Monthly Archives: October 2014

Book 30 – The Hobbit (audiobook)

“The Hobbit” by J R R Tolkien (1937)

You may find this quite hard to believe, but this is the first time I have ever ‘listened’ to a book. Several of my friends have recommended audiobooks, and I have contemplated it, but resisted it, for years.

I actually purchased the audiobook of “The Hobbit” more than two years ago. The plan was to listen to it with hubby while we were on a two week road trip to South Australia in July, 2012. We did, in fact, listen to about 6 hours of it, which we both thoroughly enjoyed, especially driving across the Hay Plains, but we never did get back to it, and so it has been waiting patiently ever since.

Then, in August, on a long drive to the snow one Friday night, we started again from the beginning. After that 3 hour listen, again, we never went back to it. So then it was October. After agreeing with Luke that we were clearly not going to actually listen to the book together, I continued from where we got up to in August, and, on a beautiful two-hour walk, and on the many lone drives I have been on this last week, I listened to the whole thing.

This is not my first ‘read’ of “The Hobbit”. The first time I read it, I was 10 and lived in Queensland. I love to tell the story in class that I was a determined little thing at 10. My brother had read the book and so I was going to read it. There was no room for doubt. (We are actually still a little book-competitive, I think). And whenever I came across a word I wasn’t familiar with, I simply skipped it and kept reading. This may explain why my memory of the plot was a little awry.

I can’t decide whether or not you need a summary, dear reader. Is there anyone in the western world who doesn’t have a rough idea what “The Hobbit” is about? Well, just in case… Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit, is convinced by a wizard, Gandalf, to embark on an adventure with a group of dwarves who are on a quest to recover their riches from an evil dragon, Smaug. On their journey they encounter all manner of obstacles and Bilbo is the hero of the moment on more than one occasion.

The truth is, as I have admitted in previous posts, I’m really not a fan of the fantasy genre. We chose “The Hobbit” as our first foray into audiobooks because it was a book we both only had vague recollections about, and, at the time, more than two years ago, the story was on it’s way to the cinema in the form of 3 films, so we were keen to reacquaint ourselves with the plot.

Of course, as I’ve said already, that’s not what actually happened. But having it sitting already on my phone, it seemed logical to finish the listen. To be honest, I frequently found myself having drifted off to thinking about other things while I was listening. Only ever for a moment or two, it was always easy enough to pick back up what was going on, but I did find it quite disconcerting. I’m looking forward to finding out if this was a consequence of the genre, which is ridiculously long-winded, or the mode – listening to, rather than reading the book. Nevertheless, I absolutely loved this book and I’m very glad I listened to it.

I’m definitely sold on the concept of audiobooks, though. Last night, once I had finished listening to “The Hobbit”, I downloaded my next audiobook – another one with connections to my childhood – “Wind in the Willows”. A book that was first read to me as a child, and then read by me to my own children.

I’m very keen to hear what others think about audiobooks and whether people who read my blog are book listeners too. If you are, do you have a genre preference? Any recommendations?

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Book 29 – Don’t Know Jack

“Don’t Know Jack” by Diane Capri (2012)

While I was Kindle shopping for Jack Reacher short stories (see Book 28) I had a little look along the bottom of the screen, where it says, “people who bought this also bought…” and this book was there. So, I did a little reading of the blurb and I checked reviews on Goodreads (which were bad, and which I usually ignore, which has only recently concerned me, given my own penchant for reviewing… but that’s another story) and I bought this book because I was going away and I needed stuff on my Kindle…

The premise of this book is that two FBI agents, Gaspar and Otto, have been tasked with finding Jack Reacher. And they’ve been sent to the town where the action in the very first Reacher novel took place. Seemed like it could be a nice no-brain-required, holiday read.

Pfft. I am so annoyed with this book. To be clear, I did not start reading with any unrealistic expectations. I mean, I don’t read Lee Child’s books for their literary genius, so I certainly wasn’t expecting what I assumed to be a fan fiction type book to be any different. And to start, I was quite drawn in. I liked the flawed characters, I liked the connections to the first novel in the Reacher phenomenon, I liked Capri’s writing style. There was an occasional niggle, when Reacher was really badly misrepresented, but I accepted that it was my own bias at play and that the characters in this book were making assumptions that fit with the textual integrity of the novel…

But then, 80% in to the book (why can’t Kindle just tell me page numbers, sheesh), the whole narrative just got dumb. The characters suddenly took off to Washington DC and all these new characters appeared, and they were all written about as if I was supposed to know exactly who they were, and there were a whole load of references to one of the character’s back story, which didn’t make any sense, and the guy who had been referred to as ‘the Boss’ for the whole book suddenly got a name, mid-paragraph, as if that was no big deal, and I didn’t have a clue what was going on, and I think I was supposed to care, and I really didn’t.

So I deleted the book off my Kindle and I have no idea how it ends and I’m completely fine with that. Apparently there’s a whole series of these books. And apparently Lee Child happily endorses them. For shame.

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Book 28 – Jack Reacher novellas

“Second Son” by Lee Child (2011)

“Deep Down” by Lee Child (2012)

“High Heat” by Lee Child (2013)

“Not a Drill” by Lee Child (2014)

I can only imagine the furore (from my brother, if no one else) if I had tried to call these books 28, 29, 30 and 31. Instead, I’m going to call them one book, a collection of short stories, even though I downloaded (and paid for) each one separately to my Kindle.

So, first up, a quick run down on each story:

Second Son – Reacher is thirteen years old. His family is transferred, again. “Forty different places. Forty different welcomes to forty different neighborhoods. Except that the welcomes had not been different. They had all been the same. Tribalism, testosterone, hierarchies, all kinds of crazy instincts.”

Deep Down – Reacher is called to Washington, D.C. to investigate who is leaking key arms data. The suspects are four women on a fast track up the military chain of command. Real Type-A personalies: smart, busy, focused—not the type to waste time on a hulk, no matter how hunky. How’s Reacher going to charm secrets out of anyone and catch the culprit when there’s no time to waste?

High Heat – July 1977. NYC on a blisteringly hot day. The city is bankrupt, Son of Sam is on the loose and a 17 year-old Reacher meets a woman who needs help. In a hot lawless city, when the power grid fails and the lights go out, what can a teenage Reacher do? Plenty.

Not a Drill – There’s a wilderness trail through one of Maine’s ancient forests, but one day the trail is suddenly closed by county police. No reason is given.  Rumours start—is there something in the woods that no one must see? Then Reacher drifts into town. What does he make of the Do Not Enter tape strung between the trees? 

All four of these short stories delivered classic Reacher. All four were the usual Lee Child fare: violent; extreme; slightly beyond the realms of believability; but un-put-down-able to the max. The only real difference between these four short stories and any other Jack Reacher novel is that they were all a little too packaged, a little too formulaic in delivery, no doubt because of their medium of short stories.

I thought I had broken with tradition by reading the latest Lee Child/Jack Reacher novel BEFORE I went on my annual camping trip to Bathurst. Luckily, this little stash of short stories gave me my Reacher fix while we were away after all.

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Book 27 – Feed

“Feed” by M. T. Anderson (2002)

As part of my exploration of books new to the HSC Prescriptions list for 2015-2020, I have just read “Feed” as it is on the list for Standard, Module C – Texts and Society, Elective 1: Exploring Interactions. The description for this elective says:

In this elective, students explore and analyse a variety of texts that portray the ways in which individuals live, interact and communicate in a range of social contexts. These contexts may include the home, cultural, friendship and sporting groups, the workplace and the digital world.

I seriously can’t decide which came first, the book or the elective description! This book fits so perfectly into this elective that I suspect that at least one member of the committee made up their minds to make it fit.

The premise of “Feed”, a young adult dystopian novel, is that everyone has had the ‘feed’ installed at birth. And the feed is a constant stream of advertisements, live chats with your friends, and games, as well as a source of answers to every question you might ever ask, actually functioning within your brain. This constant information overload and multi-tasking think-fest world is disrupted for the protagonist, Titus, when he and his friends are infected by a hacker while on a holiday on the moon. They need to be disconnected from the feed for a few days while they are cleansed of the virus.

So, what do you think about or talk about when all of the noise stops?

Almost immediately upon starting this book I was drawing parallels between the world around me and the ways in which people were interacting in the novel. This book was written almost 14 years ago. Talk about some on-point predictions! I mean, the society and the world are predictions of a far off future, with upcars that can fly hundreds of miles in a few minutes and suburbs built literally on top of suburbs in bubbles, piled up high into the sky, and dead oceans, and filet mignon farms (I didn’t even get that bit), but the way in which everyone is having at least two, if not six, conversations at once, both online and face to face, simultaneously, and the fact that everyone is almost always thinking about the next thing they might buy is very reflective of the social world I live in.

What I found just as fascinating in the story was that there is, hidden under a simple, mostly frivolous, teenage love story, an occasional half-comment that suggests complete doom. It is just dotted, here and there, little sound bites that barely interrupt the constant barrage of latest fashions, hit TV shows, trendy music and ways to wear your hair. Again… TOTALLY. ON. POINT.

I’m really torn, though, on my reaction to the book as a text set for the HSC. I completely understand why English teachers are going nuts for this book. It is extremely engaging, a quick and easy read, and quirky enough to feel fresh. But I really don’t know how teenagers will react to the book. A quick browse through the reviews on Goodreads suggests that the younger the reader, the lower the opinion. Reviewers with a poor opinion seem to feel that the characters lack depth, and I suppose, upon reflection, that is a fair call. Certainly, this is not a typical love story. Or a typical science fiction novel with a strong underlying message or warning. I have no doubt that there will be a lot of questions that students ask of the plot for which there is no answer. But it will also invite some fantastic classroom discussion, and, as previously mentioned, it could not possibly fit the elective any better, which should, surely, lead to some very successful assessment responses.

I have added this novel to my ‘interested in teaching’ list, but there are some strong texts competing for my attention in Module C. I look forward to reading markers comments and hearing from other teachers after this text has been taught to see how it goes. Like any text, I expect its success will directly correlate with the individual teacher’s passion and enthusiasm for teaching it.

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Book 26 – Personal

“Personal” by Lee Child (2014)

It’s holidays, so it’s trashy novel time. This, the 19th full-length novel starring Jack Reacher, delivers classic thumping, crunching, murderous good guy, Reacher, in a thriller that takes him to London on a man hunt for a sniper who is trying to kill a world leader at the G8 summit. Or is he?

This book was a really good read. I honestly feel that Child went off the boil a bit for a few books, but I really enjoyed this one and didn’t want to put it down until I was finished. Reacher is getting older (like his creator) and it shows in his choices and his thinking. This is the second novel now where Reacher doesn’t get any action from the ladies. It reflects a more mature and thoughtful guy… but there is no such reduction in his preference for violence to solve his problems.

I love Jack Reacher. I can’t explain why. If you love him too, you’ll love this book. If you don’t, sort yourself out. Seriously.

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