Monthly Archives: November 2014

Book 37 – Peter Pan (audio book)

“Peter Pan” by J M Barrie (1911)

People I have mentioned this to have been uniformly surprised to hear that I had never read “Peter Pan”. It seemed an obscure book to me so I did not expect so many people I know to have read it. But I suspect it might be one of those classics that people feel sure they have read, even if they haven’t really. They’ve seen the Disney film, and Little Golden Books, and merchandise of a huge variety, and they feel sure they must have read the book itself at some point in their childhood. But a little prompting or cross-questioning mostly resulted in these astonished people not really being familiar with the actual story in the actual book at all… I found this very interesting.

I put “Peter Pan” on my ‘to read’ list a couple of years ago, when Bob Carr (former NSW Premier) appeared on the ABC’s The Book Club. He had asked the panel to read it and their discussion was very interesting. He said, himself, that reading the book again as an adult had been quite a surprise to him, it was so different in reality to the way he had remembered it from his boyhood.

Peter Pan is a boy who will never grow old, or up, depending on your perspective. He visits children in their sleep, and when he comes upon Wendy Darling and she is awake and helps him re-attach his shadow, he decides to take her (and her two brothers, Michael and John) back with him to Neverland to be ‘mother’ to the Lost Boys. In Neverland they all have loads of jolly adventures, including defeating Captain Hook and the pirates, but in the end, Wendy and the boys want to go home, forsaking Peter for the inevitable ‘growing up’.

I did enjoy listening to this book, but I had a sad sense of melancholy throughout as it seemed obvious to me that Peter and the Lost Boys must have all really been dead children. The behaviour of the Darling parents, when we eventually revisited them, seemed to support this idea that really this was some sort of comforter for the parents of dead children.

I don’t know that this is right at all. It doesn’t fit with the (mostly) quite happy ending. But it affected my reading quite significantly. The narration, too, had an affect on me. The narrator (who used ‘we’ to suggest a group of story tellers – or to deflect personal responsibility) seemed quite put out, at times, to be burdened with the bother of telling the story. And he/she was so consistently rude, about everybody! Apparently, as a reader (listener) I wasn’t supposed to really care for any of the characters, definitely least of all, Peter.

A peculiar read to say the least, but one I’m glad to have ticked off my list.

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Book 36 – Winnie-the-Pooh (audio book)

“Winnie-the-Pooh” by A. A. Milne (1926)

When I blogged a couple of weeks ago about the great fun of listening to a childhood favourite, “Wind in the Willows”, I asked for recommendations. My dear Mummy suggested another childhood favourite, “Winnie-the-Pooh” and so here I am, having spent the last 2 days listening to it being read to me on my daily drive. Just like “Wind in the Willows” this is a book that my uncle Dion read to us as children… and into adulthood… and that I read to my own children, courtesy of a copy given to us by Dion and Micki (yes, they do give the very best gifts). Once again, the audio book narrator did a satisfactory, but inferior, job of reading when compared to Dion.

This book has an episodic narrative structure, which means that there isn’t one plot that goes on, chronologically, throughout the whole book. Rather, each chapter is like a short story that can be read separately from any of the others. But it is more fun to read them one after the other, and imagine it as the highlights of the perfect childhood full of adventures. Pooh, a small brown bear of very little brain, is undoubtedly the star of the book, but it is really a story about Christopher Robin, a small boy, and his favourite toys.

The thing that really stood out for me was how many expressions that are a part of my family’s every day conversation have come from this book. Every family has their own little language, with mispronounced words and phrases that wouldn’t really make sense to anyone outside the family. I just don’t think I’d really realised that about 85% of ours come straight from “Winnie-the-Pooh”!!!

Do I think you should read this book? No, I think you should explain how on Earth you haven’t already… long since. And then I think you should read this book.

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Book 35 – Frankenstein (audio book)

“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley (1818)

I have read this book before. Someone who has not remained in my memory made me read it when I was at university. I had to refresh my memory again a couple of years ago when I marked Advanced Module A for the HSC. I thought it was pretty dull both of those times and I haven’t much changed my opinion. Horror really isn’t my cup of tea.

Why, in that case, you might wonder, did I decide to ‘read’ it as an audio book now? The answer is because next week I will be at Bowral Cinema, with my lovely Aunt and Uncle, watching the National Theatre Live screening of “Frankenstein” starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller as Victor and the monster, which I am really looking forward to, and I wanted the plot to be a little fresher in my memory.

“Frankenstein” is about an eccentric scientist called Victor Frankenstein who creates a grotesque creature in a scientific experiment. Horrified by his own creation, Victor sort of… runs away… and tries to forget what he’s done. But then some terrible things happen and he realises his monster is to blame. So he sort of… tries to find him and destroy him… except he keeps having conniptions and needing to spend a couple of months in bed…

“Frankenstein” has a unique place in literary history. A product of a friendly competition amongst Shelley and her companions to see who could write the best horror story, the novel has gothic and romantic elements, but has recently been moved to the HSC Extension 1 course in an acknowledgement of its importance as, probably, the first real science fiction novel, given that Victor makes a conscious choice to move beyond the realm of accepted scientific experiment in an attempt at ‘progress’.

There’s no doubt in my mind that next week’s theatre/cinema experience will be brilliant. But the book was as dull the third time as it was the first and second. And it wasn’t helped, as I hoped it might be, by being read to me by a quite proper English gentleman. No. Really not helped at all. As the Quarterly Review apparently stated when the book was first published, it is “a tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity”. But I suppose that’s the sort of comment a  horror story writer would take as a compliment!

Benedict and Johnny Lee… you have a lot of work to do to endear me to this narrative. Thank goodness you’re both pretty.

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Book 34 – Anne of Green Gables (audio book)

” Anne of Green Gables” by Lucy Maud Montgomery (1908)

What an absolute delight! I am imagining that most of my regular blog readers have long-since discovered the delight that is Anne of Green Gables. Talk about slow to the party! This was such a joy to listen to, driving to and from work for the last couple of weeks.

Just in case you don’t already know, Anne of Green Gables is a story about an orphan girl called Anne who is brought home to Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert by mistake – they had asked for a boy orphan, but very quickly became attached to Anne and decided to keep her. They live on Prince Edward Island in Canada and now I want to go there.

Everything about this book is joyous. Anne is a day-dreamy, absent-minded, accident-prone child who is so lovable and appealing that I found myself thinking about her at random moments in my day. There is no doubt in my mind that all the rest of the books in the series (6 in total focused on Anne, plus 3 about her children and 2 chronicles in which she makes an appearance) will be just as delightful to listen to and I intend to seek them out over time.

If you haven’t already read this beautiful book, you should.

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Book 33 – The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running…

“The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running: Everything You Need To Know About Equipment, Finding Trails, Nutrition, Hill Strategy, Racing, Avoiding Injury, Training, Weather, Safety and More” by Adam W Chase, Nancy Hobbs and Brian Metzler (2001)

Yes, that’s really the title. The only bit that was in the ‘and more’ of the title was how to organise and run a trail run. Everything you need to know about this book is in the title. Really.

An interesting read if you’re interested in trail running (which I am) but otherwise, can’t imagine you would read it…

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Book 32 – Dark Sun and other stories

“Dark Sun and other stories” by Robert Muchamore (2013)

Robert Muchamore is nothing if not prolific. He has published 12 books in the Cherub series, 4 books in the Cherub 2 series and 7 books in the Henderson Boys series as well as recently publishing the first book in a new series called Rock Wars (Book 24, 2014). “Dark Sun” is an extra story that was written and published in limited release in 2008, especially for World Book Day. It was then out of print for 5 years and re-released last year with 3 extra stories in it, plus a whole load of character profiles. But I only found that out a week ago…

I absolutely love the idea that mini-books get published for World Book Day. I’ve seen it happen with other authors and there is often 24-hour free access to digital books on the day too. But, honestly, it is so totally not a thing in Australia at all. I have made up my mind, as a result of reading this book and investigating World Book Day more thoroughly, to make sure I’m on top of when World Book Day is next year so I can make a fuss and get free books and stuff.

Of course I enjoyed this book. It contains 4 short stories about characters I love. Each one a spy mission, each one with enough action to keep you turning the pages and staying awake a bit late to read ‘one more chapter’. However, just as pleasant as reading this book is the reason I even knew it existed. Last week, one of my Cherub-loving year 7 boys brought the book to school. He wanted to know if I had read it and when I said I hadn’t, he offered to re-borrow it from the library the following day so that I could read it before he returned it.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I love my job…

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Book 31 – The Wind in the Willows (audiobook)

“The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame (1908)

The last week of journeys to and from work has been an absolute delight. Listening to this book took me straight back to some very beautiful memories from several different parts of my life, all involving the same act – listening to this book or reading it out loud myself, rather than reading it in silence.

The earliest memories are from my aunt and uncle’s house in Roseville. My dear uncle, Dion, reading aloud to us as quite small children. Sometimes it was “Winnie the Pooh” and sometimes it was Charles Dickens, but my strongest memories are of “The Wind in the Willows” and I feel like he read it to us over and over, the beginnings of the book (at least) are so familiar to me.

And then there are memories as a young adult. Because it doesn’t really matter how old you are, you still want your uncle to read to you. These memories take me back to a sitting room and a crackling fire in Mount Victoria. Again, Dion reading, and again, very special memories.

And then, when I had my own children, it was Dion and Micki, of course, who gave Emily a copy of “The Wind in the Willows” when she was very little. And I read the book many, many times over the years, as my children grew. But I never felt like I got it right. My reading could never live up to Dion’s wonderful “poop, poop” as Toad, or the hesitant, meek voice of Mole.

In case you were not as lucky as me, and no one read “The Wind in the Willows” to you, as a child, as an adult, or at all, then let me give you a brief summary of the plot. The story opens with Mole doing some spring cleaning, of which he soon becomes bored, and so he heads up and out into the fresh air to look for some fun. He finds the river, which he’s never been to before, and meets Ratty. They strike up an immediate friendship and begin spending all their time together on the river. One day they visit Toad at Toad Hall and this starts the real adventure of the novel, as Toad is both rich and impulsive, which leads to an adventure in a gypsy van and more than one adventure involving motor cars.

I was unsure how I felt about audiobooks after my first experience ended just over a week ago. This is probably why I chose to listen to a book that meant so much to me for my second foray. In particular, I wanted to test my theory about why I struggled to stay focused on the task of listening when I was listening to “The Hobbit”. I can honestly say, there were still a few times where I realised I had started mulling over a problem that needed solving, or thinking about what we would be having for dinner, but mostly I found this a much easier book to stay with. I think the fantasy genre is the culprit for my issues with my first audiobook adventure.

And now I find myself completely hooked. But also very committed to sticking with the journey taken so far, of listening to classics. Next up, a book everyone I knew was reading when I was a child, but one that I never explored myself, “Anne of Green Gables”. If anyone has any recommendations for future audiobooks, I’d love to hear them, but I really want to stick to classics, please. Perhaps something you read or had read to you yourself as a child. I’d love to know.

Oh, and if you decide to read or listen to “The Wind in the Willows” yourself, make sure you get a full version, not an abridged one. The little side stories about Ratty and Mole that break up the adventures of Toad must not be missed. And the lovely English gentleman who reads to you does a sound job. He will do, although he hasn’t a patch on Dion.

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