The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Audiobook Review

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, narrated by Robertson Dean
Published in audio by Tantor Audio

Synopsis:

From the Scribner paperback edition:

The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.

Thoughts on the story:

Dude, it is Gatsby, y’all. One of my favorites.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Robertson Dean was the first ever narrator that I just absolutely loved when he provided the voice for Ethan Canin’s America America. Somehow, though, I haven’t listened to a single other audio he has narrated in the intervening 3 years since I developed my audio crush on him. When I saw that he had narrated one of my favorite classics, The Great Gatsby, I jumped to listen. Robertson Dean is just as wonderful as I remember, he has a wonderful and sonorous voice and great delivery. That being said, by the end of the book I found him a slightly ill-fitting choice, primarily because the book is told from Nick’s point-of-view and Dean simply sounds a bit too mature for this young Midwestern man. Despite this slight disconnect, though, this is still a strong production that is well-narrated, although perhaps not perfectly cast.

Overall:

I love The Great Gatsby and I love Robertson Dean, but they didn’t quite mesh as well as I had hoped. Still, this was an enjoyable listen.

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

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 History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage – Audiobook Review

A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage, narrated by Sean Runnette
Published in audio by Tantor Audio; published in print by Walker Books, an imprint of Bloomsbury

Synopsis:

From the publisher:

A History of the World in 6 Glasses tells the story of humanity from the Stone Age to the 21st century through the lens of beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola. Beer was first made in the Fertile Crescent and by 3000 B.C.E. was so important to Mesopotamia and Egypt that it was used to pay wages. In ancient Greece wine became the main export of her vast seaborne trade, helping spread Greek culture abroad. Spirits such as brandy and rum fueled the Age of Exploration, fortifying seamen on long voyages and oiling the pernicious slave trade. Although coffee originated in the Arab world, it stoked revolutionary thought in Europe during the Age of Reason, when coffeehouses became centers of intellectual exchange. And hundreds of years after the Chinese began drinking tea, it became especially popular in Britain, with far-reaching effects on British foreign policy. Finally, though carbonated drinks were invented in 18th-century Europe they became a 20th-century phenomenon, and Coca-Cola in particular is the leading symbol of globalization.

For Tom Standage, each drink is a kind of technology, a catalyst for advancing culture by which he demonstrates the intricate interplay of different civilizations. You may never look at your favorite drink the same way again.

Thoughts on the story:

Tom Standage has a fascinating story to tell of how our history has shaped what we drink, which ends up shaping our history again. Both the book and the argument were well-laid out, progressing logically through each of the six drinks and through human civilization, as one drink gave rise to another. Different technological and cultural advances precipitated the rise of each of the six drinks, and each of them further shaped culture in its own way. It should be noted, though, that this is less a history of the world than a history of Western Civilization, beginning with the early farmers in the fertile crescent and moving ever westward. Of course the east does get a mention, particularly when tea is involved, and coffee came to Europe from the Arab world, but in both cases the use of the beverage in Western Europe is the main focus. This is not necessarily a bad thing if one is prepared for this, but at the same time it would have been nice to have a more worldwide lens based on the title.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Sean Runnette is a great narrator of nonfiction. His delivery is clear and his voice easy to listen to, with just the right amount of interest added in his inflection. There was occasionally an issue with the quality of the recording, some of the edits were noticeable, but overall they didn’t negatively affect the listening experience.

Overall:

A really fascinating way of looking at our shared history. 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.

* 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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The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson – Audiobook Review

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson, narrated by Jon Ronson
Published in audio by Tantor Audio; published in print by Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin

Synopsis:

Known as a journalist who gets things done, Jon Ronson is called quickly when neurologists all over the world all receive the same baffling book. Ronson uncovers the perpetrator with little difficulty, but his involvement in the hoax gives him an insight into another phenomenon: the impact of madness on our every day lives. During the course of his investigation, Ronson meets neurologists who deal with psychopathy and becomes particularly interested in the theory that nearly every aspect of our lives is shaped by the influence of psychopaths, particularly those who seem to be in positions of power in disproportionally large numbers. Armed with Bob Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist, known in many circles as the Psychopath Test, Ronson ventures out among a variety of people, all with apparently psychopathic tendencies to see what he can learn.

Thoughts on the story:

The title of The Psychopath Test is ever so slightly misleading. Ronson is not truly exclusively interested in psychopaths, but in madness and how it shapes the world, and our reactions to it – the case that led him to this topic did not directly involve a psychopath at all, in fact. However he finds over the course of his investigation that psychopathy is the most influential of madnesses, so it fittingly takes a place of prominence in his research and the resulting book.

The study of psychopaths truly is fascinating. At one point, another psychologist complains that Bob Hare – of checklist fame – speaks of psychopaths almost as if they were a separate species, Homo psychopathis, or something. There were many times throughout the book when the same thought occurred to me, not as a criticism, but as something that sent shivers down my spine. Still, though, by the end of his research, Ronson has learned not only a respectful fear of psychopaths, but a healthy dose of skepticism about our method for identifying them. Contrary to the ‘separate species’ remark, psychopathy is not an all or nothing proposition, but instead it is a spectrum. At what point are you a psychopath? For most intents, someone who scores a 30/40 on Hair’s checklist is so classified, but what about someone who scores a 29? Is that so far from a 31?

One thing I do wish had been addressed by Ronson and his research, even if only fleetingly, is the prevalence of male vs. female psychopaths. Unless I am much mistaken, each of the people in whom Ronson and others diagnosed psychopathic tendencies was male. We know that psychopaths comprise approximately 1% of the population, but it would have been interesting to see how that breaks down on gender – and other socioeconomic – lines. Is the faulty amygdala primarily a male defect, or did Ronson merely have a faulty sample?

Thoughts on the audio production:

In The Psychopath Test, Ronson narrates his own work. His voice does take some getting used to, but he is not half-bad, as narrators go. He is perfectly capable of inserting appropriate excitement and emotion into the text. Particularly attractive is his narration of his own anxieties, oftentimes nearly crippling. Because he inserts himself so completely into his narrative, it makes complete sense for him to do the actual narration when the text is translated into an audiobook. The experience is made that much richer by his familiarity with the text and ability to impart the full range of emotions he felt during this period of research.

Overall:

The Psychopath Test is a fascinating work of extremely narrative journalistic nonfiction. Readers and listeners alike will be more than a little horrified by the psychopaths who lurk everywhere around us, mimicking our emotions though they feel none themselves. I would recommend The Psychopath Test in either print or audio, but be prepared to begin measuring everyone you meet against the Hair Checklist.

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: Tantor 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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Apollo’s Angels by Jennifer Homans – Audiobook Review

Apollo’s Angels by Jennifer Homans, narrated by Kirsten Potter
Published in print by Random House, published in audio by Tantor Media

Synopsis:

In Apollo’s Angels, Jennifer Homans tells the story of 400 years of ballet’s history, a history which, until now, has  been unwritten.

Thoughts on the story:

Ballet is ballet is ballet. Or so I thought, before reading Apollo’s Angels. I had no idea that there were national differences even today, or that political movements such as the French and Russian Revolutions were so expressed through the art of ballet. Weighing in at almost 700 pages in print and close to 24 hours in audio, Apollo’s Angels is certainly a commitment, but it is a pleasant one. Homan succeeds in writing a book which is informative about the history of ballet and the way that ballet serves as a mirror of social and political history, while at the same time is not overly technical. There were certainly passages here and there that lost me briefly talking about specific steps, but even though I have not taken ballet since I was five years old, I was never lost for long, and was engaged enough to stick through those technical sections to return to the history.

The one place Homan did lose me was at the very end, in which she makes an argument for the disappearance of ballet in the near future which does not seem to be hinted at or backed up in any way by the 600 odd pages that precede it. Still, though, it was a very short passage in comparison with the rest of the book, and was not enough to permanently leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Kirsten Potter did an absolutely lovely job narrating Apollo’s Angels, the casting was really just perfect for the book. For my full thoughts on the audio, please see my review for Audiofile Magazine.

Overall:

I was more interested in Apollo’s Angels for the social and cultural history than for the ballet itself, but ballet was a fascinating way to impart this history. I think this would work well in print or audio, although I don’t think I’d have done as well with it in print, as I would likely have gotten bogged down in the technicalities of dance. 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: Audiofile Magazine.
* 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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Snakewoman of Little Egypt by Robert Hellenga – Audiobook Review

Snakewoman of Little Egypt by Robert Hellenga, narrated by Coleen Marlo
Published in audio by Tantor Audio, published in print by Bloomsbury USA

Synopsis:

Newly released from prison after being incarcerated for six years for shooting her husband, Sunny just wants to move on with her life, starting by getting a college degree. She has requested that the prison not notify her abusive, snake-handling husband of her release, and headed to the college where her dead uncle once worked as a janitor. He rather conveniently left her $80,000 and apparently nobody at the university has a problem admitting a felon who didn’t complete high school, so she is set to study French and biology. Before long, Sunny finds herself involved with Jackson, her uncle’s friend, and finds Jackson becoming increasingly intrigued by her ex-husband’s church or snake-handlers. Nothing good can come of Sunny’s old and new worlds colliding.

Thoughts on the story:

Where oh where to begin? There are so many serious issues with this story that I’m sure I will not manage to list all of them, so let me start by saying I wonder just exactly how it made it past an editor. I can see how it might have been picked up initially, because the idea of the plot is strong, but there are so many serious errors in execution -especially in the second half – that I’m surprised it is at large in the marketplace.

To begin: the info dumps. It is quite obvious that Hellenga did extensive research for Snakewoman of Little Egypt, but he has the worst case of ‘let me show you what I know’ of any novelist I have ever read. Everything from kettle drums (which are not really drums, you know) to the interaction between squirrels and snakes. If Hellenga looked it up, he was damn well going to let you know about it. 98% of it was completely superfluous and distracted from the limited emotional life of the characters (more on that in a minute). Simply cutting all of these extra digressions, none of which particularly added anything, would have made Snakewoman of Little Egypt 100% better, although perhaps still not good.

Perhaps most importantly, there was no real character development. Nobody grew, nobody changed, and the reader was never given any indication of anyone’s real internal life. What happened between Sunny and Jackson having sex and them becoming a couple? How did Claire feel when she found out that her affair with Jackson was being ended because of his new relationship with Sunny? Instead of treating us to any of these insights, Hellenga spends his time in Sunny’s head as she wonders what sex was like between Jackson and his pygmy girlfriend.

In addition to these issues there were phrases repeated ad nauseum – including, among other things, the phrase “superhuman erection” to describe the feeling of holding a snake – and bulky, unrealistic dialogue added for exposition and the furtherance of plot at the expense of internally consistent story. OH, and the fact that every damn thing comes back to sex for Sunny and, to a lesser extent, the entire cast of characters.

The worst part is that the first half of the book actually showed a fair amount of promise, but everything went downhill after Jackson uttered the phrase “superhuman erection” for the second time about halfway through the book.

Thoughts on the audio production:

This is the part that makes me sad, because Marlo’s narration really is quite good. I wasn’t crazy about the voice she gave to one of the minor characters, but she was excellent at distinguishing between characters and switching between accents. Even her skilled narration, though, can’t save this trainwreck of a book.

Overall:

Marlo’s narration does give the book some grace, but the audio format also accentuates the repeated phrases and inhibits skimming over info dumps, so I would advise just staying away from this book in general.

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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