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Happy Halloween! I know the little trick-or-treaters in my family are very excited. How about yours? I don’t do the spooky October thing, so the books I listened to were just what happened to come up, and my listening this month was a little slower than usual. I’m not really sure why that was, but I did manage to get in three audiobooks that I truly enjoyed. Perhaps it was in part because they were each so different, filling in space of what I needed in the moment. One was a buzzy thriller, another, a highly lauded novel, and the third an oral history ripe for our times.
No matter what your listening taste one of these audiobooks should work for you and as an added bonus, none are overly long!
Bewilderment by Richard Powers
Narrator: Edorado Ballerini
Publisher: W.W. Norton Company (Random House Audio)
Release Date: September 21, 2021
Length: 288 pages (7 hrs. 51 min.)
My Thoughts: I’ll admit it. I hadn’t originally planned on reading 𝐁𝐄𝗪𝐈𝐋𝐃𝐄𝐑𝐌𝐄𝐍𝐓 by Richard Powers. It just didn’t seem like my sort of book, but then when it was longlisted for the 𝘕𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯𝘢𝘭 𝘉𝘰𝘰𝘬 𝘈𝘸𝘢𝘳𝘥 and shortlisted for the 𝘉𝘰𝘰𝘬𝘦𝘳 𝘗𝘳𝘪𝘻𝘦, my curiosity grew. I was able to get it instantly at the library, so I dove into this story of an astrobiologist, Theo, and his incredibly sensitive, extremely bright 9-year old son, Robin. The story takes place in the near future when a Trump-like president rules, ignoring the worsening signs of global warming, cutting funding that might help on an ever escalating basis.
Robin and Theo are both reeling from the death of Robin’s mother, and Theo struggles with the task of how best to raise Robin as she would have. Robin misses the mother he fears forgetting; longing to truly know her. He’s obsessively worried about the state of the world, animals going extinct, plants being lost, and a future that looks increasingly dim. While Theo agrees with his son’s concerns, he also worries that the boy is too deeply affected and is drifting into unhealthy territory. The relationship between father and son was heart wrenching and definitely the best part of 𝘉𝘦𝘸𝘪𝘭𝘥𝘦𝘳𝘮𝘦𝘯𝘵. I loved sweet Robin as he fought to demand more from humanity, and bewildered Theo, trying to right Robin’s world without losing his own.
Where the book fell off a little for me was in all the science: astronomy (real and imagined), ecology, neurofeedback. It was a lot and broke up the story more than I liked. The politics at times also felt a little heavy-handed. I’d have liked to have had a little less of those and a little more of Robin and Theo. That being said, I clearly see why 𝘉𝘦𝘸𝘪𝘭𝘥𝘦𝘳𝘮𝘦𝘯𝘵 has been so lauded. Grade: B
The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Narrator: Kirby Heyborne
Publisher: Celadon Books (Macmillan Audio)
Release Date: May 11, 2021
Length: 288 pages (10 hrs. 43 min.)
My Thoughts: I 𝘧𝘪𝘯𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘺 listened to 𝐓𝐇𝐄 𝐏𝐋𝐎𝐓 by Jean Hanff Korelitz. I might be the last person around to get to this one, so I’m going to skip a big recap. Let’s just leave it at being the story a down-and-out author/teacher who co-opts the incredible plot of one of his MFA students, making it his own. His life is looking pretty darn good until he begins getting mysterious messages from someone who knows about “the plot.” Da-da-da! I enjoyed the story very much, even though I guessed the twists early on. No doubt a lot of other readers did, too, but the real fun was in seeing exactly how Korelitz put it all together, and in that she did a great job. 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘗𝘭𝘰𝘵 was a fun little mystery!
I listened to this one and for the most part I liked narrator Kirby Heyborne, but one little thing drove me 𝐍𝐔𝐓𝐒. A character is from Whidbey Island, Washington (near where I live) and the word Whidbey ended up being used quite often in the novel. The correct pronunciation is wid•bee. For the first 75% of the book he pronounced it wid•bay. This was like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. Then suddenly, toward the end of the book, he started pronouncing it correctly. So, at some point the narrator figured out or was told he was pronouncing it wrong and changed it, but why didn’t they go back and fix all the other times? It’s a little thing, but it definitely detracted from my listening experience, knocking down my overall rating just a tad. Grade: B-
Voices from the Pandemic by Eli Saslow
Narrator: Cast of Excellent Narrators
Publisher: Doubleday Books (Random House Audio)
Release Date: September 21, 2021
Length: 288 pages (6 hrs. 37 min.)
My Thoughts: Let me begin by thanking Catherine from Gilmore Guide to Books for pointing me toward 𝐕𝐎𝐈𝐂𝐄𝐒 𝐅𝐑𝐎𝐌 𝐓𝐇𝐄 𝐏𝐀𝐍𝐃𝐄𝐌𝐈𝐂 and encouraging me to give it a chance. I initially felt like it was too soon. We are still in the midst of this pandemic, so to look back felt a little premature, but I was wrong. Worldwide, we all share the COVID pandemic, and almost every person who has lived through it could tell you their story. We’ll all be doing so for a very long time. We know our own stories, and those of our friends and relatives, but there are many, many more stories out there. Journalist Eli Saslow interviewed a cross-section of Americans, gathering together a wide swath of pandemic experiences.
With twenty-seven different people/families, Saslow showed how very divergent our experiences really have been. Some of the chapters took me completely by surprise, others I expected, many moved me, and several made me cry. One of those was a chapter by an NYC paramedic at the peak of COVID deaths there. Another followed a family watching their 52-year old mother slowly die. There were stories of immeasurable kindness and unrelenting grief; stories that highlighted community unity and others that mourned our national divides.
I listened to 𝘝𝘰𝘪𝘤𝘦𝘴 𝘧𝘳𝘰𝘮 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘗𝘢𝘯𝘥𝘦𝘮𝘪𝘤, beautifully read by a large cast of talented narrators. In that, and many other ways it reminded me of 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘖𝘯𝘭𝘺 𝘗𝘭𝘢𝘯𝘦 𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘚𝘬𝘺 by Garrett Graff, both strong oral histories. Though we didn’t all directly experience 9/11, none of us will ever be able to forget its horrors, and surely the same is true of life during the COVID pandemic. I highly recommend this book, whether you read or listen. It’s not too soon. Grade: A
What audiobooks have you listened to lately?
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I enjoyed both The Plot and Bewilderment on audio.
I’d like to listen to Voices From the Pandemic so thanks for reviewing it — sounds excellent. I reviewed the audio of The Plot in September and I thought the novel’s beginning was very slow — and the delivery seemed wooden. Ha I had to laugh at your mention Whidbey – I get it! But luckily the Plot had a clever & chilling ending, so I give it points for that. Still I wasn’t a huge fan and think your grade seems accurate or a C or C+ … I’m just starting Bewilderment … Happy November!