Tuesday, December 1, 2015

My November Reading

My singular achievement of this month has been getting through a book that previously was simply not getting read. And I'm so glad I did for the story and the medium through which I received the story. The audio narrator's performance was superb and has converted me over to liking the audio format, which previously I had been uncomfortable with. Now, I feel like I can handle tough texts with my ally, the narrator. They don't seem nearly as intimidating. This bodes well for my reading/listening in 2016.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Categories: literary fiction
Diversity: Pakistani-British characters
Commentary: I was recommended this book by Ronna Sarvas Weltman on Facebook. I read that this was a story set in a quaint English village, and I was sold. It's a contemporary book but reads like a book set at least fifty years ago, and it is delightful. I'm about a fifth of the way in.

The Warden by Anthony Trollope
Categories: literary fiction, victorian
Diversity: By a male author, audiobook
Commentary: I started this book in June, but I made very slow progress and had to return it to the library. My hold came through in October, but it still wasn't getting read. The volume is deceptively slim, but there is something about the thin pages, the small font, the long sentences and paragraphs, and the small white spaces, that I had a hard time sustaining my interest and attention through the chapters. Finally in November, I downloaded the audiobook from the library. And I finished all seven hours of it easily. A hurrah for the book and a hurrah for my second audiobook of the year. And a hurrah for Trollope. Thanks to the magnificence of Simon Vance's performance—and it was a performance of the story, not a mere reading of the text—I enjoyed the story thoroughly. I surely would've been the poorer if I hadn't "read" this book.

Trollope elevates the ordinary into the extraordinary through his minute observations, subtle nuances of story and character personalities, sudden asides of biting humor, and wry observations of the vagaries of human nature. I glossed over the exaggerated sensibilities of some of the characters. I prefer subtle emotions, not overflowing ones over trifles—but those were the only negatives. The plot is relatively sparse and nothing hugely of import seems to be happening on the surface, and yet, it has a deep impact on all the principal parties concerned. I was a bit bemused over the prolonged conclusion of the book where the story threads were tied into such deliberate, neat bows.

Since I was listening, I had no recourse to sticky notes, so I cannot hold forth on various aspects of the story or even the phrases that I marveled at. I was too engrossed to pause the audio to handwrite them down, and I've, well, since forgotten them. (Perhaps you're relieved.)

I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
Categories: memoir, nonfiction
Diversity: Features Muslims of Afghani and Pakistani descent, audiobook
Commentary: I read the original adult book and also listened to the audio of the young readers' version. I blogged about this here for my TBR Challenge post.

Love is a Distant Shore by Claire Harrison
Categories: romance, contemporary (1986)
Commentary: Despite it being written in 1986, there are only a couple of remarks that show a dated sense of male-female relationships—otherwise it reads as modern as any other story written today. I have owned this book for years; it's a Mills & Boon that I got from a library Friends' sale. I have never forgotten the broad strokes of the story and enjoyed re-reading all the details. This is an enemies to friends to lovers story and I loved the slow build-up.

He's an embittered war correspondent with an injury that puts him out of commission from his regular beat. He's proud that he has reported on some of the world's worst hotspots. He has now been assigned to covering marathon swimming and the heroine in particular. He feels contempt for what he deems is a selfish endeavor of swimming 32 miles across Lake Ontario. He's a love'em-leave'em kinda guy. Given his Blond God looks, he pragmatically expects women's attraction to him as a God-given gift. Of the heroine, he thinks: "She lacked some of the physical characteristics that Geoff found particularly enticing in a woman. He went for leggy, curvaceous blondes with a bountiful pair of mammary glands." Heh! That's plain talking.

As the days go by, eventually, he comes to respect the heroine's dedication, the hard work, and the single-minded focus on one task that inspires awe in everyone around. He falls hard for her (ooh, did I love how far he had to fall from his Blond God pedestal and the humility he learned as a result). But her horrible, loveless childhood makes it impossible for her to know what love is, to even understand that she's capable of loving. All these emotions, his thoughtfulness and respect, her care, the affection of those around them, the nurturing...it all adds to a story with a big heart.

Here's an example of the type of writing in this book that I so enjoyed. The urban hero is out at a cottage by a small lake in the middle of the wilderness where the heroine's training. "He, the urban man, had found an unexpected consolation in nature. The croaking of frogs and the buzzing of insetcts, the patter of rain on leaves, and the scratching of a squirrel on the roof forced him to contemplate his own insignificance in the realm of things. The world ran on without him at the helm; it ran on without his participation in its daily events. It was humbling to think of himself in that way, and it was a novelty to see himself as just a small player in the natural cycle. The foundation of his life was shifting, altering, cracking like a house set on moving earth" Given his former overweening ego as a famous war correspondent, this new humility on his part coming from self-contemplation endeared him to me like nothing else.

This sort of self-examination and growth occurs in the heroine as well as she works her way through the emotions of her childhood, her resentment and care for her mother, and her figuring out of what love is and what it means for her to love. And that is the heart and soul of this book, this independent change of self and the mutual change towards one another that's set off by their initial meeting.

Heartless by Mary Balogh
Categories: romance, regency
Commentary: Every once in a while I return to this book even though the suspense is lost to me. This is a Marriage of Convenience plot, which I really like. In a society where divorce is severely frowned upon and marriages are for life, I like seeing how two people negotiate their marriage. As I said to Liz McCausland, I like reading about good marriages and how two people who may be indifferent to each other, or even dislike each other, int he beginning come to terms with their circumstances, find ways to connect, and to build a life together.

The other aspect of this story is the Big Misunderstanding plot because They Don't Talk To Each Other. This trope usually doesn't work for me, because it exasperates me. However, in the hands of a master, anything can be successful, as it is here. There are entirely valid reasons why she doesn't reveal her terrifying past (that now oppresses her present) to her husband. She's protecting her marriage and her husband. And of course, she hopes it'll simply go away. But it doesn't. And I understand her reasons for her secrets. Balogh makes it work right through to the end, as I discussed with Growly Cub.

There was a sea change of growth for the hero. I enjoyed seeing the slow movement towards redemption for him as an individual and for him as a husband. I was a bit disappointed that there is no corresponding growth for the heroine as an individual and some, but not a whole lot of, growth as a wife. However, the way she's delineated at the beginning makes her character arc inevitable.


Liz Mc2 said...

I'm so glad that you enjoyed Vance's narration! He's a favorite of mine. (On the other hand, I never finished Major Pettigrew because the narrator drove me wild). What you describe is my experience of audiobooks--I do get to books that I otherwise would not make time/energy/effort for, but they don't stay with me as long and I know I miss some things. But I also probably "hear" things in the language I wouldn't "see" so it all ends up feeling like a worthwhile tradeoff.

Keira Soleore said...

I'm planning on trying the Audible free trial (from AMZ since you get two free books) next year, so I can try out one by Simon Vance and one of Phyllida Nash reading Heyer.

You're right. Vance definitely added nuances that I was missing even in the little bit I managed to read in the beginning. His performance of the text brought a whole different aspect of the text that my inner voice while reading wouldn't have been able to supply.

To some people, a narration, like a movie, becomes a snapshot of possibilities, whereas reading has limitless possibilities. I don't know where I stand on that.