Archive | Reviews

DIARY OF A PROVINCIAL LADY

DIARY OF A PROVINCIAL LADY
By E. M. Delafield • Read by Georgina Sutton

Exploitation never goes out of fashion

Trouble with the kitchen range, and Cook says the mutton has gone and will I speak to the butcher.” Guaranteed to soothe Christmas panics and help you to drop off to sleep with a smile, EM Delafield’s famous account of everyday life in rural Devon in 1930 was written as a satire, its chapters published weekly in the magazine Time and Tide.

Now it has the added fascination of summoning up a world we have lost, in which vicarage teas and Women’s Institute meetings are seething cauldrons of offended feelings and fights for status, and hats are de rigueur. It was so successful that Delafield wrote sequels, two of which (The Provincial Lady Goes Further and The Provincial Lady in America) extend the action to London and the US; both are also available from Ukemi.

Georgina Sutton reads all three with a nervous briskness that perfectly matches the Provincial Lady’s accident-prone impulsiveness. Hopefully, this audio

revival will attract attention to Delafield’s many other interesting novels; she is unfairly regarded as a one-book author. Consequences and Nothing Is Safe would both make fine listening.

AUDIOBOOK OF THE WEEK – The Times

Capital Volume 1

Capital Volume 1
By Karl Marx • Read by Derek Le Page

Exploitation never goes out of fashion

The conqueror will occupy your lands and then sell your resources back to you on credit and tell you all the time it’s a good deal for you. Marx said that multiple times in this book and that’s a metaphor he used to describe the fate of the working person (labor) when at the mercy of capital.

Exploitation and alienation are features not bugs in the absence of a government for the people. The plight of the working class in Europe for the most part was pitiful and hopeless during the time of this book and Marx does a yeoman job of documenting it. Just as burning cats might have been au currant in 1667 Paris and forcing children as young as 8 years old or forcing overtime upon workers or providing them below subsistence wages with dangerous work conditions was the norm in 1860 England, nobody sane accepts those norms today. The world has changed today but this book makes a case that we are only as good as the government that we have when they act in the interest for the people and not the oligarchs.

The oligarchs and the powerful will always alienate and exploit to squeeze the other who is not them up to the limit that they can get away with. The status quo is the default given as ought, the naturalistic fallacy which assumes ‘is’ means ‘ought’. The status quo and the given during Marx’s time was that 16 hour day was in the best interest of the working person, and the factories and workhouses said they were doing the working class a favor, and Marx was forced to refute that and a whole host of other givens as ought. Today, those kinds of norms seem anachronistic and superfluous, but that’s only because society has changed. (Ultimately, nothing ever really changes, even somebody I’ve barely ever heard of before today, Kayne West, recently said that ‘slavery for the slaves was a choice’ in America since it lasted for 400 years. The ignorant will always be ignorant because they don’t know they don’t know and aren’t interested in learning).

You ever notice how even the reality based journalism makes a statement such as ‘there is a shortage of fast food workers’ (the NYT did that on 5/4/2018 with reference to the 3.9% unemployment numbers that came out)? That statement really irritates me. What they really are saying is at the wages the fast food companies are willing to pay there aren’t enough workers who want to be exploited at those low wages. Marx will show even in his time period that kind of wrongheaded formulation was prevalent.

The masters of suspicion: Freud, Nietzsche and Marx all had their take on truth. Freud thought truth existed but we are in denial about it, Nietzsche thought the greatest truth was that there was no knowable truth, and Marx thought truth was discoverable through class. Marx will try to develop his foundations through class and its exploitation and alienation with theory of money, currency, labor and capital, and through his story telling.

And what a story Marx tells. He is incredibly gifted in weaving philosophy and religion into his narrative. I can say that most of what I read now days about Hegel has gone through a lens of Marx which is unfortunate because Hegel clearly could have another more relevant interpretation than what is commonly thought. Marx expects his readers to be cognizant of philosophy and will make statements such as ‘that would lead to the sophistry of Protagoras or the relativism of the Eleatics’.

There is a reason why the ‘Great Books of the Western World’ included this book in the series. Not only is Marx an incredibly good writer (while not necessarily being a great economist), he has something to say that is relevant for our time period and definitely should be read today. This Ukemi production is a treasure and I would highly recommend it. (And no I’m not affiliated with Ukemi in any way even though I keep reviewing and raving about their products. They just seem to have the books I’ve been reading because I just love the old classics that they have recently made available).

Gary. 5 Stars. Audible.com

Buddenbrooks

unbelievably talented narrator

This classic novel has been on my bucket list for years because it’s listed in most of the great literature polls, plus the author won the Nobel Prize. But I was blown away by how entertaining this book and the narrator are. I’m an audiobook junky who’s listed to over 400 novels, most of them classics and best sellers. I thought I was familiar with the great narrators. Before this novel I hadn’t heard of thos narrator. He’s damn talented. He’s the kind of narrator who devises a distinctive tone for each character, thus eschewing the need to figure out who is talking. I’ve decided to listen to his other books. I hope he does lots more to include Mann’s other classic, The Magic Mountain.

 

5 Stars Audible.com

Le Grand Meaulnes

Le Grand Meaulnes

Alain-Fournier • Read by John Hollingworth

A fine new version of the classic 1913 tale of an adolescent yearning for his lost love, set in an ancient chateau in the heart of France. John Hollingworth’s laconic but engaged performance is well judged.

Christina Hardyment – The Times

Four Arthurian Romances

Four Arthurian Romances

By Chrétien de Troyes • Read by Nicholas Boulton

Tales of King Arthur are the best-known work of the 15th-century writer Sir Thomas Malory. But WW Comfort’s elegant prose translations of the 12th-century French romancer Chrétien de Troyes take the listener in new directions with his stories of Erec and Enide, Cligès and Yvain, the Knight of the Lion. Chrétien also gave us an early version of Lancelot’s ill-fated love for Guinevere. Nicholas Boulton rises superbly to the solemnity of high chivalry.

Christina Hardyment – The Times

Land of Men

LAND OF MEN (WIND SAND AND STARS)

By Antoine de Saint-Exupéry • Read by Nicholas Boulton

AUDIOBOOK OF THE WEEK

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry flew rickety, unreliable mailplanes in the 1930s between Europe, Africa and America, which gave him a unique vision of planet Earth that is captured in this classic book, Terre Des Hommes (1939), known in English as Wind, Sand and Stars. It recounts adventures such as dodging cliff-faces in the Andes and the Atlas mountains, overcoming storms at sea or surviving a crash in the Sahara, and gives a sense of what it was like to fly alone, navigating by elusive beacons and the stars. More importantly, he expressed with a poetic lightness of spirit his insights about life’s essentials.

Nicholas Boulton reads Bill Homewood’s new translation with a boyish zest that perfectly matches Saint-Exupéry’s exuberance at being “right at the heart of mystery . . . a student biologist studying through the porthole the human anthill”. A year before he disappeared in 1944 during a reconnaissance mission over the Mediterranean, Saint-Exupéry condensed his ever pertinent philosophy of what makes life worth living in his famous children’s book The Little Prince.

Land of Men: Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, read by Nicholas Boulton.

Christina Hardyment – The Times

THE SOCRATIC DIALOGUES – EARLY PERIOD VOLUME 1

THE SOCRATIC DIALOGUES – EARLY PERIOD VOLUME 1
The Apology • Crito • Charmenides • Laches • Lysis • Euthyphro • Menexenus • Ion

By Plato • Multi-Voice Production – Read by David Rintoul as Socrates and cast

*****

“A masterful recording brings Plato back to life”

As a fan of Plato, I had been searching for a complete set of the Socratic Dialogues, so I was very excited when I saw Ukemi recordings. I was even happier when I found out that Nicolas Soames, the founder of Ukemi, was previously in charge of Naxos Audiobooks and had produced many of my favourite classics. As for the production, it is well done and the actors give you a clear sense that they actually understand the ideas Plato was trying to convey: the pursuit of truth through questions, answers, and more questions. To me the attribute of actor-understanding is essential to enjoying any philosophical work in audible format and particularly with dialogues like these. In this case you feel as if you are in the room, experiencing the tension, with convincing protagonists attacking and defending competing theories of truth, virtue, and the good life. This is a very effective (and enjoyable) path to Plato. I’m currently on Volume 3 but I will definitely be buying the rest as soon as they are released. Top marks so far!

C J Deazeley – Audible

FOUR ARTHURIAN ROMANCES

FOUR ARTHURIAN ROMANCES

By Chrétien de Troyes • Read by Nicholas Boulton

*****

“Ukemi Audio: Doing the Lord’s Work”

Long before the Internet made almost everything available to just about everyone, a friend of mine would say of certain publishing houses that they were “doing the Lord’s work”.

He meant that, despite the cost of production and the inevitable loss in the marketplace, these houses persevered in turning out slim volumes of the lesser-known Elizabethan sonnet cycles and classic works of history eclipsed by more up-to-date scholarship. If he were still with us, he’d probably say Ukemi was doing the Lord’s work for audiobooks.

This edition of Chretien de Troyes is the third Ukemi release in my library, joining Boetheus’ Consolation of Philosophy and the amazing, anonymous Mabinogion. Like the first two titles, this one is superbly, vigorously, read. Like the first two, the translation is of a rather reverend vintage, well within the Public Domain.

At first that made me wary; though no chronological snob (C. S. Lewis’ term for one dismissive of past ideas and ideals) I appreciate what modern scholarship can bring to the translation of ancient texts. But beyond a certain stiltedness in Boetheus, my fears have proved groundless. In the case of Chretien, I’m grateful for this prose version. While I thoroughly enjoyed reading the deftly rhymed verse translations by Ruth Cline and Dorothy Gilbert, these fabulous stories, told in four-beat couplets crowded with details, would probably be harder to follow through ear buds.

If you clicked on this book, chances are you already know these stories, so I won’t dwell on their origins and influence. You know about Marie de Champagne; you get the irony that Britain’s greatest hero was celebrated most enthusiastically in France; you know that two of these tales—Yvain and Eric et Enid—are variations of stories that appear in the Mabinogian (which should make for some interesting comparative listening). It only remains to say that the performance by Nicholas Boulton, though a tad hurried, is superb.

No doubt professor Comfort’s essay at the end of this recording would not pass muster in the modern academy. Nevertheless, it is still a solid exposition of the zeitgeist in which Chretien worked, his possible influences, the strengths and shortcomings of his work, and his ultimate place in the Western literary tradition.

REVIEW ON AUDIBLE

BEWARE OF PITY

BEWARE OF PITY
By Stefan Zweig, Read by Nicholas Boulton

Nicholas Boulton’s performance of the only full-length novel of the great Stefan Zweig is impeccable, impassioned, and moving. Zweig’s storytelling here is old-fashioned, feeling almost Chekhovian at this remove. Set right before WWI, it’s a domestic tragedy told in the shadow of the looming destruction of a world and about a young Austrian cavalry officer trying to behave honorably to a rich but hysterically needy crippled girl with whom he is entangled. Boulton’s Lt. Hoffmiller is both an exotic to us and utterly familiar as a young man whose not-uncommon flaw is that he doesn’t understand his own emotions. Zweig’s achievement is to show what damage this can do on small stages or large; Boulton’s is to make us vibrate in sympathy with Hoffmiller.

B.G.
Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2017, Portland, Maine [Published: OCTOBER 2017]

Nicholas Boulton’s performance of the only full-length novel of the great Stefan Zweig is impeccable, impassioned, and moving. Zweig’s storytelling here is old-fashioned, feeling almost Chekhovian at this remove. Set right before WWI, it’s a domestic tragedy told in the shadow of the looming destruction of a world and about a young Austrian cavalry officer trying to behave honorably to a rich but hysterically needy crippled girl with whom he is entangled. Boulton’s Lt. Hoffmiller is both an exotic to us and utterly familiar as a young man whose not-uncommon flaw is that he doesn’t understand his own emotions. Zweig’s achievement is to show what damage this can do on small stages or large; Boulton’s is to make us vibrate in sympathy with Hoffmiller. B.G.

Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2017, Portland, Maine

THE SORROWS OF YOUNG WERTHER

THE SORROWS OF YOUNG WERTHER

Wolfgang von Goethe, Read by Leighton Pugh • Unabridged • OCTOBER 2017

Written in 1774 when Goethe was just 24, this short novel is a series of letters written by a young man in the throes of impossible love with a woman who is engaged to someone else. Leighton Pugh is marvelous in his role as narrator. Although the epistolary form means there’s little opportunity for multiple voices, Pugh changes the color and timbre of his narration in all the right spots, enlivening the text and ensuring that it never sounds like a monologue. One of the appeals of this classic work is that Werther is charming and likable, despite his heavy burden. Pugh’s narration is equally energetic, never maudlin, and helps listener empathize with the doomed title character.

D.B. © AudioFile 2017, Portland, Maine

THE WORLD OF YESTERDAY

THE WORLD OF YESTERDAY
By Stefan Zweig Read by David Horovitch

David Horovitch’s sublime narration of Zweig’s haunting memoir matches excellence with excellence, style with style. Completed the day before he committed suicide in 1942, Zweig’s narrative is a bittersweet medley of nostalgia and despair, starting with the golden turn-of-the-century years when Vienna was the center of European intellectual and artistic activity, all of which was destroyed with the Nazi ascent in Austria. Film director Wes Anderson has reawakened interest in Zweig, an artist who was once Europe’s bestselling novelist—and who, in time, saw his books burned in public. Horovitch sounds as you imagine Zweig would sound and portrays Zweig’s sensibility, style, and moral compass perfectly, and indelibly. And, happily, if you are new to Zweig, a long list of his slim, elegant novellas awaits you on audio, in English, German, and French. D.A.W.

Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2017, Portland, Maine

The Brink of Destruction

This memoir of Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) is another of Ukemi’s treasures. Zweig was the most important writer of his day writing in German, but his work was banned by the Nazis. Translated into English, his memoir The World of Yesterday  was rescued by the Pushkin Press only within the last ten years. The translation by Anthea Bell (who concludes this beautifully sympathetic, exactly right narration by David Horovitch) is what a first class translation should be: it’s as though this is just how Zweig wrote it.

Zweig’s world of yesterday is the ‘golden age of security’  of the Austro Hungarian Empire in which he grew up, a wonderful time for Viennese high culture of music, opera, art and conversation provided mainly by Jewish intellectuals, a world Zweig creates in all it richness. As a child he met Brahms, looked on actors as supernatural beings and was fired with a passion for ‘things of the mind.’

His musings over the changing mores as time passed have a universal appeal. Growing up, women of his class were chastely swathed from head to foot, always chaperoned, and bridegrooms would have no idea of what was underneath –  a purity which existed  alongside thriving and rampant prostitution. Later women cut their hair, discarded their corsets, played tennis and, even if some did have stones thrown at them for doing so, rode bicycles. The insights he gives into his own writing explain the slimness of his novels:  he wanted to intensify the ‘inner architecture’ of his writing, to know more than he showed, to hone and omit. A good lesson for writers to absorb.

The memoir is filled with vignettes of great names, from Gorky, Yeats and Strauss to Rilke, Ravel  and Valéry– and a host of other Europeans I’d never heard of and are now, as Zweig says, mainly forgotten. His portrait of  Freud is a real person, suffering but determined as he neared death; with James Joyce he discusses German and Italian translations of words from Ulysses. His treasured collections included the quill pen and candlestick of his greatest icon, Goethe. He travelled widely, from Paris to America and even in India, observing and analysing with telling detail, as when he describes the peasants doffing their caps before artworks in the Hermitage in Leningrad.

But  ‘great evil swept over humanity’ with the onset of WW1,  after which he returned to a Salzburg in his ‘poor plundered unhappy country’ where everything was either ‘broken or stolen’ and hyperinflation  raged: squirrel for Sunday lunch, frozen potatoes, trousers made of old sacks, treasured possessions sold in markets. But he noted too how real value was found in friendship, art and music. His final heartbreak was the start of the rise of Nazi Germany with its systematic destruction of all that he held dear in humanity and the loss of his hopes for a unified Europe. These were horrors enough, but he didn’t live to see the worst.

The history in this memoir is all too familiar, but Zweig’s telling makes it fresh and new.  The World of Yesterday is a unique listening experience.

Rachel Redford, Audible.

THE WORLD AS WILL AND IDEA VOLUME 1

THE WORLD AS WILL AND IDEA VOLUME 1 
By Arthur Schopenhauer • Read by Leighton Pugh

“There is no philosophy without Schopenhauer!!!!!” Where does The World as Will And Idea, Volume 1 rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?As a member for more than 10 years , I was always on the look out for it..#1….

What other book might you compare The World as Will And Idea, Volume 1 to and why?The writings of Kant are in the same vein , but Kant is not as accesssible…

Have you listened to any of Leighton Pugh’s other performances before? How does this one compare? No…. but he is D-A-R-N goooood…talk about matching a writer and a performer!!!!

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?How Numina Becomes Phenomena

Any additional comments?If you do not present “…..principle of sufficient reason” to go with this performance , the listener may encounter difficulty…AND especially !!!! YOU MUST MUST MUST PRESENT THE OTHER VOLUME(S)….quicklY

Eric Carter 03-18-17 – AUDIBLE

  • “Easy to follow, better than today’s fluff” Schopenhauer is wrong when he says this is a difficult book, that it needs to be read twice, or it’s necessary to have had read Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” in order to follow his arguments. The author writes such that if you don’t understand what he’s saying just wait awhile and he’ll explain it to you later on in another section of the Volume. When I read books like this, I long for today’s writers to be as entertaining, informative, and as challenging to my current beliefs as this book is.

  • It’s rare to find a primary philosophy book that gives a whole world view that’s as accessible as this book. It takes a while to understand what the author is attempting to explain within this book, but when you do you start to realize the pure genius that is being explained by the author. The author is really writing four books and ties them together under his one big thought. He’ll independently consider 1) knowledge, 2) being, 3) art and 4) ethics. Essentially all of philosophy. There’s a sense that I got when he wrote these four ‘books’ that make up this Volume that he wrote them independently and ties them together in such a way that if you don’t understand a concept in one section it will be restated in the next book in the terms of that book so that you will understand the original section upon reflection.

  • To really appreciate a great philosopher and their over all philosophy, I find it best to accept their premises and see where that leads. In book one Schopenhauer starts to tell the reader how he sees the world (universe). He’ll say that Bishop George Berkeley is one of his primary models. Schopenhauer replaces Berkeley’s ‘all reality is in the mind of God’ with the universe as will (to live). (If you don’t remember who Berkeley is, I’ll jog your memory. He’s the guy who said that “if a tree falls in a forest does it make a sound” and he would respond, ‘of course it does because God hears everything”. Also, ‘to perceive is to be”. As a follow-up to this book, I’ve started listening to his “Three Dialogs” available at audible).

  • Schopenhauer really didn’t seem to like the Enlightenment thinkers except for Kant. He doesn’t like the materialist (or positivist) and ultimately makes ‘will’ the ground of all being and by ‘will’ explains it in the terms of the Eleatics (his word, think Parmenides) and the Stoics as contrasted with the Epicureans. A stoic will accept the things he can not change and only be concerned with the things within his control. This is how he ends his first book and sets up the other books from what he means by ‘will to live’. All things that exist have this will he speaks of.

  • He does appeal to Kant and the Kant’s thing-in-itself, the thing that exist in itself and for itself that which remains after the categories of intuitions of space, time and cause are removed. That which remains is the will (Kant would call it noumena as opposed to the thing as it appears to us, the phenomenon). Within his second book he will tie Plato’s Ideal with Kant’s noumena as being basically the same thing and both point to the ‘will to live’. He’ll say that all forces in the world (e.g. Gravity and EM) are the “immediate objectivization of the will”. Matter of fact, I’m pretty sure you can take Schopenhauer to be monist in the vain of Parmenides. Parmenides says there is no becoming as such there is only being and that there is no ‘not being’. Schopenhauer seems to follow that kind of thought concerning ‘Being’ and if anything makes the dichotomy between ‘being’ with ‘ought’ because his unfolding of the universe as will is that the universe is meant to be one way due to ‘fate’ that is inherent within the world because of the world’s will, and like Karma he tends take the cause and effect out of the world and for Schopenhauer he’s going to replace them with will. At the very end of the Volume, he has one add-on to the story where he explicitly speaks of Grace (God’s unearned mercy) in Augustinian terms and contrasts that with what he calls the obviously incorrect Pelagius belief in a person’s ability to control their own destiny and he’ll even give a special shout out to Martin Luther and the role that Grace must play (he even mentions at the end about the distinction between salvation by works verse by faith). I can say this was add-on because they really don’t flow with how he dealt with Christianity anywhere else within the Volume.

  • He will describe life mostly in terms of our will (wishes, desires, wants) never being satisfied, and even when we get what we want that only leads to more wanting and more struggling. The one who cause suffering causes himself to suffer (he’ll say). There is a repressed guilt that is within our unconscious that causes us just as much suffering as we created in others (even if Freud says he wasn’t influenced by Schopenhauer a modern reader can see Freud within this text).

  • I just recently listened to Kierkegaard’s “Anxiety” and Nietzsche’s “Genealogy of Morals”. There’s no doubt that they take some of this book and makes it their own. Kierkegaard takes similar thoughts expressed in this book such as the nature of the “now”, the particular to the general of a thing to the whole (“Adam is a man and all men make the race”). Kierkegaard uses the same kind of formation of which Schopenhauer used in book 2 and 4, and the nature of guilt and other items but makes them his own by having a passion for the now (Schopenhauer is definitely not passionate for the now, he puts us into the future in terms of will or even when we consider the past we extrapolate a will from today to our projection of the past, he says). Nietzsche will uses his passion for the now and inverts Schopenhauer’s aesthetics and makes it about the artist not the art, and also takes the ‘will to live’ and changes it to ‘will to power’ a return to the primal instincts that are within all of us.

  • A couple of things, he really does a good job at integrating Eastern thought into Western thought. He explains the world in terms of Maya, Shiva and Brahman (creation, destruction and generation). He likes the mystics and saints and thinks they provide the role models for today (he’s very positive towards aestheticism). There is definitely a strand of pessimism within his philosophy. Death is a good thing. Life is struggle. Better to have not been born at all. Everything is an illusion and our knowledge can only takes us so far and at the heart of all things is the will that acts as the ground for all being.

  • This book stands on its own and is definitely one of the easier original philosophy books to follow. I only wish that modern writers would write as well as this writer did and assume that their readers are as interested in learning about the world as Schopenhauer did for his potential readers.

– Gary Las Cruces, NM US 04-04-17

“Excellent Audio Book and Performance”

Leighton Pugh does a phenomenal job reading this wonderful book which earns it 5 stars. There are only two minor drawbacks in this presentation: it is based on an old translation and it is not unabridged, since it leaves out the very important but highly technical appendix “Critique of the Kantian Philosophy” which is one of the reasons why I purchased this audio book. The best and newest translation of “The World as Will and Presentation” is a two volume set by Richard Aquila and David Carus. I hope Audible will have Mr Pugh read the supplemental volume two of this great work with the appendix of volume one included. Nonetheless, this is a very rewarding and highly recommended work. A must listen!

– Juan Malo 07-25-17 Audible

 

CONUNDRUM

CONUNDRUM
By Jan Morris • Read by Roy McMillan

Jan Morris, now in her nineties, is revered as a brilliant writer. As James Morris, he was a renowned foreign correspondent and his reputation barely hiccupped when he chemically and surgically changed sex in his forties, retaining the undiminished love of his wife (later civil partner), Elizabeth, as well as their four children and many of their friends. Morris’s story was challenging when Conundrum, the memoir of her sex change, was first published in 1974; this new audiobook edition, with an inspiring preface by Morris, is timely as we think more profoundly and less dogmatically about sexual identity. Morris’s insights on the nature of gender will resonate with men and women alike. She vividly describes life in a boys’ boarding school, the army, travelling the world and her quest to change sex. The prevailing mood is of serenity achieved. Roy McMillan’s lively reading conveys Morris’s native warmth and wit.

Christina Hardyment – The Times

The reissue of Jan Morris’s 1973 autobiography translates well to the audiobook medium. A well-known travel writer, Morris was one of the first people in public life to discuss her experiences as a transgender person. Roy McMillan’s narration includes authentic accents for characters of different cultures and changes in pacing that enhance the peaks and valleys of unfolding events. His timbre is only a half-range deeper than Morris’s own speaking voice, and his accent matches the author’s. A new foreword by the author, also read by McMillan, contextualizes the now dated terminology that we hear in the body of the text—for example, “transsexual” instead of “transgender.” F.M.R.G.

© AudioFile 2017, Portland, Maine

“”A troubled soul achieving serenity””

Published in 1974 Conundrum is Jan Morris’s account of her life from a four-year-old boy in a loving family convinced that unlike his older brothers he is a girl, to her full transition to a woman finally completed nearly four decades, a faithful wife and five much loved children later. Now in her nineties, she has written an insightful preface for this recording.

James Morris had a tremendously successful career as a revered journalist (reporting all over the world including in Nepal on the successful 1953 conquering of Everest), travel writer and historian, but his life as a man amongst men (and James Morris met and worked with a multitude of powerful and interesting people including Che Guevara and Adolf Eichmann ) accentuated his own deeply incised dichotomy and sense of duality. His story progresses from school with its sexual indulgences, through to marriage with Elizabeth with whom she now has a civil partnership and who was fully aware of Morris’s state of mind, the fulfilment of raising four children, the shared grief of a baby’s death, years of hormone treatment and finally the surgery in Morocco, all related with complete honesty underplaying the courage and pain involved.

What makes Conundrum such a brilliant classic apart from the biography itself is Morris’s fine intellect and superb writing. She delves into the swirling depths of her psyche as the conflicts and all-consuming drive for change are worked through. Her path through all this has been not so much sexual as spiritual. She muses on the sexual equivocations in world religions and civilisations as she moves from detestation of her male body towards achieving a form of peaceful transcendence where there is neither man nor woman. And this she does, discarding not the truth of herself, but the falsity. Joyful after her final surgery she feels ‘like a princess emancipated from her degraded disguise’. Her troubled soul has achieved serenity.

Roy McMillan reads Conundrum with totally absorbing and respectful dignity. It’s appropriate for him as he has also narrated Morris’s great historical work, the trilogy Pax Britannica (available on Audible)

HUMAN, ALL TOO HUMAN A BOOK FOR FREE SPIRITS

HUMAN, ALL TOO HUMAN A BOOK FOR FREE SPIRITS
By Friedrich Nietzsche • Read by Michael Lunts

“Thrilling Nietzsche”

Would you listen to Human, All Too Human again? Why?

Definitely. This is a the easiest way for me to digest Nietzsche. Reading his writings I get too distracted, but I’ve found that listening allows me better absorption. I actually played this entire book on 2x speed. It requires a slight increase in listening effort, but the challenge keeps you from drifting off.

What did you like best about this story?

This isn’t the devastating Christian critique of The Antichrist, nor the ground breaking dismissal of ethics with Beyond Good and Evil, but a manifesto for free life. It contains several sections, moving from moral critiques to Christianity.

In short, this is a deconstruction of morals and virtue, revealing the false restrictions they impose. The content is unique from his other writings, although the themes are the same. There are no proprietary Nietzsche here to learn, but plenty of things to think about, including: the dangers of compassion, what creates the mindset of justice, the bias of religious virtue, and more.

More aphorism than consistent narrative, this book is easier to hop in and out of. Where as in his other works, if you miss something early on you might be missing a crucial ingredient for later.

What does Michael Lunts bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Solid reader; his voice was a comfortable fill in for whatever Nietzsche might actually sound like.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Feelings of my power growing.

– Audible

LAND OF MEN (WIND SAND AND STARS)

LAND OF MEN
(WIND SAND AND STARS)
By Antoine de Saint-Exupéry • Read by Nicholas Boulton

“‘At the heart of mystery'”

In the 1930s and 40s Saint-Exupery was in the French Airforce flying flimsy unreliable little planes across frequently treacherous airmail routes over the oceans and Africa and South America. Land of Men (a direct translation of the original title Terre des hommes) is his account of his 1930s experiences, but not so much the narrative of them, as an extended meditation on ‘the heart of mystery’ which he finds whilst alone in the cockpit at the ‘whim of the winds’, the ‘something vast’ he sees in the corridors of moonlight beyond this flawed, earthly life.

There are tales and dramas as well, such as the account of his near-death in the Sahara after his plane came down. After days existing on only sandy dew, of tantalising mirages and with his rasping throat almost closed, he is saved by a Bedouin on a camel, an ‘aureole of charity’ shimmering in the desert sand, who gives him water. He arranges to buy a black slave and ensures that he is returned to his family in Agadir, and he laments the loss of pilots, his comrades which nothing can ever replace. At a local dwelling the lively daughters of the place tell him not to worry about the strange movements under the table – it is only the adders which live in the house walls! Saint-Exupery is also an acute observer of creatures and birds, like the desert fox which carefully removes only one nut from each branch.

That Land of Men was Saint-Exupery’s original title suggests the importance he placed on his universal message. From the perspective of his plane buffeted by the turbulent winds, he could see people as crushed by modern life and their pursuit of money. He wanted a better life for them, closer to the ‘invisible riches’ and serenity which he had found amongst the stars.

Nicholas Boulton presents Saint-Exupery’s musings beautifully, his depth of tone reflecting the depth of the author’s thoughts and feelings. Ukemi Audiobooks has saved another classic for posterity!

– Rachel Redford, Audible

THE LETTERS OF PLINY THE YOUNGER

THE LETTERS OF PLINY THE YOUNGER
By Pliny the Younger • Read by Leighton Pugh

“Roman life brilliantly illuminated!”

Pliny the Younger was born around 61AD and rose to become Consul in 100AD. His letters to his wife, friends and officials including the historian Tacitus and Emperor Trajan are full of detail, wisdom and humanity. They create a luminous picture of Roman life for a man of his wealth and stature. Leighton Pugh’s measured narration reflects the kindly thoughtfulness of Pliny’s writing. I never tire of his voice (even after over 12 hours!) – it’s as though Pliny is talking.

Famously, Pliny recorded the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD in which his uncle with whom he lived was killed. Around 18 at the time, he was calmly reading Livy to take his mind off the tremors at the start, but was forced to escape as the sea ‘sucked into itself’, and all was enveloped in black ash and the air resounded with terrified screaming.

As an imperial magistrate, trials were his business and he comments on contested law suits especially concerning legacies, and also banishment, debating on questions such as the punishments of death versus banishment for various crimes including incest. It is striking how although nearly 2000 years separates now from then, his comments can sound uncannily contemporary. He criticises excessive expenditure by candidates before elections (sound familiar?) and pleads for a terminally sick man to be given an ‘easy death’ when he can’t be given life. It is partly Pliny’s grief which can ‘flay the heart’ at the death of wise and cherished friends and of children which makes him so real and human. One of the ghastliest deaths is that chosen by the wife of a man dying in pain from putrid groin ulcers. (She tied herself to him and jumped into the sea.) Another mental absorption is his writings and the constructive criticism which he offers to young aspiring writers.

Pliny is good to his slaves and shares the grief of ordinary people whose herds are destroyed by a tempest-flooded river. He appreciates his blessed life in his villa with its sea-views, heated pools, fruit trees and wells of crystal water which he describes in cinematic detail. Although he enjoys hunting, he never stops reading and thinking whilst out (he advises one correspondent to always take his writing tablet with him on these occasions). Too serious for Saturnalian activities, he hates extravagance and enjoys a dinner only if frugal, brief and accompanied by Socratic conversation.

This is another title from Nicolas Soames’s Ukemi Audiobooks who are brave enough to produce classic titles which you’ve heard of but have probably never read but have so much to offer us, particularly when so beautifully narrated and recorded.

– Rachel Redford, Audible

THE MABINOGION

THE MORAL EPISTLES
By Charlotte Guest • Read by Richard Mitchley

“Get to the end and heaven reward thee!”

Those who are familiar with the Welsh stories of the Mabinogian will relish this excellent narration of the tales with Richard Mitchley’s subtle Welsh lilt and his skill at rolling off his tongue the multitude of mellifluous Welsh names. For those like me for whom The Mabinogian is merely a never-read name, as well as enjoying the narration, listening to the stories will be an absolute joy-fest.

The stories date from the 11th century, but the oral tradition on which most are based go back much further into a timeless Welsh Middle Ages where enchantment, myth, dream, quests, history – and hideous cruelty – meet. (Think vaguely King Arthur and the chivalric Romance of the Rose). The translations used here published in 1840 are by a most remarkable woman, Lady Charlotte Guest, the daughter of Earl Lindsey who, amongst her considerable other achievements, learned many languages including Persian and Welsh. The archaic language structure with its ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ and ballad-like repetitions recall both Malory’s Morte d’Arthur and the Bible. In the stories themselves are universal themes such as redemption, punishment, loyalty and desire. Over-riding these is the code of honour and the severe punishment of what is perceived as dishonour – there are a great many heads severed and silver lances steeped in the blood of revenge – even the poor horses of the guilty have their eye-lids cut to the bone.

I loved the colour in all these tales – reds, golds, speckled yellow, azure; flame-coloured leopards, white-breasted greyhounds with collars of rubies and all the brilliance of robes and jewels. The stories teem with week-long feasts, gruelling quests on horseback into strange forests and mountains, and ladies of enchanting beauty who may be married to one not of her choosing, or be imprisoned, turned into a mouse or a boar or forbidden to speak. A magic wand will turn a man into a deer or a hog, or turn his green crops to dust. The punishments and violence are relentless: a severed head is carried around for 40 years, the heads of 200 men are squeezed until they are dead (quite a feat!); blood-laced lances are forever cleaving in twain some malefactor who has broken the social code. I liked the story of Branwen who saved his sister imprisoned in Ireland by teaching a starling to speak (and presumably to navigate!), and tucking a message into its feathers thereby arranging her rescue.

Download The Mabinogian and be transported into another world!

Rachel – 06/05/17 – Audible Review

 

LAND OF MEN (Wind Sand and Stars)
By Antoine de Saint-Exupéry • Read by Nicholas Boulton

LAND OF MEN (WIND, SAND AND STARS)

The warm romance of Nicholas Boulton’s baritone heightens the lyricism of this classic memoir about airplane flight by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of THE LITTLE PRINCE. LAND OF MEN is the original title translated from French (TERRE DES HOMMES); the more familiar WIND, SAND AND STARS is the English title. Before he disappeared while flying a reconnaissance mission over the Mediterranean in 1944, Saint-Exupéry wrote some of the literary world’s most famously poetic descriptions of the physical and metaphysical wonders of flying. This audiobook remembers the time he spent on the mail run over the Sahara, often flying at night with few landmarks but the stars. It’s a paean to adventure, technology, and the natural world, which Boulton reads with clarity and passion. His realistic French accent and skill with characterization enliven the conversational sections, and his engaged pacing beautifully intensifies the book’s soaring narrative.

A.C.S. © AudioFile 2017, Portland, Maine

THE MORAL EPISTLES

THE MORAL EPISTLES
By Seneca the Younger • Read by James Cameron Stewart

“Fantastic reading of the Epistles.”

Would you consider the audio edition of The Moral Epistles to be better than the print version?

James Cameron Stewart did a fantastic job narrating the Epistles. I enjoy reading the Epistles but being able to listen to them on the way to work is a true blessing. I really do hope that Mr. Stewart will take on the task of narrating the Dialogues and Epictetus’s discourses as well. Audible, please help make it happen!

Who was your favorite character and why? Seneca!

Which scene was your favorite? Every scene that Seneca advises his friend to weather hardships, rethink his priorities, value the present, ext. This book is full of excellent advice delivered in a no nonsense manner.

Dave – 05/02/16 – Audible Review

Outstanding!”

Would you consider the audio edition of The Moral Epistles to be better than the print version?

I love audiobooks because I can listen to them on the go. In this case, I would like to get the print version as well.

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

The narrator is absolutely outstanding! Seneca has these awesome one-liners, and it is easy to miss the punch line if the text is not read properly. James Cameron Stewart does a masterful job of helping me “get” it, even if I’m not paying 100% attention.

If you could give The Moral Epistles a new subtitle, what would it be?

The things Seneca knew 2000 years ago that everyone should know now.

Any additional comments?

I love Tim Ferris, but this reading of Seneca is soo much better!

zen cowboy – 31/01/16 – Audible Review

“This is THE reading of Seneca’s Moral Epistles.”

What made the experience of listening to The Moral Epistles the most enjoyable?

James Cameron Stewart reads Seneca’s Moral Epistles to Lucilius as though he was born to read these letters of the great Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman and dramatist.

What does James Cameron Stewart bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

I really can’t imagine anyone else who could read these letters with such authority and understanding. These letters are of a unique historical value that give us insights into Roman life in the years 64-65 CE. One of the greatest works on the philosophy of Stoicism that has come down through the centuries. The only other reading that I can even compare with it is Jeremy Irons amazing reading of Nabokov’s “Lolita” which is also a masterpiece. The reader as a medium for the author.

What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?

Written in the first century CE. Moral letters to Lucilius by Seneca Letter 47. “On Master and Slave””I am glad to learn, through those who come from you, that you live on friendly terms with your slaves. This befits a sensible and well-educated man like yourself. “They are slaves,” people declare Nay, rather they are men. “Slaves!” No, comrades. “Slaves!” No, they are unpretentious friends. “Slaves!” No, they are our fellow-slaves, if one reflects that Fortune has equal rights over slaves and free men alike.””I shall pass over other cruel and inhuman conduct towards them; for we maltreat them, not as if they were men, but as if they were beasts of burden.'”Kindly remember that he whom you call your slave sprang from the same stock, is smiled upon by the same skies, and on equal terms with yourself breathes, lives, and dies.””Do you mean to say,” comes the retort, “that I must seat all my slaves at my own table?” No, not any more than that you should invite all free men to it. You are mistaken if you think that I would bar from my table certain slaves whose duties are more humble, as, for example, yonder muleteer or yonder herdsman; I propose to value them according to their character, and not according to their duties. (echoes of MLK) Each man acquires his character for himself, but accident assigns his duties. Invite some to your table because they deserve the honor, and others that they may come to deserve it.You need not, my dear Lucilius, hunt for friends only in the forum or in the Senate-house; if you are careful and attentive, you will find them at home also. Good material often stands idle for want of an artist; make the experiment, and you will find it so. As he is a fool who, when purchasing a horse, does not consider the animal’s points, but merely his saddle and bridle; so he is doubly a fool who values a man from his clothes or from his rank, which indeed is only a robe that clothes us.”He is a slave.” His soul, however, may be that of a freeman. “He is a slave.” But shall that stand in his way? Show me a man who is not a slave; one is a slave to lust, another to greed, another to ambition, and all men are slaves to fear. I will name you an ex-consul who is slave to an old hag, a millionaire who is slave to a serving-maid; I will show you youths of the noblest birth in serfdom to pantomime players! No servitude is more disgraceful than that which is self-imposed.

Howard Crawford – 04/03/16 – Audible Review

A GENERAL INTRODUCTION TO PSYCHOANALYSIS

A GENERAL INTRODUCTION TO PSYCHOANALYSIS
By Sigmund Freud • Read by Nigel Carrington

“Simply Spectacular”

A must for anyone interested in psych theory. The overview it supplies is truly tremendous. Whether you a training healthcare professional, or someone curious of the inner processes of the human workings, it stands apart as a great place to start the journey within.

– Audible Review

WATT

WATT
By Samuel Beckett • Read by Dermot Crowley

“Astonishing performance”

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

The right friend, absolutely. The performance is a work of art in its own right, and the text is so difficult, it’s almost a sport to see what the narrator’s going to do with it. What he does is offer this much under-represented text arguably (by me) its best medium.

What did you like best about this story?

Watt has some of Beckett’s funniest writing, and there’s a great sense of him working towards the inimitable trilogy. The performance here makes sense of the oceans of patterned text when you read it in hard copy, and Crowley brings fantastic light and shade to aid comprehension of the incomprehensible.

Have you listened to any of Dermot Crowley’s other performances? How does this one compare?

I listened to Dermot Crowley on Molloy, so I bought this one with confidence. His performance in Watt is comparable in excellence, but much more of a tour de force, because the text is even more difficult. He utterly brings it to life.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No, I wanted to take it all in in ‘movements’ — it evolves and develops in the manner of classical music.

Any additional comments?

I’m so pleased to hear Crowley unleashed on Beckett again — I’ll certainly listen out for more from him.

Nettlewine – 04/03/2017 – Audible Review

“Astonishing performance”Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why? The right friend, absolutely. The performance is a work of art in its own right, and the text is so difficult, it’s almost a sport to see what the narrator’s going to do with it. What he does is offer this much under-represented text arguably (by me) its best medium.
What did you like best about this story?Watt has some of Beckett’s funniest writing, and there’s a great sense of him working towards the inimitable trilogy. The performance here makes sense of the oceans of patterned text when you read it in hard copy, and Crowley brings fantastic light and shade to aid comprehension of the incomprehensible.
Have you listened to any of Dermot Crowley’s other performances? How does this one compare? I listened to Dermot Crowley on Molloy, so I bought this one with confidence. His performance in Watt is comparable in excellence, but much more of a tour de force, because the text is even more difficult. He utterly brings it to life.
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?No, I wanted to take it all in in ‘movements’ — it evolves and develops in the manner of classical music.
Any additional comments?I’m so pleased to hear Crowley unleashed on Beckett again — I’ll certainly listen out for more from him.

Nettlewine UK 3/4/17  Audible 

“Perfect Narration”If you could sum up Watt in three words, what would they be?A difficult novel to read made easy by listening to it.
What other book might you compare Watt to, and why?Murphy and How It Is. They are all challenging books to read and these audio recordings really open out the text.
Any additional comments?I would like to hear some of Beckett’s later novels and short prose on Audible. For instance Ill Seen Ill Said, Company, Worstward Ho! and The Lost Ones.

mike dee Llanelli 5/5/17  – Audible