Audiobook: Al Franken, Giant of the Senate

by Al Franken
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are six f-bombs in one chapter, mostly because there are two in the title of something Franken wrote and he said it three  times. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

I suppose, if you don’t know who Al Franken is, you probably won’t have any interest in this book. That said, I knew who he was, but wasn’t a huge fan.  But, I’d heard enough good about it that I decided to download the audio book.

Franken is in his second term as the junior senator from Minnesota, a former writer for Saturday Night Life, and a very, very smart writer. This book is basically a memoir of his time at SNL, his family life, his first election, and his thoughts on being in the Senate as a whole.

It’s a very smart book. And while it’s not always hilarious, it IS very funny. And insightful. Be aware that Franken is a Democrat, and so there’s definitely a partisan flavor to it (he blames Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, and Mitch McConnell for the current state of politics), but he also recognizes a need to work together, and has some good things to say about many Republicans (just not Ted Cruz). It’s insightful, interesting, and incredibly engaging.

And on audio? Very delightful. I loved listening to Franken read his words (I often enjoy celebrity memoirs more in audio) and thought it was a definite value-added to the book. He kept me engaged in the book, and I looked forward to turning it on whenever I got in the car.

A very, very good read.

Audiobook: The Best of Adam Sharp

by Graeme Simsion
Read by David Barker
Content: There’s a couple of f-bombs, some other general swearing, and lots of sex, most of which is not tasteless.

I picked this one up because I liked The Rosie Project well enough, and I thought the premise of this one — a man who met the love of his life when he was in his 20s, though it didn’t work out, and 20 years later reconnects with her — sounded like something I’d like. And, for a good long while, it was. Adam, the main character, is a pianist by hobby (and a good one, though with a tortured relationship with his musician father) and there was a lot of music and musical references running through the book. I liked the falling in love, the wistfulness when remembering how it didn’t work out.

But, then, once he reconnects with his ex-lover, it just does sideways, and turns into a middle age wet dream. Or something that felt a lot like that. And when he ends up in a ménage à trois with his ex-lover and her current husband (about 2/3 of the way through), I bailed. Yep, I do have limits and there they are. I have to admit there’s a part of me that’s curious to know where the book went from there, but it’s not strong enough to pick it back up.

As for the narration, it was good, though I really couldn’t tell much of a difference between the Australian and English accents (is there much of a difference?) and his women’s voices were abysmal.

So, really: not worth the time at all.

Audiobook: Make Your Bed

by Admiral William H. McRaven
Read by the author
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Content: There’s nothing that wouldn’t be applicable to anyone ages, say, 14 and up. It’s in the giftbook section (graduation, really) of the bookstore.

This slim book is based on a graduation address Admiral McRaven gave back in 2014 to the University of Texas at Austin. It’s a simple premise: 10 life lessons McRaven learned while training and serving as a Navy SEAL commander. It’s direct, no-nonsense, and incredibly insightful. The lessons really are easy: make your bed, work together, look at a person’s heart not their size, don’t lose yourself in adversity, and so on. In the book, he expounds on these points with stories from his experience as a SEAL, both in training and in combat. It’s excellent. (In short: it’s the military book I’ve been wanting to read.) McRaven reads his work, and he’s a good reader as well: he knows how to draw a listener in, and it gives it that personal touch that puts this short book (the audio was a little over an hour) over the top.

Audiobook: Paddle Your Own Canoe

by Nick Offerman
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: Oh, this is sweary. Lots and lots of all stripes and shades, including many f-bombs. He admits he swears like a sailor. Also, he’s pretty frank about sex. It’s in the humor section of the bookstore.

After finishing Good Clean Fun, I thought I’d branch out and read something more narrative from Offerman, especially since I really enjoyed listening to him read. So, I started with his first book, which (as was eventually revealed) was born out of his standup (“humorist”) routine, American Ham.  It’s basically a memoir of his growing up in a small Illinois town, doing theater in Chicago, moving to LA and meeting his wife, and just how he “made it”. The short answer? A lot of hard work and a little bit of luck. And some good teachers.

It was interesting to listen to; Offerman is a delightful reader (and has a great laugh), and so I was thoroughly entertained. I suppose I expected something more… useful… from a book with the subtitle “One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living”, but mostly it was just entertaining. He did, in the last chapter, have some good advice for anyone who’s auditioning in the acting business, which I shared with C. But other than that, this was just fun.

And that’s not a bad thing at all.

Audio Book: Good Clean Fun

by Nick Offerman
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some mild swearing. It’s in the humor section (I think) of the bookstore.

This is, basically, Nick Offerman’s homage to Offerman Woodshop, his woodworker’s collective in L.A. It’s a portrait of the craftspeople who work there, as well as those people Nick has come across in his “career” (the acting just pays the bills) as a woodsmith.

So, no, it wasn’t the best book to 1) start reading Nick Offerman (I think I’m going to try Paddle Your Own Canoe next) or 2) listen to in audio. That said, Nick is delightful to listen to read a book (not as delightful as Neil Gaiman), and there were lots of delightful anecdotes about Nick’s colleagues, as well as his opinions about working with your hands (pro: I felt justified, since I really enjoy canning) and the joy of working with wood, specifically.

I do have to say that while listening to this, I kind of wanted to learn how to build things (not a new desire for me; I should have taken shop class). I enjoyed Offerman’s enthusiasm for the art of woodworking, and his sense of humor. Even though I wish it has more of a narrative, I still found it enjoyable to listen to.

Audiobook: Hillbilly Elegy

by J. D. Vance
Read by the author
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Content: There’s a LOT of swearing, including f-bombs. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

J. D. Vance didn’t have the best upbringing. That’s putting it mildly. The grandson of Kentucky to Ohio transplants, people who moved to work in factories to find a better life, he grew up in a small manufacturing town in southern Ohio. His mom, one of three kids, was a drug addict who bounced between guys, and so J. D. ended up with his grandma, whom he called Mamaw. He eventually found his way out of the poverty and abuse cycles, joining the Marines, going to Ohio State and Yale Law. But, as he points out in his memoir, his story is atypical.

It’s mostly Vance’s memoir of his childhood (insane as it is) and his family. But he also ties it into the larger issue of rural poverty. It’s something I’ve thought since the year we lived in Mississippi: it’s not (just) about race, it’s about class. And if we don’t do something about the working poor — and I don’t have the answers here — things will just get worse.

J. D. doesn’t have the answers either; just a lot of first-hand observations. The most striking of which is that interventions that happen in high school often come too late. They need to sooner. (Honestly, I saw a lot of our foster daughter in this story. And he’s right: if someone had intervened when she was younger, it would have saved her a world of hurt and trauma.) But it’s also complex: the politicians and agencies don’t always know or understand or assume things about the poor.

A fascinating book. And listening to him read it (he has a slight Southern twang) was a great way to experience this book.

Highly recommended.

Audiobook: Flying Lessons

flyinglessonsedited by Ellen Oh
Read by: An Ensemble of Narrators
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Content: The stories are all set in middle school, and some deal more explicitly with “older kid” problems. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but I’m considering moving it to the YA (grades 6-8) because I’m wondering if that’s more the audience.

I’m not a huge fan of short story collections, but when I saw the audio book of this one, I couldn’t resist. I’ve been neglecting reading books by non-whites this year (I shouldn’t be!) and I thought since diversity is the point of this collection, I’d give it a try.

And I loved it! Sure, I loved some stories more than others (The titular story, “Flying Lessons” was one of my favorites, as was “How to Transform an Everyday Hoop Court Into a Place of Higher Learning and You at the Podium” by Matt de la Pena, and “Seventy-Six Dollars and Forty-Nine Cents” by Kwame Alexander, and “”Sol Painting, Inc.,” written and read by Meg Medina), but that’s to be expected. I loved that there were different readers for each story, which helped me tell the stories apart as well as giving them their own, distinct voice. I loved hearing the diverse stories, from the inner city, from the suburbs, from rural people to rich people to poor people to disabled people. It really did embrace the diversity that’s out there. Which is really the best thing.

Now to make sure that kids read it!