I’ve certainly been reading, if not blogging. Recently, I’ve increased my page count by using my library’s great little app called Libby to listen to audiobooks while I commute. Here are some thoughts on recent ear reads:
The Plant Messiah by Carlos Magdalena
Magdalena, a native of Andalusia, Spain, is a horticulturist at the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in England. He is absolutely bat-shit crazy in love with plants and believes we all should be, too. His mission is to conserve as many species as possible, and has taken it as a personal challenge to figure out how to propagate those species deemed “impossible.” The book is part autobiography (he had an interesting upbringing and irregular trajectory to his current career), part travelogue, and part botany crash course. It’s a surprisingly uplifting read, despite also describing how dreadfully wrecked by human indifference and ignorance so many of our ecosystems are. 5/5
The Maze at Windemere by Gregory Blake Smith
This reminded me of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, but unfortunately, it’s not as successful. Five stories are layered throughout the book, each at a different point in history, but all set in Newport, R.I. at the site of (or what will be the location of) a grand estate called Windermere. In the present of 2011, a hot tennis pro woos Windermere’s wealthy heiress, who suffers from cerebral palsy and bipolar depression–it’s an unlikely pairing at best–and the only story told in the third person. All the others are narrated in the first person and they include an aging fin-de-sieclè homosexual social climber trying to secure his social position and secret by marrying a wealthy widow; a young Henry James keeping a diary about a lovely young woman he’s fascinated by; a creepy, anti-Semitic British officer in the 1700s who becomes obsessed with seducing a young Jewish woman; and a recently orphaned Puritan teenager who finds the mettle and ingenuity to secure herself a promising future. All the stories are about love, sexual attraction/seduction, and often, deception. I liked listening to this as an audiobook because each story had its own narrator and I’m sure it added drama to how I envisioned each story. I also liked the layering of the stories throughout time and the book itself, but I don’t think the stories resolved well individually or as a complete work–which really let me down. 3/5
This was a gigantic book to listen to on audio–about 23 hours worth. It was also a super entertaining and often piercing satire of American culture and politics. Samuel, a bored young English professor, was abandoned by his mother as a boy and spends most of his days dealing with irritatingly self-entitled students and playing video games instead of writing his overdue book manuscript. When his mom resurfaces in the nightly news as an unlikely political lightning rod after hurling a handful of rocks at a politician, Samuel is strong-armed by his editor into reuniting with her and writing a sensationalist exposé instead of that academic manuscript. It’s a wild, sprawling ride through Samuel’s story, his mom’s back story, video game culture, and lots of political and social history that Hill slashes to tatters with his sharp observations and wit. I was utterly entertained and at the same time, I really wish his editor had reined him in a tad. 4/5
I listened to this a while ago, and my first impressions are quite blurred now. Two couples who are friends divorce, and two of those divorcées marry each other, thus blending the children of both families into one. The story introduces us to the children as adults and how their lives have been affected not only by this family shuffle, but also by the death of one of the children one summer day . I enjoyed the book thoroughly — and it is the only book I’ve read by Patchett except Bel Canto, which I also enjoyed. But recently, one of my students who is a nurse pointed out two crucial errors Patchett makes with the medical events in the book. It’s rather messed up my impression of both stories — and my interest in reading more Patchett. Still, 4/5
If you like food blogs, you probably already know David Lebovitz because he practically invented the food blog. This book recalls his travails buying and renovating his Paris apartment. I’m not quite done listening to it, but I am amazed by how many bad choices and dodgy deals David made and survived for le remodel. Every time his contractor says “Pas de problem, David,” I want to scream, C’est un grande fucking problem, Daveed! Don’t do it! This says a lot about how the book is written — David really winds the reader up over and over. You can hear the Jaws theme booming every couple of paragraphs as some fanged real estate gets ready to double deal him or his contractor sends him on a wild goose chase all over Paris for a nonexistant style of doorknob. It’s written with big-D drama for sure, but it’s strangely less stressful than listening to current politics on NPR while driving in Bay Area traffic, so I am looking forward to finding out how he finally gets the job done.