Reading Journal For October and November

Prometheus Bound, attributed to Aeschylus.  An interesting play, of itself, but fragmentary. It is the beginning of a trilogy of plays, but the later sections have been lost. I listened to the Librivox version.

The Five Jars and The Hill of Dreams by M.R James. I covered James back in our horror month, so I’ll be brief here. The Five Jars is his children’s story, and The Hill of Dreams is a slightly surreal piece. Each is well worth the listen, but they are not his crowning achievements.

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini is a strangely Mary-Sueish book in which the hero is excellent at everything. Going in, you need to remember that murder is mortal sin. The reader when the book was originally released would have seen the main character’s temptation to kill the man who murdered his friend as the great obstacle to be overcome. If you go in with the expectations of modern American drama, the author’s clever way of preventing fatal confrontations between the protagonist and antagonist just seem like weird twists. The Library Service has a couple of formats of this work.

Gospel Birds, News from Lake Wobegon, More News From Lake Wobegon, Lake Wobegon U.S.A, Home on the Prarie, Life These Days, My Little Town, Never Better, Mother Father Uncle Aunt, Church People: The Lutherans of Lake Wobegon, Lake Wobegon Summer 1956. Wobegone Boy, The Adventures of Guy Noir, Guy Noir and the Straight Skinny, Commercial Radio, Homegrown Democrat, The Book of Guys by Garrison Keillor. I wrote about Garrison Keillor recently, and, as I said then, I’ve been going on an audiobook bender for his work. I prefer his short pieces to his novels, but his novels are still fun, and basically they are a narrative structure onto which he can tack digressions, so you still get his folksy stories. He mellows out over time: his younger work seems a lot more socially conservative than his more recent work.

I’m also incredibly pleased to find someone doing a radio detective show of the ancient type. He tries to disguise it as a loving parody, but at the point you have two foley artists and a stage full of voice actors, you really are doing a radio play series. Guy Noir is great, if you like people having a little fun with Hammett.

Two of his collections above are a little odd. Homegrown Democrat is an American political polemic, and is hard to recommend for an Australian audience, although it has some things to say about far-right parties in general. Commercial Radio I absolutely loved, because it is made up of faked ads, written as classic radio sponsor voiceovers.

I have always loved reading classic advertising copy, because it’s so earnest it can’t help but be funny. My real recording favourites are the commercials at the start of the Holmes and Watson radio shows where Watson plugs his tailor to the listeners. In this collection, Keillor, who works on public radio and therefore has no real ads or sponsors, does some flat parodies, and some exercises in style. The parodies are great (Lutheran Air : inflight catering is by potluck, rows 1-10 bring a salad, rows 11-20 bring a hot dish, rows 21-30 bring a desert, fares are paid by passing around a donation plate and the plane will not land until the budget is met). I find though that I prefer the exercises in the classic radio advert style, like his most enduring sponsor, Powdermilk Biscuits.

Powdermilk Biscuits in the big blue box with the biscuit on the front. Giving shy people the strength to stand up and do what needs to be done. My, they’re tasty and expeditious!”

Librivox Coffee Break Collection 7 – Travel: Five minute (or less) public domain audio recordings on the theme of travel. My favourite in the series so far, because it doesn’t have the piety of some of the others, which had spiritual or aspiration themes. Distributed by Librivox.

The Ocean At the End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman: I liked it, and yet not strongly enough to review it.  I, therefore, presumably liked it less than Coraline, Stardust or Sandman, all of which I’ve reviewed. I think the key problem for me is that the main character does nothing in particular to deserve victory, he’s basically saved by a compassionate goddess making a sacrifice throw. The Library Service has it.

World War Z: an oral history of the zombie war: the audiobook version of this is great. Leave aside that only Australian is scripted to talk in a weird way, and just enjoy the other 95% of the excellence that this embodies. Alan Alda is brilliant in this as the guy charged with rebuilding the American economy after the zombie war.