This audiobook memoir narrated by actress/author Anna Kendrick was… fine? Maybe I would’ve found it more endearing if I had been a bigger fan of Anna Kendrick. As it stands, I tend to enjoy her in movies and find her Twitter feed humorous, but I’m less invested or interested in what makes her tick and what her experiences are outside of the roles she portrays. So why did I even listen to this audiobook you ask? I honestly thought I would’ve become more interested as I listened along, but it never happened. I frequently forgot I was even reading this book until I would sign onto GoodReads and see that it was still on my currently reading shelf while I was eating lunch before my weekly therapy appointment… and then I would listen for an hour while I ate lunch alone and forget about the audiobook until the next week. This is an audiobook best enjoyed by people who already adore the actress.
This is a book that I instantly wish I owned multiple versions of because I feel like I need to consume it in different ways for the weight of its words to fully sink into my consciousness. I finished the audiobook version of Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates a couple of weeks ago and it was MARVELOUS! The book is part memoir, part current American history and is written as a letter directly to the author’s son. Because I knew that the book followed this format, I opted to purchase the audiobook from Downpour (if you like audiobooks and you aren’t a subscriber to Downpour, you need to get on board!!) as the author was the narrator and I wanted to hear the author’s intonations and emotions as he spoke his words.
Coates is both a powerful speaker and writer. While he detailed the lessons that he was forced to learn as a black man growing up in America and contrasted them from the lessons his father had to learn and the lessons his son has already learned or will have to learn was incredibly poignant. The world has shifted significantly since his father was a child, but there is still so much room for the world and America’s culture to grow and improve. While his son currently leads a privileged life because of his father’s wealth and their family’s residence in Paris, France (all privileges Coates acknowledges), this doesn’t eliminate the ways that his son must prepare for how he will doubtlessly be seen as a young black man when he is in America. Regardless of any of his own characteristics or intentions, people will cast stereotypes upon his body and his mind and he will have to know how to evade or protect himself from them; hence, why Coates has chosen to write his son a series of lessons he has learned in his own life.
As a white woman, Between the World and Me truly illuminated the world that black parents must build and teach to their children — something that I never had to be taught by my own family. When I was a child, my innocence and piety were often assumed by strangers, but this isn’t the case for many black children who are often undeservedly assumed to be devious or guilty. One of the vignettes that stuck with me most clearly was when a white adult was extremely rude to Coates’s young son and Coates struggled to contain his anger in the face of assumptions and rights incorrectly projected onto his child. To hear this told from a parent’s perspective was heartbreaking and I admire Coates’s ability to so poignantly and clearly discuss how this affects him and his family on a micro-level, while simultaneously situating his personal experiences within historical and societal contexts.
Between the World and Me is very of the moment (because of the renewed, necessary spotlight on racial tension and inequality in America) and also of America’s history. I believe this book will be a touchstone that people reference decades from now when trying to convey the state of race in America in the early 2000s and Coates has done a remarkable job creating a piece that will last.
While I loved listening to this audiobook, I wish I also owned a physical version of this book so that I could highlight and come back to the most touching/provoking pieces with ease. I greatly valued hearing the author beautifully speak his story, something that most authors who aren’t trained entertainers struggle to do well. The audiobook was also quite a quick listening experience and clocked in at about 3.5 hours. My recommendation is to consume this in whatever way that it comes into your life and then consume it again and again. I’ll likely be purchasing a physical copy when I get the chance and will re-read it again in the coming years. Clearly, I profusely recommend.
I gobbled My Brilliant Friend down in a very short amount of time in order to finish it for a book club discussion only for the discussion to be moved, leading me to wish I had spent a bit more time digesting this book as I read.
Since I’ve been spending most of my reading time diving into an ebook version of Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, I decided to download an audiobook version of My Brilliant Friend. Unfortunately, a digital audiobook download was unavailable from my library during my time crunch to complete the book, so I signed up for Downpour. Downpour is an audiobook subscription service that allows you to download one audiobook title per month for $12.99. After you purchase the title, it’s yours and won’t disappear from your library after you cancel your subscription like another popular audiobook service *cough*. I really, really liked the service and am looking forward to continuing to get a new audiobook download each month.
Unfortunately, I don’t think an audiobook version of My Brilliant Friend really did the story justice. I frequently found myself zoning out while listening to this book and felt very detached from the story. If you’re going to read this book, definitely opt for a print or ebook version. This book is the debut in the Neapolitan Novels series by the mysterious Elena Ferrante. Ferrante is the pen name of a mysterious Italian author who only communicates with her publisher and the press through letters because she believes that truly great writing doesn’t need promotion of a likable author. The aura of the mysterious author definitely contributes to the allure of the book as I was left wondering how autobiographical the tale was, which I may never learn the answer to.
The novel follows the lives of two girls, Elena (last name Greco, not Ferrante) and Lila, as they grow up in the outskirts of Naples, Italy in the 1950s. The story begins when the girls are in primary school and follows their friendship and individual lives and ends with one of the girls getting married in her late teens. The story is told from the perspective of Elena, a girl who is enamored with her brilliant friend and is constantly balancing her jealousy of and affection for Lila. This balance felt very true to female friendship that I experienced as I came to age — wanting to possess certain aspects of your friend’s personality or lifestyle, while also feeling lucky to be surrounded by great friends. The tale of their friendship is the central point of this story that holds all of the other details together and makes me wonder what will happen in the subsequent novels after one of the two friends becomes married.
One of my favorite parts of the book is when the lives of our two central characters begins to dovetail as Elena is allowed to continue her education, while Lila, despite being incredibly smart and showing desire to continue her education, is regulated to working in the family business. The inequality in access to education and opportunities heavily influences each of their subsequent decisions and life paths.
There is a lot more going on in this story aside from brilliantly detailing a female friendship and their access to education, but I found myself zoning out when the audiobook delved into the other aspects of Lila and Elena’s world. There is a lot of violence surrounding the neighborhood where the girls grow up and there are hints of ties to the Italian mafia sprinkled in, but because of my zoning out and my lack of familiarity with Italian history during this period, I didn’t fully soak up these subtle references.
Overall, read this book if you have some time to fully imagine the world surrounding these characters and absorbing the details of their friendship. However, the book is definitely not the beach read that the American cover and surrounding press seems to be marketing it as.
Publication Date of English Translation: 25 September 2012 by Europa Editions. Format: Audiobook.
Author: Elena Ferrante web
Upon finishing the incredibly enjoyable first season of Married, a show on FX starring Judy Greer, I remembered that I had placed her memoir on my TBR list a few weeks ago and decided to move it to the top. I checked out the audiobook from my local library and finished listening in a day. I was able to finish it so quickly partly because it was fairly short for an audiobook, stretching a little bit longer than five hours, and partly because listening felt like an extended catch up conversation with one of my friends.
Judy Greer narrates her memoir which alternates between mainly describing her early days growing up as an only child outside of Detroit, Michigan, and her current life as an actress, dog owner, wife, and stepmother in Los Angeles, California, while also briefly covering her time as a theatre undergrad in Chicago. Her tales of her life aren’t in chronological order and you weave between Greer’s current life to things that happened when she was a wee one. Because of the briefness of the book, I felt like the deviation from a linear storyline spiced the book up a bit.
Even though it seems most other readers enjoyed her recounting her place as an actress in Hollywood the most within the memoir, my favorite sections of the book were listening to Greer describe her love for Detroit and her heartbreak at how much Detroit is currently struggling as a city. It was in these moments that I feel like Greer was exposing me to something completely new, as I’ve never read someone describing Detroit, a city I’ve never visited, in such an authentic and touching way.
However, if you’re more interested in hearing about Greer’s time as an actress who’s actively working, but isn’t on the A-list, you won’t be disappointed in this book. If you recognize the author’s face from the cover art of the book, but can’t quite place her, you’re not alone. In fact, Greer devotes quite a bit of time in her memoir to explaining the phenomenon of having been in so many projects and being approached by people who can’t place her or requesting for her to help them deduce where they know her from. (Side note: if you recognize a celebrity and feel the need to approach them, try to make sure you actually know who they are. Bigger side note: if you recognize a celebrity and they are in public, but not in a place where it’s encouraged to talk to them such as a book signing, meet and greet, etc., maybe don’t approach them – celebrities need to buy milk at the grocery store, too, and they also have bad days when they don’t want to talk to anyone, especially a stranger.) Greer details life as a working actress, but doesn’t conflate it with this sparkly world that is so much better than the world of the normal plebeians – she still has to make food for her children that they hate and pick up her dog’s poop at the end of the day!
Greer’s down-to-earthness makes her so likable and this book so accessible. This book is not a tell-all revealing some deep, dark secrets like some celebrities release or a memoir bragging about the glamor of being a celebrity, but is a book about a normal person who happens to act as their profession. True to many of the characters that Greer is cast to play, she seems like one of your friends who also happens to be a successful, but not too successful, actress! My partner and I have been fans of Judy Greer for quite a while as she pops up in so many of the things that we love, and we frequently recount how we loved her in Love Monkey, a short lived and unpopular comedy from 2006. This book definitely gave me another layer of appreciation for Judy Greer, but probably isn’t a good read for someone who isn’t already a fan of Greer’s (like me) or doesn’t want to act professionally.
If you’re interested in checking out Judy Greer’s work as an actress and not as an author, you should definitely watch Married! The first season can be found on Hulu and the second season is currently in the process of airing on FX.
Unrelated to this book review, I wrote this while watching the newly released Kacey Musgraves Tiny Desk concert. It’s amazing and had many tambourine beats that frequently woke up my aunt’s dog as he snoozed on my lap. Check out the Tiny Desk concert here and look up her tour dates here! I’ll be heading to the New York tour stop in October and I can’t wait!
This was my first ever Dave Eggers read and I regret it being the first that dove into. My partner loved A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which is the memoir and debut of Eggers, and I’m not sure why I didn’t choose to read that book first. While I’ve heard great things about the writing style of Eggers, likely stemming from reflections on his memoir, I wasn’t impressed with The Circle.
I’ve read quite a few futuristic novels that take place in technology over saturated worlds and I was beginning to think I was simply burned out on reading more renditions of the same story (spoiler alert: I was proved wrong when I recently read and LOVED Ready Player One by Ernest Cline; review coming soon!). The Circle‘s spin features a technology and digital company that is very similar to a blend of Google and Apple, which allows the reader to envision that the world Eggers has created could actually exist if some things about our current world changed. The reader is introduced to the world through Mae, a young college graduate, who joins The Circle thanks to being recommended for a job by her college best friend. The Circle, as a company and not as the title of the book, is comprised of a leading search engine, a social media platform, and a leading technology innovation team.
During Mae’s time at The Circle, she can be a bit boring boring at times, even as her actions advance herself through the company’s ranks. Mae’s boringness is perhaps intentional so that she can be easily molded and manipulated by other characters in the book to advance the plot, but ultimately left me feeling put off and like Mae was a cog in the machine without any agency. Mae’s trust of The Circle is balanced by her parents and her ex-boyfriend who are very critical of how The Circle is completely overtaking the society that they live in; they seem to represent the views that Eggers himself perhaps holds about society’s relationship with technology. Because of this, the whole novel felt like a condemnation of our reliance on technology. The easy condemnation seemed lazy and more like a writing exercise than a full fledged novel. That said, I’m looking forward to reading some of his nonfiction in the future.
While I was listening to the audiobook of this novel, it was announced that Emma Watson would be starring in the movie version of the book. I can’t really envision how this will be adapted to the big screen, but I look forward to mindlessly watching it on an airplane sometime in the future.
Have you read any Dave Eggers works? Do you think his nonfiction pieces are superior to his fictional novels? Let me know in the comments!
Author: Dave Eggers Publisher Page
Narrator: Dion Graham IMDB
Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always been interested in different religious practices and the rituals associated with holding certain beliefs. I grew up (and still continue) going to my friends’ places of worship and observing how everyone chooses to practice. It’s always nice to see how openly people display and explain their religious practices when you tell them that you’re curious about their faith. There was one belief system that I knew absolutely nothing about, partly because I don’t think I have any friends who practice it, but mostly because information about the religion is heavily shielded on the internet. Scientology, ever alluring and mysterious as the “religion of members of Hollywood’s elite,” is the latest religion to intrigue me and thus when I learned of Beyond Belief, I immediately requested it from my library.
This memoir, written by Jenna Miscavige Hill and co-written by Lisa Pulitzer, details Miscavige Hill’s experiences being raised within the Church of Scientology. Miscavige Hill’s parents met while they were teenagers in the Church of Scientology and chose to raise their children within the church. Scientologist children are frequently separated from their families for long periods of time and Miscavige Hill details that she was often required to work grueling hours, frequently perform manual labor when she was very young, and act as doctor to all sick children when she was also a child. Miscavige Hill was prevented from seeing her family on a regular basis, initially because her parents were sent on missions that kept them away from the family home and then eventually because her parents left the Church of Scientology when their daughter was a teenager and Miscavige Hill chose to continue being a member of the church. Because of the strict rules related to excommunication of former members, Miscavige Hill didn’t see her family members who had left the church for years. Miscavige Hill, while still a member of the church, was in contact with her aunt, Michele Miscavige, and uncle, David Miscavige, who is the current leader of the Church of Scientology, and this makes Miscavige Hill’s shared insight even more intriguing.
Overall, Beyond Belief is likely a good representation of what it was like to grow up within the Church of Scientology at the time that Miscavige Hill did so. The church seems to be constantly making changes regarding their treatment of children (at one point, Miscavige Hill says that the church discouraged all church members from reproducing) so I’m not certain how generalizable Miscavige Hill’s experiences are to the experiences of the greater Scientology community. Miscavige Hill also states that her experiences differ dramatically from celebrity members of the church as they are treated like royalty, as most celebrities generally are by the public. If you are interested in learning more about Scientology, this first person account places the rules and beliefs of Scientology into a context that I wasn’t able to find from reading extensive articles about the religion online. However, if you’re not curious, this book likely isn’t for you.
The author, Eddie Huang, narrates his own audiobook, which, at times, is a little frustrating. Most authors who read their own audiobooks and narrate it well are either comedians or Neil Gaiman, so I was little startled to hear Huang reading his own book… but it made a little bit more sense as I got to know him through his narration. I didn’t know much about Huang before I read his novel — I checked the audiobook out from my library a few weeks before Fresh Off the Boat (a television adaptation of his memoir) was set to air because I was curious about his style.
Fresh Off the Boat is Huang’s memoir, which begins by detailing his childhood as the oldest son born to a Taiwanese family that immigrated to America. Most vignettes into Huang’s life includes a comparison to food (either food that he currently creates or the flavors that he grew up tasting). The memoir details Huang’s incredibly interesting life and his many ventures from being a food vlogger, fashion designer (he designed some best-selling, iconic Obama street wear), to a restaurant owner. Huang has worn many hats and seems to excel while wearing each of them. It could be pretty inspiring to someone who feels like they’re stuck in a career rut that they can’t escape.
Tonally, the memoir can be a little brash at times and the audiobook includes some additional tirades by Huang that weren’t included in the print version of the book. Because of this, I found Huang to be a bit grating at times. This makes sense because being direct and outspoken is part of Huang’s identity — he’s used to embracing his thoughts, even if his delivery makes people uncomfortable. He likes to unsettle the status quo and this can be a bit startling if you’re not expecting it.
Overall, this book wasn’t for me — most of the 90s hip hop and basketball references went completely over my head and caused me to disconnect at points while listening. If you were into both of these things and also love to listen to a food lover talk about food, this will be the book of your dreams! Even though the book wasn’t for me, I can appreciate what it was adding to popular culture and think it’s important that it’s in the book world.
As an aside, I recently went to Huang’s restaurant Baohaus and it was very delicious! I definitely recommend eating there. Huang talks at length about developing his restaurant and his fantastic flavors within Fresh Off the Boat. One of my friends even saw Huang there when he recently popped into the small restaurant! The restaurant is completely accessible and not one of those hoity-toity restaurants that you usually read about in chef’s memoirs: there are no reservations, seating is minimal and first come, first serve, and the turnaround for attaining your food is pretty speedy.
Sorry that this also managed to turn into a restaurant review, in addition to being a book review. I would have also made it a TV review, but I have yet to watch all of the TV series yet.
Before I even delve into the actual contents of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple, I need to rave about the audiobook narrator who blew me away. The audiobook narrator was FANTASTIC and felt oddly familiar to me, but I wasn’t quite able to place her voice while I was listening. Upon doing some research for this review and realizing the narrator was Kathleen Wilhoite – it instantly clicked for me! She’s the actress who portrays the mother of Jess in Gilmore Girls, a TV show I spent all winter streaming in entirety! While she was great in Gilmore Girls, I really think her talents are able to shine even more brightly in the narration of this novel.
I found this book extremely engaging while I was listening to it, largely due to Wilhoite’s supreme talents, but when I reflected on it a week later, I didn’t find the actual story to be very memorable. That’s not to say that the storyline wasn’t interesting, because it definitely was, but I mostly remember enjoying the novel as a whole, rather than the actual storyline or the writing style… kind of like when you watch a movie and you remember feeling really happy when you watched it, but you can’t quite remember what the film was actually about.
The novel follows the life of a family living in Seattle and surrounded by the upper-crust community that staffs the tech sector in the Pacific Northwest. The point of view of the story switches often from Bernadette, a mother who stays at home, to her 15 year old daughter Bee, to her nosy and annoying neighbor who has nothing better to do (anyone who has lived in a community with a Home Owner’s Association will recognize and despise this character; parts including her garnered the most laugh out loud moments of the book), to Bernadette’s husband’s secretary, to others in their community. Each of their points of view are conveyed via streams of consciousness, emails, faxes, memos, and newsletters, which add a little flavor to the story. The actual plot of the story, which culminates in Bernadette disappearing, hence the title, is far less interesting than the humorously delivered quirks of each of the characters.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? would be a great selection for a vacation read (even if it’s only a mental vacation that you’re able to take!) because it’ll be plenty entertaining without requiring you to think too much or get stuck mulling over elegantly written passages. It’s a light mystery that will entangle your mind while you’re reading, but isn’t too dark to bring down your mood while you’re enjoying taking a break from your life. I especially recommend the audiobook version if you’re embarking on a road trip! I give this book 5 stars for the narration performance, but only 3 stars for the actual book.
I stumbled upon this book because it was included on a Buzzfeed list of “Essential Asian-American Authors.” I like when lists like this come out to help make readers aware of great books that exist by authors who aren’t white males (… which unfortunately we need lists to highlight these authors). My favorite, extensive list that consists of books about or written by people of color is here, but I like that Buzzfeed typically includes a brief synopsis and cover art of the books on their lists.
Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung is my first reviewed book to receive a half-starred rating on my blog! In the weeks leading up to me finally writing this review, I kept bouncing back between giving this book 3 or 4 stars, so voila: I have decided to bequeath 3.5 stars to this novel! Forgotten Country is a book that highlights the intricacies of dealing with tragedy with a Korean family that moves to America. The book is told from the point of view of the adult Korean daughter who struggles with the expectations placed upon her since she is the first-born child in her family and the complicated way that she enforces these expectations for herself more than her family members do. At the heart of this novel is the complicated sibling story of Janie (the older sister and narrator) and her younger sister, Hannah, and the high expectations that they have for themselves and for each other. Anyone who has trekked through a difficult relationship with his or her sibling(s) that persists into adulthood will relate to this major plot line.
My favorite parts of this novel are when the author interweaves the plot points of the story with Korean folklore. I felt like this style worked better with this storyline than when a similar storytelling method was employed in We Were Liars. This version was definitely easier to follow in audiobook format than We Were Liars. The story also often features vignettes into the narrator’s childhood, the most poignant of which is when she is forced to have an extensive dental surgery after getting into a race-related fight on her school playground. I have never had a book make me squeam as much as I did when I listened to this vignette.
The promotions surrounding this novel mistakenly indicate that it’s a “mystery” novel that follows the sudden disappearance of Hannah, the younger sister. However, what really drives this story is how Janie tries to understand her familial responsibility as she sifts through her family’s dynamics. The “mystery” is solved fairly early into the novel, does not carry the plot, and definitely is not the type of story that is conveyed when something is billed as a mystery. “Mystery” novels are often quick, exciting, and thrilling, but Forgotten Country is a very quiet novel about the norms created by a single Korean American family.
Very rarely do I enjoy when authors narrate the audiobooks of their own novels (see my cringe worthy review of Lord of the Flies by William Golding), but Neil Gaiman must be a multi-talented superstar! I found myself borrowing the audiobook of Stardust from my local library upon realizing that I had never read any of Gaiman’s works despite seeing that lots of people I follow on twitter mention him often. This is no doubt aided by his own very active Twitter presence because it truly appears that Gaiman is a Renaissance man and can don many hats. I selected Stardust as my first Gaiman read because I remembered that the film version is one of my best friend’s favorite movies (… yet I somehow still haven’t seen the film… sorry Sam!).
Gaiman is an incredibly animated narrator and is able to tell the story in a similar vein to people who are trained to be the best audiobook narrators. Thus, I didn’t have any of the normal issues that I experience when I listen to books narrated by their authors when I listened to Stardust. Despite Gaiman’s enthusiasm, I did find the book a bit boring in the beginning and likely would have put it aside after the first few pages if I had been reading the book instead of listening to it. That said, I became much more engaged after the “world building” was complete and the action started filling my ears.
Stardust is a fairytale for grown ups, according to Gaiman in a bonus interview that is included at the end of the audiobook. The “grown up” part mainly means that the novel includes some sex scenes and that the overall tale, in the way it’s presented (even if the sex scenes hadn’t been included), wouldn’t be that entertaining to a child. This is because pieces of the book draw upon experiences and feelings that you have as you become older, but that you likely don’t have a familiarity with if you’re under the age of twelve. Stardust follows the story of Tristan Thorn, a young man, who decides to leave his home on a quest to win the hand of a lady that he would like to marry. He ventures to another land to complete a quest that he conjured himself and encounters many hijinks and twists and turns (fit for a fairytale!) along the way. I didn’t really get into the book until the introduction of Yvaine, which luckily happens fairly early into the story, as I found her to be the most interesting character in the book and thoroughly enjoyed all of the scenes which included her. While I was able to guess some plot pieces of the book along the way, parts of the ending surprised me and left me in awe of how Gaiman constructed his truly great fairytale for grown ups.
Should I check out a different one of Neil Gaiman’s works? What’s your favorite thing that he’s published?