Sunday, May 24, 2015

BOOKS: Audio Nonfiction

Angry Optimist: The Life and Times of Jon Stewart - Lisa Rogak (audiobook 6h 16 min)  narrated by Cassandra Campbell

I enjoyed this biography of Jon Stewart, reading this in anticipation of his ending tenure at The Daily Show. Nothing controversial here - Rogak covers his early life, his soccer career at University, his comedy beginnings. Stewart's take over of The Daily Show, how his past informs his comedy, a few controversies from the show. The reviews at library thing complain that there is no new information, nothing very deep, but it was all I wanted and I listened easily.

 Brain on Fire - Susannah Cahalan (audiobook 7 h 48 min)
 narrated by Heather Henderson

I'm not even sure how I found this engrossing read, but this was a great investigative journey into the author's 'month of madness.' Susannah Cahalan was a reporter with the New York Post when she had a seizure. Or something. She quickly devolved, and had some psychotic episodes, became erratic, and couldn't function. She ended up in a psych ward and without the devotion and determination of her divorced parents, and a lucky consult from a particular doctor, she might still be there. That doctor determined she had an infection and her immune system had attacked her brain - rare form of encephalitis.

After the fact, the journalist in her looked back at records, journals, and even video tape from hospitals to piece together what had actually happened to her, as she had little memory. It was a scary story, how quickly she changed, and how no one really knew what was the matter. There is now more awareness of this and more people are being diagnosed, but looking back, it's believed that perhaps others with this may have been diagnosed as schizophrenic or possessed by the devil.

I Must Say: My Life as Humble Comedy Legend - Martin Short (audiobook 8 h 40 m)   read by the author 

I've always been conflicted about Martin Short - I've watched a lot of his work over the years, especially SCTV and Saturday Night Live when he was on it. Include some great movies, like Three Amigos and The Father of the Bride and the man has an impressive resume. But some of his stuff is so over the top (I'm looking at you Jimminy Glick) and Short's apparent incessant need for attention can be annoying. However, this memoir was fabulous, and has improved my impression of him. He's still over the top and goes too far too often in his comedy, but he comes across as so down to earth, and kind, and so very Canadian that I guess I am a fan.

There are tons of names dropped here, and it must have been a great time in the 1970s comedy scene. He and Andrea Martin were married to siblings, he dated Gilda Radner, Paul Shaffer is a pal, Victor Garber is a close friend, as is Tom Hanks and Steve Martin. He appears to have stayed good friends with a large circle of famous people and yet, he never succumbed to a rich and famous life style, living in the same house in Pacific Palisades with his long time wife, and maintaining a cottage in Canada. His family was close and funny, and he was orphaned by the age of twenty, but he never seemed to let these sad events, including his brother dying as well, define him. His Canadian-ness is also very important to him, even though he has lived in the States for so long.

I'd recommend the audiobook version of this book, as all the characters appear, and his ability to do impressions of people is so evident and funny. There is behind the scenes stuff from SCTV (the best show ever!) and SNL with Billy Crystal, plus so much more, His love for his wife comes through loud and clear - they married in Toronto before he was famous, and they stayed together until she died in 2010 of ovarian cancer. I had almost forgotten about that and then suddenly remembered just before I got to the chapters that detail her death. So the book has very funny, and very sad. Their love story and friendship was quite beautiful, and his remembrances of her after her death were very touching. I especially liked him when he was being sincere and smart, and wasn't 'on'.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

BOOKS: Canadian Reads

 I've been reading, and listening to a lot of books in the past few months. Here's a few quick reviews of some Canadian books that I'll use to fill in my Reading Bingo, Eh card:

Strange Heaven - Lynn Coady
 I read this the beginning of April and my impressions are fading. A 17 year old Bridget from Cape Breton goes to Halifax to have a baby. She ends up in a teenage mental ward with depression after giving up the baby. Some of the story was from home, before and after, some of the story was in Halifax. There were interesting characters as befits Cape Breton, and life was tough there. The psych ward was challenging as Bridget improves, and deals with the other kids. A slice of life story, as Bridget grows up and observes the people around her.

Anne's House of Dreams by LM Montgomery (audiobook 8h 22 m)
narrated by Susan O'Malley

Lindsey at reederreads is hosting a Green Gables read along. Last summer I started listening to the series, and Anne's House of Dreams fits in here for both. (I wasn't able to find Anne of Windy Poplars in audio) Since I've read all these multiple times, I'm only really commenting on my new impressions from audiobook.
This time around, I loved Miss Cornelia tons! Previously I found her overbearing, but now I adored her, and her friendship with Anne and Gilbert, and the way the narrator would exclaim: "Isn't that just like a man?"
This book is certainly a darker than the previous books and Anne's happy ever after is only partially there. And of course, I still cried when Captain Jim 'crosses the bar'. I noticed the nature descriptions more in this book than in the first three and not really in a good way. Clearly Montgomery's life had been through some upheavals before this one was written and it comes through. Still, can't beat an Anne book.

 Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro

I thought this was going to be a short story book, being Munro and all, but this one is actually a series of short stories-novel following Del Jordan growing up in small town Ontario. Starting as a young child, and ending as she finishes high school, Del deals with growing up, and discovering where she fits in relative to her family and friends.

I read it, I liked it, but it didn't reach me or move me in any particular way. Good writing (she has won a Nobel prize after all) but there is an intimacy that I find missing. Sometimes I like a story better with a little less writing, and more story and people.

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust - Alan Bradley (audiobook 10h 52 m)
narrated by Jayne Entwistle
I was ready to give up on the series after the last book. It felt like the series had run its course and that with this book, with Flavia sent to boarding school in Canada, the series would take a new direction with new characters to develop and interact with. I thought this was a good idea, but that I wouldn't continue. I did find out that this was a one-off in Canada so decided to give a listen.

I'm not sure that this is a successful outing. I think it probably would have been better to take the series in a new direction and stay in Canada. Instead, we get new students and teachers that won't be sticking around, and we just miss the local flavour of Buckshaw, missing Dogger and the Inspector and Flavia's sisters. Maybe listening wasn't my best bet, but I've had other series where listening to a book or two reinvigorated the series for me, but this did not. The narrator was a good Flavia, and the mystery was okay - all the mysteries are thin in Flavia books. Their charm has been the characters and Flavia's interactions with them, so I missed that here.

(Plus, another review mentioned how they hoped it would be Miss Scrimmage's Finishing School For Young Ladies that Flavia attended. A fabulous idea, and I think that ruined it for me! Ten points for that reference.)