Audio book: Talking to Strangers

by Malcolm Gladwell
Read by the author
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and talk about sexual assault, abuse, and rape. It’s in the Sociology section of the bookstore.

I think I’ve read Malcolm Gladwell in the past, but it’s been a very long time. However, after listening to an interview with him on It’s Been a Minute, I kind of felt like this was an important book to read. And I’m so glad I chose it on audio; it was a fabulous way to experience this book.

Gladwell takes the arrest of Sandra Bland in Texas in 2015 and examines it to find out what went wrong. He comes up with three areas that affect the way we talk to strangers: human’s tendency to default to truth — we always believe that everyone else is on the level; the expectation of transparency — that our faces show our emotions the way the faces in movies and television do; and the idea of coupling — that there are certain things that go together, like crime and certain behaviors.

It’s a fascinating and revealing book, one that makes me believe that our current crisis with tribalism and police brutality really might boil down to an incredible lack of understanding all around. We don’t really get to know people anymore, and so we’re constantly surrounded by strangers. Which means, we’re constantly relying on these faulty “tools” that we use to get by in society.

The audio is fabulous as well; instead of reading the book straight, Gladwell uses original audio as much as possible, so that it has the feel of a podcast rather than an audiobook. I think it made for a better reading experience than if I had just read it outright. It definitely gave me much to think about.

Highly recommended.

Audiobook: The Book of Delights

by Ross Gay
Read by the author
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: It’s irreverent and sweary, including multiple f-bombs.

I was having a week where I was angry at everything. Did not matter what it was, I was just in a constant state of pissed-off-ness. I was scrolling through my audio books, and I landed on this one. “Hm,” I thought to myself, “maybe I need this one.”

I vaguely knew about Gay going in because he visited the store, and a lot of the staff really loved him. (A lot of the customers, too.) But I wasn’t ready for this book back in April, when it came out. I did, however, need it now.

The basic premise is that Gay, a black poet, spent a year — from his 42nd birthday to his 43rd — writing small essays on the things that delight him. Sometimes they wander into memories, sometimes into ruminations on race or the nature of Joy. Sometimes it was just him expressing delight in a simple touch, or the sharing of a flower, or conversation.

Whatever it was, it was all particularly delightful, especially as read by Gay. His reading, for me, was everything. He made me think, he made me laugh, and he made me look for the delights in my own life. (If you want a sample of him reading, check out his poem To the Fig Tree on the Corner of 9th and Christian.)

This book is, simply, a delight.

Audio book: Red at the Bone

by Jacqueline Woodson
Read by: Jacqueline Woodson, Bahni Turpin, Shayna Small, Peter Francis James, and Quincy Tyler Burnstine.
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is some on-screen sex as well as swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

I’m at a loss to talk about this one plot-wise. It jumps back and forth through time, starting in 2001, at Melody’s “coming of age ceremony”, where she’s wearing the dress her mother, Iris, wasn’t able to wear, because she was pregnant with Melody and didn’t get a ceremony. It gives us glimpses into the inner lives of Iris and Melody, but also Iris’s parents, and Aubrey, Melody’s father. It’s an introspective novel; nothing really happens, but Woodson’s tight writing and way of observing human nature still allows us to get to know these characters and understand their motivations.

I thoroughly enjoyed the audio book, partially because Woodson’s writing is a joy to listen to, and partially because the different narrators helped keep the story straight. (I was talking to a co-worker who said she was having trouble with this one because she didn’t know which chapter was from which point of view — Woodson, unlike other writers, doesn’t do any favors by telling us at the outset who is narrating, instead making us do the work of figuring it out.) It was short, and to the point, and I liked listening to this one family’s story through the years.

Recommended, particularly in audio.

Audiobook: The Sun is a Compass

by Caroline Van Hemert
Read by Xe Sands
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There’s some swearing, including several f-bombs. It’s in the creative non-fiction section of the bookstore.

I picked this one out of my audiobook stash primarily because I’m a sucker for travel books, and this one — in which Caroline and her husband Patrick traverse from Bellingham, Washington to the Arctic Circle entirely on foot and boat over the course of six months –seemed to fit the bill.

A biologist by trade, Van Hemert also grew up in Alaska, and has had a need for adventure — or to at least be in the outdoors — her whole life. And she found a kindred spirit in Patrick, who (if I remember right) built his own cabin in Alaska (though he grew up on the East Coast) and lived in it for a year between high school and college. They are the sort of people to decide to spend six months trekking 4000 miles and then write a book about it.

I don’t mean to sound bitter (if I do); they are amazing people. And I’m glad that there are people like them out there. I’m not sure this one worked entirely in audio; while I was transfixed with the story, I was a bit frustrated I didn’t have a map. The places she was talking about (aside from Bellingham; I know where that is) were foreign to me. Sure, I could have stopped the book and Googled it, but I listen while I drive, and it wasn’t practical. That said, I did enjoy her story, the ups and downs of six months of backwoods hiking, and the reminder that the world is a big, wild place that has been here (and will be here) a lot longer than we humans.

Audiobook: The Reckless Oath We Made

by Bryn Greenwood
Read by Alex McKenna, Kirby Heyborne, and a full cast
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs, some drug use and drinking, and one tasteful sex scene. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Zee hasn’t had the best life: her mother is a hoarder, a habit only made worse by her father being sent to prison for a robbery gone wrong when Zee was eight. For most of her 26 years, it’s been her and her sister against the world. And Zee — whether by waiting tables or by running marijuana from Colorado for the wrong sort of people — is going to make it work. Somehow.

But then, she meets Gentry. An autistic man who speaks in Middle English and abides by a Code of Chivalry who was told by one of his voices — the witch — that he is to be Zee’s Champion. It doesn’t make much sense to Zee, but when her sister is kidnapped from the El Dorado prison during an outbreak, Gentry is the only person Zee can turn to.

From there starts a heartbreakingly sweet and tender story of the love that grows between Zee and Gentry. But it’s more than a love story (which it is, at its heart), it’s a story of trust and family and forgiveness. The audio is wonderfully done; I loved both of the main narrators — Zee and Gentry — but also all the side characters that got chapters in this wild, compelling story. And yes, the ending made me cry. There was so much heart and acceptance and love in this book that I couldn’t help but fall in love with the characters. Maybe it was an “I wouldn’t have liked it if I had read it” book (the audio really is excellent), but I think it’s just a really good story. Or at least my kind of good story.

Audio book: Three Sides of a Heart

Stories about Love Triangles
Edited by Natalie C. Parker
Read by Almarie Guerra, Bahni Turpin, James Fouhey, and Lulu Lam
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There are some stories with f-bombs, and some talk of sex and drinking. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

The idea behind this short story collection was “love triangles”, but as Natalie Parker mentions in her introduction, that was interpreted in many different ways. Many of the stories were standard two boys one girl or two girls one boy, but I think I liked the unusual ones best. I only skipped two: “Work in Progress” by E. K. Johnston and “The Historian, the Garrison, and the Cantankerous Cat Woman” by Lamar Giles. I don’t know if it was the story or the audio narration, but I found myself tuning out and so I just skipped them. As for the rest, my favorites were Parker’s story “Cass, An, and Dra” which not only played with Cassandra as as seer, but had a lesbian couple and a gender fluid person as the love triangle. I also really enjoyed Brandy Colbert’s “Hurdles” because the character is making a difficult choice between two good things and Colbert ends the story with the choice unmade. I also thought Brenna Yovanoff’s story, “Vega” was clever: it was between a girl, a boy, and the city of Las Vegas, which is an interesting look at a love triangle.

The collection was uneven, but to be honest, that’s the way I often feel about short story collections. I thought the idea behind the collection was an interesting one — definitely good for summer! — and I enjoyed where some of the authors went with it.

Audiobook: Save Me the Plums

by Ruth Reichl
Read by the author
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is some swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

I adore Ruth Reichl and have since I read Tender at the Bone a very long time ago. (While I was listening to this, I was wondering if I knew who she was before she became the editor in chief of Gourmet, or after. I’m still not quite sure.) She has a way with telling a story (granted: I have not read her work of fiction) and with writing about food. And this book — the memoir of her time as Gourmet editor in chief from 1999-2009, when the magazine folded — is no exception.

Reichl weaves the story of how she became the editor in chief and her experiences with Condé Nast with memories of growing up and her family, both her parents and her husband and son. She tells stories of how stories came to be, of working with editors and art directors and photographers and chefs. As someone who once studied journalism and who has an affection for the profession, I adored this. I loved seeing the inner workings of a magazine (and was wistful: in another universe, I am a food and travel writer, I think) and I thoroughly enjoyed the way she talks about food.

I know some of my co-workers haven’t enjoyed this as much as they liked her other books, but I disagree: this is quintessential Ruth Reichl, talking about what she knows best: food and community.

I especially loved it on audio: she is a fantastic narrator, and knows how to make you feel like you’re sitting with her as she spins these tales. I absolutely loved it and am very sad that it’s done.