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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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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Pearl of China by Anchee Min – Book Review

Pearl of China by Anchee Min

Life was not easy for Willow, a young Chinese girl in a small village at the end of the 19th century. Her family had little money, and survived mostly on what she and her father could steal, until her father was taken under the wing of Absalom, the white Christian missionary in the area. As Willow’s father was becoming a leader of the Church under Absalom’s guidance, Willow is beginning a friendship with Absalom’s daughter, Pearl. Having lived in China since she was mere months old, Pearl feels more Chinese than American: hiding her blonde hair under black wool caps and singing traditional Chinese songs.

Willow and Pearl grow older, but they do not grow apart, even when Pearl has to return to the U.S. for college and other life events. Pearl begins to find her worth and her life’s work in writing fiction about China, but fiction that rings true to the experiences of the peasants she has lived among for nearly her entire life. Towards the middle of the 20th century, however, there is a crest in animosity towards foreigners, and Pearl is forced to flee to America. After Mao comes to power, Willow’s life is threatened by her lifelong friendship with the writer who is now being labeled a cultural imperialist.

I was initially slightly disappointed with this book, because in some ways it was more about Pearl’s semi-fictional friend Willow than it was about Pearl S. Buck herself. However, as I read it I became enamored of Pearl’s story set against the backdrop of turn-of-the-century China. Although it took some time for me to become fully engrossed in the story, I soon found myself lost in the lives of Willow and Pearl.

What really gave this book a special heart, I think, is Anchee Min’s own back story with Pearl S. Buck. Min was forced to denounce Buck as a youth during the Cultural Revolution. After she came to the United States and became a published author, she was gifted a copy of “The Good Earth” by a reader. Buck’s story touched Min so deeply that the idea for “Pearl of China” was born.

Highly recommended for a look at the history of modern China, as well as of author Pearl S. Buck.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

This review was done with a book received from the publisher via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program.
* 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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