Title: Cassandra speaks: When women are the storytellers, the human story changes
Author: Elizabeth Lesser
Genre/ issues: Non-fiction. Gender. Women’s role in storytelling and history.
I started this book by Ibram X Kendi months ago – I had ordered the YA version but it’s still not arrived, and in the meantime I found the audiobook available for free on Spotify. I highly recommend it – a thoughtful and comprehensive examination of the history of racist ideas in America, and how and why anti-racist actions and sentiments often fail. It’s taken me a long time to get through it because I found it really thought-provoking, and oftentimes wanted to just let some ideas sit for a bit before I moved on.
Hot tip for listening to the Spotify audiobook version- pay attention to where you’re up to. If you don’t, and then go off and listen to something else, you won’t be able to find your place when you come back to it. Even bigger hot tip – do NOT accidentally bump the shuffle button. It makes things VERY hard to follow.
Sandman is arguably one of Neil Gaiman’s most well-known and wide-ranging creations. A stunning comic series, it’s been republished in a few different formats, and the Omnibus edition is one of the most treasured items in my collection. My ex-husband gave me volume one as one of the last gifts of our relationship – and, it must be said, as one of the only gifts he gave me that showed he knew what mattered to me. The second volume was a gift to myself, shortly after our divorce was finalised and I decided to treat myself to something I really wanted. And volume 3? Well, my wonderful partner gave me that for Valentine’s Day this year. So, it’s safe to say that the whole collection is meaningful to me in more ways than just the epic and fantastic story it contains.
The wonder that is Dirk Maggs is responsible for another fantastic incarnation of Sandman – the audiobook adaptation. It’s sensational, and I’ve been listening to parts of it each Sunday since it came out, and reading along with the comics. So far I’ve listened to the chapters that would have comprised Volume 1 and 2 of the graphic novel editions – Preludes and Nocturnes (#1-8 of the comics) and The Doll House (#9-16). I’m counting the graphic novel editions towards my book tally, rather than the Omnibus, which is 4 graphic novels combined, and also longer than the first installment of the audiobook.
The audio cast is stunning – a who’s who of the entertainment industry. Standouts for me so far have been Kat Denning as Death, the fantastic quirky goth girl who is one of my favourite characters, James McAvoy as Morpheus, and Michael Sheen as Lucifer. The stunning audioproduction is tied together with narration from Neil himself, sometimes reading the narrative elements of the original comic, and sometimes filling in additional details that are needed for context without the visual elements on the page. It’s a masterpiece, and I’m very glad I have it – even if it meant I had to break my self-imposed Am@zon ban, as it’s only available on Audible.
Who could resist a Doctor Who book written and read by their favourite Doctor? Not me! Scratchman was suitably creepy, and explores ideas about the nature of fear – how it manifests in different people, and what I means. Turns out, for me it means I shouldn’t listen to Doctor Who audiobooks late at night. I will say, I found the length of this challenging. I think it’s because I’m used to the length of a normal Doctor Who episode, and after a similar length of time in the audiobook I was starting to wait for it to wrap up. I then realised that I was less than 10% of the way through, and there was still soooo much more to go. That wasn’t a bad thing – it was just a bit of dramatic format shift dissonance for me. I wouldn’t say it was one of the best things I’ve read in ages, but it was a great whovian tale, and with Tom Baker narrating it was a great way to spend a couple of nights of organising and tidying around the house.
I listened to the New York Public Library’s read-along of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline last week, and it was so wonderful. The morning of the first session was supposed to be the day that my daughter Kelsey flew out to the US for her first solo adventure, which would mostly have seen her spending a bunch of time in New York, so it seemed appropriate for us to have a breakfast of bacon and waffles while we listened to Neil Gaiman read the first couple of chapters.
I love this book – it’s probably one of the ones I’ve read the most in between reading the physical copy, listening to the audiobook and this readalong, and teaching it multiple times. I love what it says about facing scary things but doing them anyway because they’re important. It’s always wonderful to hear people who appreciate the power of words read good quality literature, and this series was such a treat, with the reading being shared between Neil, LeVar Burton, Rosario Dawson and Dakota Fanning. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’d listen to Gaiman read his shopping list, but it’s been so long since I’ve listened to LeVar Burton read that I’d forgot just how brilliant a narrator he is. It was a good reminder to cue up some more of his podcast, which is a fab collection of stories from a range of genres, all read by LeVar in his inimitable style. The relish and delight he feels for words and stories is palpable, and I need more of that in my life. The sessions for this are still available on the NYPL website – I’d highly recommend it if you’ve not listened to it already.
Title: Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe
Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Genre/ issues: YA, LQBTQI+, diverse fiction, contemporary themes.
I don’t often listen to audiobooks at home, but Kelsey warned me I shouldn’t be in public when I finished this one, so I listened to the last hour or so of it last night. It was a good tip. There were messy tears. A beautiful, sensitive, sweet and smart book that I wish I’d read earlier. Aristotle is angry a lot of the time, and he doesn’t really know why. He meets Dante, and they strike up an instant connection. Two Mexican American boys with different families and experiences weave their way through this book to try and figure out the secrets of the universe. Do they get there? Maybe. You’ll have to read it to find out. But I feel like I understand it a little better now. The audiobook was beautifully narrated by Lin Manuel Miranda, and the print copy I stole off Kelsey is now dog-eared with many marked pages and passages that I’ll revisit in the future. A gem of a book.
Title: Catch and Kill: Lies, spies, and a conspiracy to protect predators
Author: Ronan Farrow
Genre/ issues: Non-fiction, investigative reporting, #MeToo.
I don’t usually leave the office for a lunch break – I’ll grab some food and sit at my desk. But today, I was so close to the end of this compelling book that I took myself to the park across the road and found myself crying though the last few traumatic chapters. It’s tough going, this tale of predation and sexual assault, made tougher because we all know someone whose been through something like this. The #MeToo era has brought so many stories to light, but so many more still fester.
It’s a big call, but I’m gonna say it – this is one of the most compelling and powerful pieces of non-fiction I’ve read. Ronan Farrow’s style of weaving personal and professional narration is brilliant, despite what I will say is one of the worst attempts at an Australian accent I’ve heard in an audiobook. I’m glad to have finally read this, and I’m glad there are men like him in the world, willing to stand up for what is right, and women who have the courage to fight through the institutional and societal mire to speak out their truth. Because, as Farrow says, “in the end the courage of women can’t be stamped out, and stories, the big ones, the true ones, can be caught but never killed.”
This was my first foray into Helen Garner’s work, and it won’t be the last. I’m an English teacher, lover of Australian fiction, and feminist, so I’ve heard Helen Garner’s name mentioned in a great many circles in the past, but had somehow never read anything of hers. I’ve recently started listening to Chat 10 Looks 3, and Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales fangirl over Garner like I do over Gaiman, so I figured it was worth giving her a go. I’m glad I did.
True Stories is a collection of Garner’s non-fiction work, spanning 25 years. As a bonus, the audiobook version was narrated by her, so you’re getting her work in her voice. And it’s utterly captivating – I will be revisiting this in hardcopy, so I can savour the singular beauty of the way she uses words. That’s how sentences are supposed to work. Sigh.
Her piece about discussing sex and relationships with a class when she was teaching brought to mind the connections that I loved the most as a teacher – a discussion about STD’s in particular, and why not every parent necessarily has one, particularly came back to me, making me both laugh and weep. Her story about sisters made my eyes leak – “Now that we can sing together, surely none of us will ever die, surely.” The awkwardness of forced relationships, forged by proximity rather than familiarity. The complexity of feminism and disagreements over gender lines. I love this book, and it has, as is typical, led me down the rabbit-hole of NAORH – New Author Obsessive Reading Habits. I’m currently working my way through Cosmo Cosmolino, which I’ll no doubt review here soon. I’ve got Monkey Grip cued up after that.
I finished reading?/listening to? this a few weeks ago. What I’m discovering, as I write this review, is that whilst I remember absolutely loving it, I’m finding specific details hard to recall, and I’m discovering that this is a fairly common phenomenon for me when I consume a story via audiobook. It’s a format that works extremely well for me – an hour and a quarter each way commute, Monday to Friday, and my diminishing eye quality combined with long days working on a computer mean that listening to a book is a welcome relief. But I think that I’m also often distracted, not as attentive to the story as I am when I’m physically reading. As I’m sitting here thinking about other books I’ve listened to over recent months, I can remember really loving some of them, but not actually being able to remember specific details about them. Do you listen to audiobooks? Do you find the same thing happens, or is it just that I’m easily distracted by people watching on trains, and should not be trusted to do two things at once?
Anyway. Helen Garner. If you’ve not read her before, I highly recommend it – and this collection is as good a place as any to start. Thanks, Crabb and Sales. I’m glad for the recommendation, and I’m glad to have discovered such exquisite writing.