CategoryAudiobook Reviews

This is Happiness by Niall Williams

This is Happiness is a 78-year-old man recounting his memories from the time he lived with his grandparents as an 18-year-old after dropping out of the seminary. His reminiscences describe life in the little village of Faha in County Clare in 1958. He meanders from telling stories to descriptions of the countryside to exploring his own feelings and what he has learned over his lifetime. The...

Caffeine by Michael Pollan

This subtitle, How Caffeine Created the Modern World, lays out an ambitious subject for a 2-hour audiobook, even if it is written by Michael Pollan. I’m not in a position to say that it was a successful thesis, but it was interesting enough that I want to devote a post to it to remember some of the points he made. I am sorry to say that as far as I know, it is only available through Audible...

Inland by Téa Obreht

The author’s previous novel, The Tiger’s Wife, was an exhausting view of life in the Balkans, with fairy tales from the Ottoman days and references to the 1990s war in the region to the uneasy postwar years when it was published in 2011. The backdrop for this one is the West; one tale begins in the 1850s, the other in the 1890s and the two collide at the end. The story featuring Nora...

Cod by Mark Kurlansky

The subtitle is A Biography of a Fish that Changed the World, staking out a big claim for a bit of food, but the author makes a good case. By giving them a preservable food source, the cod enabled the Vikings to leave home for distant shores. Its abundance off the Newfoundland and Massachusetts shores was a rich resource that changed behavior. And there are countless other instances of the...

Hare’s Fur by Trevor Shearston

A book about a 70-year-old potter in mourning for his wife who encounters three kids living in the wild to avoid being taken in by the child protective bureaucracy, well, that story could have some pitfalls. This one successfully avoids them. The book is set on the outskirts of Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. Russell has a few good friends who live nearby, but his life is largely solitary now...

Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl

I loved listening to the author who, when this was written in 1998, was restaurant critic for the New York Times. Here, she tells how she came to love good food. I had read her laugh-out-loud book Garlic and Sapphires more than 10 years ago, so I was not surprised to find this one, too, has many funny stories. I’ll start with one of the best about her mother, who was a terrible–and...

Love Unknown: The Life and Works of Elizabeth Bishop by Thomas Travisano

Over the years we have known that our friend Jim’s brother has written books about Elizabeth Bishop; this one is surely his most ambitious. It is an eminently readable telling of her life and for me, an appealing recounting of her poetry. Her father died when she was eight months old and when she was five, her mother had a breakdown and was hospitalized for the rest of her life. Bishop...

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Having just recalled the four books by Ann Patchett that I’ve read, I can say this one fits right in. The characters are fantastical but irresistible, the most hateful become toothless, sometimes literally, and the setting is everything. In this one, the book is even named for the setting. The Dutch House was built by the VanHoebeek family; when they died, everything they owned remained in...

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David Blight

This long and thorough biography of the incomparable Frederick Douglass has been my companion for some weeks now. It has been inspirational to hear about his strength in the face of the great turmoil of his life. His story of escaping slavery and becoming an iconic speaker who drew thousands to hear him is endlessly fascinating. Recently I read a review of a different book that brought to mind...

Reasons to Be Cheerful by Nina Stibbe

I enjoyed the three previous Nina Stibbe books, and I was happy to listen to the foibles of Lizzie who is now 18 years old. Lizzie gets a job as a dental assistant, replacing the current assistant who has become the dentist’s girlfriend. The job includes an apartment above the dental office, so this job means Lizzie will live on her own for the first time. She becomes the almost-girlfriend...

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