Sunday, October 25, 2015

Audiobooks I Love

There was a time when I thought that audiobooks weren't really reading. Then I discovered that I was just listening to the wrong books. And who taught me that? Jim Dale. Jim Dale reads all of the Harry Potter series, and he is outstanding. 
Jim Dale led me down a road of listening all the time. In the car, while washing the dishes, while folding laundry...but not every book lends itself to audio, or at least not for me. I prefer nonfiction, but I do listen to fiction as long as the story isn't too detailed.

Curious about my favorite audiobooks? Well, you're in luck, because I made a list of them! 

Along the Way: The Journey of a Father and a Son by Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez
One of my requirements for memoirs is that the author is the reader. And who doesn't want to hear Jed Bartlett read a book? (Emilio Estevez reads some, too.)

Anything that Neil Gaiman reads, especially The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series by Maryrose Wood. 
Okay. This is a kids' series. No bones about it. But it's so funny. It's a completely ridiculous story about a governess, Miss Penelope Lumley, who's hired to take care of three children who are maybe...possibly...probably partly werewolf. I've no doubt that the print books are good, but the reader makes them hilarious. Bonus: appropriate for all ages! 

Is It Just Me? by Miranda Hart
I have held several of you hostage and made you watch Miranda's sitcom on Hulu (and I'm not sorry). This falls into my "is this as funny in print?" category, because Miranda is hilarious and, as noted in my listening rules, reads her own book. 

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin and READ BY MERYL STREEP.
And that is all you need to know.

Do any of you love or completely loathe audiobooks?

Friday, October 16, 2015

You’re Gonna Make It After All

I am going to tell you all right now that I am not an astute literary critic. But, I spent many years working at a local TV station and living in the upstairs of a historic home, a mere flight of steps away from dear friends. Therefore, I love the "Mary Tyler Moore" show.

I realized that I was living a Mary Richards life in the 2000s, and I’m not even kidding. I can make almost everything fall into place: hilarious co-workers at the TV station, poorly executed dinner parties, interesting dates/boyfriends, and I had a close friend whose real job was creating department store displays. Let that last one sink in for a second; the only two people I can think of in the world who had a real job doing that are my friend Jessica and the character of Rhoda Morgenstern.

Anyway, I recently picked up Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, a 2013 book by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong all about the program. And I loved it.

It focuses on the people who created the show as well as the actors that were part of the now-classic program. Like any good book about something ingrained in popular culture, it talks about how someone almost got a different part (Gavin MacLeod and Ed Asner both auditioned for the role of “Lou Grant”) and how the show or certain key parts of it almost didn’t happen.

It also tells the story of the female writers who landed jobs working on that program (and Hollywood in general in the 1970s). There was no established career path to get them there, and I found the detailed lives of these trailblazers fascinating, including how their personal experiences occasionally ended up on screen. 

Armstrong actually begins the book with the story of writer Treva Silverman, introducing her life and unique comedy talent while using her as somewhat of a thread throughout. I loved that Armstrong chose to start the book with a name most readers wouldn’t recognize, and Silverman is a fascinating character in her own right.

There was sort of an interesting pseudo-rivalry with MTM and “All in the Family” since the two were both part of the CBS Saturday night lineup. They helped each other in some ways, but they addressed social issues very differently: a rant from Archie Bunker would cause an immediate conversation, but the issues on MTM were character-based and plot-driven. For example, while Archie Bunker would freak out over meeting someone who was gay, MTM handled the issue differently by giving Phyllis a gay brother (even though she didn’t know he was gay). When he visited and took a liking to Rhoda instead of Mary, Phyllis started freaking out that they would get married. Rhoda matter-of-factly told Phyllis that he was gay, and she was relieved. The author noted that it made the audience laugh at someone's reaction instead of the person at the center of the issue.

Of course, MTM didn’t always hit that note just right. Earlier in the series, MTM tried to be more like “All in the Family” by creating a confrontation in an episode called “Some of My Best Friends Are Rhoda.” Mary realizes a new friend is an anti-Semite and tells her off, but it wasn’t really the show’s style for Mary to explode like that or be so preachy. How the writers dealt with creating a sitcom narrative that addressed issues was a fascinating part of this book.

The book also explored something I didn’t realize: the boundary-pushing TV of the 1970s led to an overcorrection in the 1980s and the networks’ self-imposed “family hour.” Suddenly gone was the edgy social commentary laced in popular programming.

The book really covers every element: the actors’ camaraderie, power struggles, fights and reconciliations; the worries that audiences would think Moore was still Laura Petrie (she even wore a wig the first seasons); the "Rhoda," "Phyllis," and "Lou Grant" spinoffs; and how the creative forces and actors went on to other endeavors (the ones who created "Taxi" used the names of some MTM staff members as characters). 

And, I have to mention one other thing. The author met a superfan who used to type up pages of notes on each show and mail them to the studio. He had his own detailed rating system for each show based on how many “jollies” (times he laughed out loud), “grins,” and “sobs” (any tears counted as sobs) it provided him. He was obsessed. But, here’s the almost weirder thing: the producers read the letters and loved them, finding them an accurate measure of the show’s effectiveness, even more so than professional television critics. He even visited the set, spending a week with the producers and cast members. He provided the author with photos and memories of that time; it was such a bizarre part of the history of the show, but the author found it endearing.

I do think you need to already be a fan of the show to truly enjoy this book. I don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of every episode (I was born the year it went off the air), but I do remember seeing key episodes in reruns. When I could remember plotlines or scenes mentioned in the book, the stories told really popped. And it gets into a lot of detail about the inner workings of Hollywood and television studios; it can be fascinating or laborious.

Let me end this "Reading Rainbow"-style: If you enjoy learning about television programming in the 1970s, creative forces that worked together to make something unique, the clashes of entertainment and culture, behind-the-scenes details of a classic show, and learning what makes talented actors, producers, and writers tick, then this book is for you.

And if you want to see Mary and Rhoda try to meet men at a club for divorced people, then this embedded video is for you. Some of this holds up (and is a bit too relatable even today), and some is hilariously dated. Thanks, Treva Silverman.

8 Thrilling, Chilling Books for Halloween

I saw this interesting article about 8 scary books for Halloween in my Brightly newsletter. There are some classics but new ones as well. I have In A Dark, Dark Wood on my to-read list. Brightly is a newsletter I get from a required App for Lexi's school. It has good reading info for kids but also interesting (and funny) articles for adults.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

80 Days: An Interactive Novel

Hi! Charlie here. I recently came across an interesting thing that makes me really happy I have a venue in which to share interesting things. (This blog is what I'm talking about. The venue, I mean, not the interesting thing. [Although this blog is an interesting thing, too.])

Let me start over.

There's a game called 80 Days available on the Apple app store, Google Play, and for PC that is pretty phenomenal.

Uugh, not a VIDEO GAME. What is it with boys and VIDEO GAMES??

I know, I know- but this one's actually just a really cool interactive novel. Set in a fictitious 19th-century world inspired by Jules Verne, you are Monsieur Passepartout, the trusty valet for Phileas Fogg. When your master wagers he can circumnavigate the globe in only 80 days, you dutifully pack his bags and set off!

The story is presented through first-person narration, allowing you to select from multiple text options to craft your own story. You are also given various travel routes to choose from, people to meet, cities to explore... it's actually really cool. There's a definite sense of adventure and exploration to the story, and each city you visit feels really alive and exciting.

So far, I'm 40 days into my journey and I've only reached east Asia. I'm not sure I'll make it around the globe in time, but I've certainly enjoyed the trip. I've had a run-in with Mosco's secret police, met a weapons merchant-turned-toymaker in Calcutta, and traveled on the ambulatory city of Agra.

It's a pretty rad story.

If anyone else tries it, let me know what you think! I'd love to hear what kind of crazy characters and places you encounter.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Man Booker Prize winner

As my first post in Melanie's very cool blog, I thought I'd go for something solid, the Man Booker Prize winner.  Thankfully, this is not only a satisfying topic but the winner was announced about 9:45PM GMT (yes, I was the dork awaiting updates as I read in bed last night); I lucked out in timeliness.  

This year's competition was open to English books from any country (not just England.  Rule changed only two years ago) and the shortlist had an interesting mix.  When I saw it, I started on the Anne Tyler as soon as I could get a copy.  I have loved her writing since The Accidental Tourist came out (yes, I know that makes me rather elderly...) and found her latest title so worthy of my dedication.  It was my fav read of the summer and actually kicked my book butt a bit as I needed it (maybe more about that topic another day).

My summer reads quickly led to autumn reads and after I finished Reckless (nothing to do with the Booker prize but I went to the UK book launch and am still buzzing) and Purity (nothing to do with the Booker prize but I do feel tackling Jonathan Franzen and succeeding always deserves a mention) I started the book that ended up winning the prize last night.  I wanted to challenge myself a bit, not usually having the clarity of looking at authors from outside the British or USA worlds.  Yes, I started it but after the first chapter I wasn't on fire, so I tried A Little Life for the third time and this time it grabbed me (I'm still reading A Little Life; it's f*cking long).  I was certain I would be reading the Booker prize winner when the winner was announced last night, mostly because it's very long and because the bookies in this fine land had tipped this book as the winner (is it a good think that people gamble on literary prize winners?  Maybe we can discuss this another day).  I was wrong!  When I finish A Little Life (quite possibly this time next year...), I'll go back to the winner and hope this time it sticks.

Does anyone try to read the shortlisted novels each year?  This is the first year I made an effort with the shortlist; in the past I have read the winner each year.  Does anyone use the winner, shortlist or long list for directions in reading?  Does anyone use literary prizes to guide reading choices?

Melanie, thank you again for the invite to participate in your blog.  It's an honour (which reminds me of listening to a discussion of "an" or "a" in front of "h" words...Fascinating!).

Monday, October 12, 2015

Welcome, readers!

What better time than fall to start talking about books? If it's good enough for F. Scott...well, let's not get into that. He was a drinker.