to be a widow at forty-five. As he is wont to do, Jacobs decided to approach the idea of improving his health as an overblown project; not only was he going to become a healthier human being, he was going to become the healthiest person he could be, even the healthiest man in the world. With the help of an entire team of experts, and by concentrating on a single body part at a time, Jacobs began his transformative and, at times, all-consuming quest with an enthusiasm only he can muster.

Thoughts on the story:

It should come as no surprise that Jacobs was able to arrange Drop Dead Healthy in a funny and interesting way, that both provided a good deal of information and kept his story moving. After all, he has already done so successfully in both The Year of Living Biblically and The Know-It-All. Jacobs balances funny, serious, and informative very well, and this is something that continues to come out in Drop Dead Healthy.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Jacobs narrates Drop Dead Healthy himself and, while I wouldn’t necessarily advise him to make narration his career, he was the perfect choice here. If the author of a memoir is able to narrate with emotion and enthusiasm – but without getting overly emotionally involved in any painful memories – it often works well, and such was absolutely the case here. At one point, I was impressed with just how much enthusiasm Jacobs was able to insert into the phrase “Chapter 2,” and his verve never waned from there. He is open and candid, with enough ability to poke fun at himself that the listener doesn’t feel voyeuristic, even when he discusses his and his wife’s sex life.

Overall:

I love A.J. Jacobs and, having read his previous books in print, am certain that Drop Dead Healthy would be fabulously enjoyable in that medium, but his narration adds just a little something extra to the story that makes Drop Dead Healthy a must-listen. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
Indiebound: Audio/Print*

I’m launching a brand-new meme every Friday! I encourage you to review any audiobooks you review on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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A Covert Affair by Jennet Conant – Audiobook Review

A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the O.S.S. by Jennet Conant, narrated by Jan Maxwell

If you posted an audiobook review today, Wednesday June 8th, please leave your link in the Mr. Linky before midnight Central time (US) and you will be eligible to win a prize.

Synopsis:

Julia Child is best known as a famous American chef cooking French food. Before she knew how to make the perfect omelet, though, she was a member of the O.S.S., an intelligence agency that was the precursor to the CIA. It was actually in this agency that she met her husband Paul, while both of them were serving in the Far East. It is that period of time, from their work in the O.S.S. through their courtship on which A Covert Affair focuses.

Thoughts on the story:

I must admit that I felt slightly misled by A Covert Affair. It purports to be the story of Paul and Julia during their time in the O.S.S., but having listened to it, that is not at all how I would classify it. In my opinion, A Covert Affair looks at the O.S.S. during the war, and its place in the McCarthyism that subsequently overtook the sanity of America. In order to avoid having a 3,000 page treatise on the agency, Conant uses the Childs as a way to frame the story she wanted to tell. The audiobook opens and closes with the Childs post-war, with Julia working on her cookbook and Paul called back to the United States so his loyalty can be questioned. In the course of the questioning, the name of their O.S.S. acquaintance Jane Foster came up over and over.

It is Jane’s story that seems to be the real heart of the book. Her life with the O.S.S. is much more closely examined, from the time she signed up, through her exploits taming wild animals, to an affair of hers and her post-war marriage. Always somewhat of a leftist, and not particularly discreet, it is no surprise that she came to the attention of HUAC during the years of the Red Scare.

A Covert Affair does then close again with the Childs and their shock at the things Jane Foster is accused of, but it seemed like they were a convenient way for Conant to sell the book, with the recent interest in all things Julia after the popularity of Julie and Julia. I admit to falling into this popularity trap, it is why I wanted to listen to A Covert Affair, and why I listened to My Life in France last year.

All that being said, however, once I got over the fact that I felt a little duped, I realized that Conant did have a very interesting story to tell. In fact, I think it is quite likely that Jane is a more interesting focus during the O.S.S. years than either Paul or Julie would be. In addition, the way the story concludes makes me glad I knew so much about Jane and made it begin to feel that I had been told the story of the Childs experience with the O.S.S., if not exactly their time there.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Jan Maxwell does a very good job with the narration of A Covert Affair. She is one of those no-nonsense narrators who avoid getting overly dramatic, but simply tells the story in front of her with poise – and with enough inflection to keep the story engaging.

Overall

I remain unconvinced that A Covert Affair‘s subtitle Julia Child and Paul Child in the O.S.S. is an accurate depiction of the contents of the book, but there is a very interesting story there that deserves an audience. If you are extremely interested in the history of US intelligence, pick this up in print so you can pore over the details. If you’re more interested in a sketch of the O.S.S. and the place of the Childs and their friends, pick it up in audio to keep the story moving engagingly. As long as you aren’t reading or listening solely for news of Julia and Paul, you won’t be disappointed.

Check out Simon & Schuster’s page to listen to a sample of the audio

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound: Audio/Print*

Source: Simon & Schuster Audio.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell – Audiobook Review

Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell, narrated by Sarah Vowell, John Slattery, Paul Rudd, Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, John Hodgeman, Catherine Keener, Keanu Reeves, Maya Rudolph

Published in audio by Simon Audio, an imprint of Simon & Schuster; published in print by Riverhead, an imprint of Penguin

Synopsis:

1898: The year Manifest Destiny learned to swim. In what Sarah Vowell calls an “orgy of imperialism,” the United States annexed Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Guam in 1898, as well as invading Cuba and the Philippines. In Unfamiliar Fishes, Vowell focuses on the decades immediately prior to Hawaii’s annexation in the lives of Hawaii’s people and the early American settlers on the islands, weaving these threads together with stories of Hawaii since statehood.

Thoughts on the story:

Few people bring history to life the way Sarah Vowell does. Her work is well-researched, but also contains her trademark wry humor. While describing the Battle of Manila Bay, Vowell states that (Admiral) Dewey decimated the Spanish Pacific Squadron. The juxtaposition of a library joke in the middle of the account of a war made me actually laugh out loud. Her asides when speaking about the puritanical culture of Yale during the Second Great Awakening, which led to the first American missionaries to Hawaii, were never inappropriate, but they made it clear that this story is personal to her, which in turn makes it personal to the reader or listener. Interesting, well-researched, and well-written, I’m not sure that history gets better.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Sarah Vowell’s narration will likely not be for everyone. Her voice is a bit flat, and cannot be described with words such as ‘golden tones,’ but in my opinion, she is by far the best person to narrate her own work. Her wry humor and earnestness comes across in her narration in a way that could easily be lost by another narrator or if reading the book in print. One interesting thing that was done here was that all extended quotations or manuscripts inserted into the work were read by separate voices (John Slattery, Paul Rudd, etc. listed above). This was extremely helpful in helping determine where quotations began and ended, although the jump from Vwell’s voice to someone else’s was occasionally a bit of a shock. Still, I think that it was a wise choice, and the editing together of these pieces was well done.

Overall recommendation:

I highly recommend Unfamiliar Fishes. Personally, I think Vowell is able to better express herself when she gives voice to her own words, but the topic and her treatment of it are interesting enough that I think print would be a good bet as well.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
Indiebound: Print*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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