Listen Up!

Let’s be honest.  One lifetime isn’t enough to read all the good books out there.  But I’ve found a way to cheat Father Time — audio books.  Letting someone else do the reading while I’m cleaning my bathroom or driving around town allowed me to enjoy an extra four books this summer.  Here’s a quick run down of these entertaining titles.

Post Format: Quick Reviews

Sycamore Row by John Grisham

Grisham has been in the news lately because of his 2017 best seller, Camino Island.  But he’s been churning out good reads for decades.  This 2013 title is proof of that. Narrator Micheal Beck brings this story set in rural Mississippi alive.  I’m a Southerner and can recall only a handful of actors that truly nail the accent.  Beck does it superbly in this twisting, turning courtroom thriller.

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

Anybody own a charm bracelet? I do. That’s why I was drawn to this 2016 tale of a widower who discovers his late wife’s charm bracelet while going through a box. He’d never seen it before.  He goes on a journey to learn about the exotic charms and the women he thought he knew.  Narrator James Langton does a good job with this British tale except when he’s doing the voice of a teenage character.  That dialogue just sounded dorky.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

This book was first published in 1988 but the publisher dropped it because of slow sales.  Harper Collins republished it in 1993, and it became a world wide best seller.  I can see why.  I fell in love with this story about a shepherd boy on a journey to find his personal legend.  It was both profound and entertaining thanks in large part to the amazing narrator, Jeremy Irons.

Still Life by Louise Penny

Making small talk at parties can be tedious.  Thankfully, the conversation at a recent gathering I attended turned to books.  This author and her mystery series set in the Canadian province of Quebec came highly recommended.  I was told to start with the first in the series, this 2005 title.  The plot is captivating and the characters are plentiful and colorful. Narrator Ralph Cosham does a great job with the English and French required for the bilingual setting.

BONUS BIT:

I didn’t buy any of these audio books.  As a library patron, I borrowed them through Hoopla.  Hoopla is a free site that allows you to download or stream all kinds of media.  Check it out here.

An Unsavory Topic or Is It?

Death has been a fixture in my life lately. I attended the traditional Catholic Mass and burials of a beloved aunt and uncle.  I went to a unique memorial service for a co-worker’s son who loved country music.  It was held at the Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery, Alabama.  And I attended my first open-casket funeral for a neighbor’s daughter.  The daughter was my age, so this last one really hit home.  My reading life of late is mirroring this trend.

A Man Called Ove by Frederick Bachman, 2012

Post format:  Connections

Many of my posts feature books dating back decades, at times centuries. But A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman is on USA Today’s best seller list.  Some might question its popularity. The title character is a world-hating curmudgeon whose wife has died.  He attempts suicide repeatedly to reunite with her.  Then a family in need moves in across the street.  Before it’s all over, he’s helped them and everyone else in the neighborhood.  I grew to love Ove and you will too if you read this one-of-kind book.

Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen, 1934

While driving out of my older neighborhood, I spied a roadside sign that read “Estate Sale!  50 Years of Stuff!”  I found the address and went.  But I felt like a trespasser the minute I entered.  A lady from a bygone era had lived here.  A dining room cabinet held beautiful crystal glasses. Chintz draperies covered the living room windows and matched the fabric on the couch.  When I wandered to the back bedroom, her dresses still hung neatly in the closet.

Is this how it all ends, I thought.  A lifetime’s worth of possessions on display for strangers to pick through?  Then I entered a small room off the main hall.  It was filled with books. Suddenly I no longer felt intrusive. Surely this lady was a reader who would love others to enjoy these books.  I bought a stack. And wouldn’t you know a few of them feature death as a theme. Seven Gothic Tales is a short story collection by Isak Dinesen published in 1934.  The first story, The Deluge at Normandy, was so complex and beautiful that I read it twice.  In it four strangers are stuck in the upper reaches of a barn during a terrible flood.  During their night together, we get to know these characters and their back stories as they await rescue. But death is rising to meet them in the dark floodwaters.

“As if they had been four marionettes, pulled by the same wire, the four people turned their faces to one another…’How will these people do to die with?’ the castaways of the hayloft asked themselves. “

The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen, 1845

Children’s literature isn’t free of death.  Fairy tales are full of it.  I reread “The Little Match Girl” by Hans Christian Andersen recently. As a child, I remember being horrified and heartbroken at the ending of this tale in which a poor, unwanted girl freezes to death after her last match goes out.  But reading the tale as an adult, Anderson’s intent became clearer.  This child loses nothing by leaving this world, rather she gains entry into heaven “where there was no more cold, no hunger, and no pain.”

From Sunset to Dawn by Leslie R. Smith, 1944

Lastly, I found a book at the estate sale written for those grieving.  It is a Wartime Book published in 1944.  In From Sunset to Dawn, Leslie R. Smith weaves his own observations about dying with quotes from some of the world’s greatest thinkers: Longfellow, Tennyson, Henrik Ibsen, Elizabeth Barrett Browning to name a few.  My own mortality and that of my loved ones has been on my mind, so I marked helpful passages. But I was most comforted by the words of a Christian theologian who studied among the greatest minds of science and philosophy in the ancient world.  Death is only the beginning, he said.

“Christ changes all our sunsets into dawns.” –Clement of Alexandria (150-215 A.D.)