Book 40 – Tess of the d’Urbervilles

“Tess of the d’Urbervilles” by Thomas Hardy (1892)

audio book narrated by Anna Bentinck

I have really enjoyed listening to books this year, especially since my increased commute in May. However, choosing audio books has been quite challenging. I have 138 books on my waiting to be read shelf and over 100 books on my want to read list, so there’s no shortage of choice, but a lot of books aren’t audio books and I don’t want to buy audio books when I already have them as real books.

So, a couple of weeks ago I asked each of the teachers in my faculty what book they had read that had stayed with them, that had a real impact on them. The list is very interesting. And it starts with this one, Renee’s choice.

“Tess of the d’Urbervilles” is a miserable book. I was sad the entire time I listened to it. It reflects a time when women were damned to lives that limited them in every way. It tells the story of a poor girl in impoverished times. It explores a story of less than perfect morals and the outcome is painfully obvious almost from the outset.

I totally understand why this book has stayed with Renee. The characters are complex and engender sympathy. I’m glad I read this book.

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Book 39 – Go Set A Watchman

“Go Set A Watchman” by Harper Lee (2015)

If you read the press leading up to the release of this novel, you, like me, might have been dubious about reading it at all. I felt sure Lee’s best interests were not protected in the decision to publish and made up my mind not to obtain it…

Then my old school friend, Jon, decided to save me the final decision by very kindly posting me a copy as a gift. Now I don’t feel so guilty about reading it, as I didn’t personally contribute to its profits.

Much has been written and said about this book. It is not, as is often cited, a sequel to “To Kill A Mockingbird”. Rather, it is the first draft of a novel that ended up becoming “To Kill A Mockingbird”.

The plot, or what there is of one, centres around adult Scout’s return to Maycomb for a holiday and her ‘discovery’ that Atticus is not the paragon of virtue with whom we all fell in love in “To Kill A Mockingbird”. Rather, he is a voice of reason and measure in complex, racially divided times. Anyone who tells you that this book reveals Atticus as a racist and a bigot hasn’t really read the book. It is perfectly logical that an adult daughter will see her hero-dad has, to varying degrees, feet of clay. So it goes.

The book is a messy lump of a novel, full of plot holes, voice change and weak textual integrity. So it should be. It was a first draft. A much better novel came from it. An old lady has been taken advantage of, and it is a sad state of affairs indeed.

Please don’t buy this book.

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Book 38 – American Psycho

“American Psycho” by Bret Easton Ellis (1991)

audio book narrated by Mick Landrum

As I have previously mentioned, I purchased several audio books when audible had a sale recently. I knew this book was a modern classic and I snapped it up for a bargain, feeling very virtuous that I was going to be able to tick another book on the next one of those silly “How Many of these 100 Books Have You Read?” quizzes on Facebook.

And then… then… I started listening…

This is definitely the most disturbing thing I have ever read. Largely because of how accurately it portrays the consumer-driven yuppie culture of the ’80s. You know, with some putridly graphic decapitation and violent sex scenes thrown in for shock value.

The novel reveals protagonist Patrick Bateman’s actions, morals (or lack thereof) and predilection for chopping people up and eating bits of them (maybe). He is an extremely wealthy merchant banker on Wall Street and there are hints that he has come from monied stock as well. The novel is a confronting stream-of-consciousness vomit of a book which I could not stop listening to, despite it being vile from beginning to end. I actually found myself several times with my hand over my mouth, chanting in my mind “they’re just made up words, they’re just made up words…”

Mummy. Don’t read this book. Susan. Read this book.

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Book 37 – Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his years of pilgrimage

“Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his years of pilgrimage” by Haruki Murakami (translated to English 2014)

Translated by Philip Gabriel

Audio book narrated by Michael Fenton Stevens

Recently, I read “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” by Murakami and it inspired me to explore his fiction work. By coincidence (or fate, depending on your point of view), “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his years of pilgrimage” was on sale on audible.com.au so I bought it without reading a blurb or knowing anything about it. The title was certainly appealing and immediately made me think of Paulo Coelho, whose books have brought me pleasure over many years. I have since realised that I have Murakami’s book, 1Q84, waiting to be read on my shelf. It has been there for several years. It is a very big book so has been relegated over and over as it is an unappealing size for bedtime reading. It is now a lot more appealing, given how much I enjoyed this book.

“Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his years of pilgrimage”, as the title suggests, is the story of Tsukuru Tazaki. He is 36 and reflecting back on the consequences of being ostracized by his friendship group in his first year of college. The journey he takes to make peace with his past is told in an engaging and meaningful way. The narrative is quite lyrical and presents an opportunity to understand Japanese culture and practices in a way I didn’t expect. The characters are interesting and well-developed and I cared deeply for Tsukuru and his future.

My instinct about Murakami’s writing similarities with Coelho were well founded. This is a book I highly recommend.

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Book 36 – The Great Gatsby

“The Great Gatsby” by F Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

Audio book narrated by Jake Gyllenhaal

A few weeks ago I was motivated to buy some books on sale from audible.com.au. The incentive was a $20 voucher which I managed to forget to use before it expired. Sigh. One of the bargains to be had was The Great Gatsby, one of the very few books I have read many times.

This particular edition was attractive because of the narrator. There are two main reasons for this. First, I have found well-known narrators to be reliably impressive. Second, as I have previously blogged, first-person novels being narrated are extra lovely.

On the off chance that you are not already familiar with The Great Gatsby, it is the story of an enigmatic man, Jay Gatsby, told to us by his neighbour, Nick Carraway. In essence, it is a story of decadence. Of the frivolity of the rich. Of a summer where nothing much happens and everything changes.

I first read this book as a pre-teen, or perhaps only just a teen. It captured my imagination because it was a world so far removed from my reality. The idea of parties on the lawn and an endless summer and love lost… perfect fodder for an overly romantic girl.

Since then I have found comfort in reading it perhaps once every five years or so. I might not have bothered again except that it is now on the HSC Prescriptions list, set for study in Advanced Module A in Comparative Study of Texts, Elective 2: Intertextual Perspectives. It is set as a text to be studied beside a collection of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnets. Sonnet 43 is the most famous of these and there is a very obvious link between the tone of consuming love in the sonnets and Jay Gatsby’s obsessive love for Daisy Buchanan.

I enjoyed listening to Gyllenhaal narrate and it was lovely to listen to a story I knew well. Maybe one day I might even consider teaching what has been described as ‘the great American novel’.

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Book 35 – Love Your Sister

“Love Your Sister” by Connie Johnson and Samuel Johnson (2014)

Audio book narrated by Connie Johnson and Samuel Johnson

I don’t know anyone with breast cancer. I don’t have breast cancer. But I have breasts. And checking them is one of my husband’s favourite things to do.

I often browse audible, looking for something different, because the commute swallows books whole. Audible recently had a sale and Love Your Sister was one of the reduced books. Look, fine, I bought the book because Samuel is cute. Now I’ve said it. I also bought it because Love Your Sister was at Tulip Time in Bowral. And that made it feel like it was meant to be. Read the book because they’re just down the road. Didn’t he ride a unicycle all over the place or something? Probably a good listen.

I actually didn’t realise that Connie and Samuel narrated the book themselves until I started listening. I’ve blogged before about the power of a good narrator, and the extra layer of a first person story as an audio book. It makes it an even more enjoyable experience.

Well, if it is possible to say that listening to ‘a cancer book’ was enjoyable, then this is it. Love Your Sister isn’t a story about cancer, though. It’s a story about a beautifully peculiar, quirky family who have had their fair share of challenges and have always dealt with them exactly the way my family deals with everything… by pouring bucket loads of unconditional love around.

I loved this book about Connie’s journey and the process of making the year-long adventure of Samuel riding a unicycle around Australia a reality. Connie’s dream to raise some money for cancer research has resulted in a movement much bigger than she could have ever imagined. What an achievement!

I laughed. I cheered. I cried. And I checked my boobs. I highly recommend this book… and check your boobs.

To learn more about Love Your Sister, go to http://www.loveyoursister.org or check them out on Facebook and Instagram.

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Book 34 – Make Me

“Make Me” by Lee Child (2015)

Jack Reacher is my favourite thug. This is about the twentieth book or something. It’s holiday reading fun. This one involves less bashing and lots more killing. And some action between the sheets. This book’s topic was pretty gruesome but also very topical. I enjoyed it. And if you love Jack, I expect you will too.

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