Audiobook: The Princess Diarist

princessdiaristby Carrie Fisher
Read by the author and Billy Lourd
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Content: There’s about a dozen f-bombs and other mild swearing, plus  some talk of sex (but nothing graphic). It’s in the Biography section of the bookstore.

I downloaded this to listen to on audio soon after Carrie Fisher died, thinking that I might as well find out what everyone’s been talking about (well, maybe not everyone, but people I trust) when it comes to her writing.

First of all, she’s a delightful narrator. She’s sardonic and funny (not just in the writing, but also READING the book), and I loved listening to her gravely voice reminisce about her experience in making Star Wars. And while the gossip (of sorts) about her and Harrison’s affair was interesting, it really wasn’t, for me, the highlight of the book. (In fact, the actual diaries, which Billy Lourd reads, were kind of, well, lame.) No, the highlight was Fisher. I’m sure I would have enjoyed this book in print, but hearing her read this was like sitting in a room and listening to her reminisce. It was delightful and fun, and while not perfect, highly enjoyable.

Probably much like Ms. Fisher herself. (I imagine anyway.)

Audio book: Wild

wildby Cheryl Strayed
Read by Bernadette Dunne
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Content: Drug use, sex, drinking, yeah: it’s all in here. Definitely not for the faint of heart.

I was wandering around, looking for a new audio book, and stumbled on this one. I figured so many people have raved about it that it couldn’t be terrible. So, I picked it up.

If you’ve been under a rock, it’s Cheryl’s personal story of her redemption, of sorts, after her mother died and her marriage fell apart (due to her infidelities and drug addiction). She decides that what she needs to do is hike the Pacific Crest Trail from California to Washington (actually, Oregon came later, after she discovered that the Sierras were snowed in) alone. She has no experience, she has no idea what’s in store for her. And yet, you have to admire her for going through with it, even when — especially when — the going gets hard.

But I couldn’t get past the “poor me” vibe that I felt was under the whole book. Maybe it’s because Cheryl didn’t narrate her own book and I never really got past that. Or maybe I’m just too judgmental (which I am, unfortunately). But while I really enjoyed the moments when Cheryl was battling against the trail, and mostly succeeding, I didn’t have much patience for Cheryl herself. (Now that I write this, it sounds really judgmental. Maybe it’s just wrong time wrong book?) I was talking to someone who had a similar experience with Eat, Pray, Love (which I really liked). Perhaps we’re more apt to judge women who travel because their lives are broken than those (men?) who just up and leave (I’m looking at you, Bill Bryson) to go experience the world.

I don’t know. I just know that I didn’t connect with this one as much as I hoped it would.

Audiobook: You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)

youreneverweirdby Felicia Day
Read by the author
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Content: There’s some mild swearing and a couple of f-bombs until you get to the second-to-last chapter, where she talks about Gamer Gate and trolls on the internet,  and then there’s a LOT. It’s in the Biography section of the bookstore.

I am not a huge fan of Felicia Day. Don’t get me wrong: I know who she is, I’ve seen some of what she’s done, and I like her. But fan? Not really. And yet, this book appealed to me from the moment I saw the cover (and heard the title). A memoir of an awkward, anxiety-riddled, gamer girl who happens to be a semi-famous actor? Count me in.

And it, as read by Day, was absolutely charming. (I’m sure it was charming in print form, too, but I’d definitely recommend listening to this one.) Day writes about her interesting childhood (homeschooled for “hippie reasons not God reasons”), starting college at 16 (double majoring in math and violin performance), heading to LA and trying to break into the acting business, playing World of Warcraft, and finally, creating her own web show ages before anyone knew what a web show was.

It’s a fascinating journey, and while she has “coffee mug” nuggets of wisdom along the way (I wish I wrote them down; they were pretty great), the best part, for me, was just listening to Day be honest about anxiety, depression, and figuring out how to be the best and most honest person she can be.

She sounds like a delightful person, one I’d happily invite to that dinner party with famous people I’d love to have. And this is an absolutely delightful book.

Between You & Me

Confessions of a Comma Queen
by Mary Norris
First sentence: “Let’s get one thing straight right from the beginning: I didn’t set out to be a comma queen.”
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Content: There’s a passage with about four F-words, and then a whole chapter on swearing. It’s in the Literary Reference section of the bookstore.

I am not an expert grammarian. I didn’t really pay attention in school when it came to the parts of a sentence or how things are ordered, or when to use (or not use) commas (which I use much too abundantly). But, a good book on grammar? I love that. I don’t know what it is, why I adore learning about this obnoxious language of ours, but I do.

And Between You & Me is a great book on grammar. (Which means I adored it.)

Mary Norris has been a copy-editor at the New Yorker magazine for the past thirty years, so she has some credibility. But, what she also has is a terrific voice. It’s not only readable, she has a snarky streak that is just endearing. She recounts a bit of the history of her time at the magazine, their style differences with the New York Times, and a little bit about how she ended up as a copy-editor. All of which is fascinating.

But what I really enjoyed was a refresher on grammar. Her chapter on commas (where she took on both Melville and Dickens). Or a whole one on apostrophes. (Where she came up with this: “If you are going to put a sign with your family’s name on it in front of your house, as if to say ‘Our House,’ then you wan the plural possessive: The Volts’. And if your name ends in an s you still want the plural, even if it looks terrible: The Norrises’. And if you don’t like it, simply refrain from putting a sign with your name on it in front of your house.” I almost stood up and cheered.) And even the chapter on cursing was entertaining.

I could go on, but i won’t. I’ll just say this: read it. You won’t regret it.

As You Wish

Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride
by Cary Elwes with Joe Layden
read by Cary Elwes (with other actors/directors/etc. reading their contributions)
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Content: There’s nothing “objectionable”, though the reading level is probably that of high school. It’s in the biography and film sections of the bookstore, but I’d give it to anyone who has a interest in the movie (especially if they are big fans).

I’m late to this party, since this book came out last October. But, I’ve had my eye on it, mostly because I have loved the movie for years (and am constantly surprised how many of my regular daily sayings are actually lines from this movie) and finally got my hands on the audio book.

There’s not much to say about the content: Cary Elwes was asked at the 25th anniversary screening of the movie what he took away from the making of it. He came up with (in his words) a lame answer, and this book was born out of his desire to really detail what the experience meant to him. He got contributions from the actors who are still alive, and a book was born.

It’s not brilliant writing by any stretch of the imagination. But, it is chock-full of fun trivia (yes, I did watch the movie again, spouting out all the wonderful tidbits I’ve learned. My family was patient with me.) and delightful stories.

But, the best thing? (And the reason I’d recommend the audio over the print?) Cary Elwes is a brilliant narrator. Not just his regular voice, but he does a spot-on American accent (several, in fact), and he is just a delightful narrator to spend six hours with.

At the very least, it’ll make you smile. And that, I think, is worth it.

Enchanted Air

by Margarita Engle
First sentence: “When my parents met, it was love at first sight.”
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Content: It talks indirectly about drugs, sex, and teen pregnancy, as well as the violence of war, but it doesn’t dwell on that. It’ll be in the children’s biography section of the bookstore

I noticed that Abby had read this one and liked it, so I pulled it off my pile to give it a try. I mostly wanted something I could finish in one sitting, and this one — being a memoir in verse — fit the bill.

I didn’t expect to be thoroughly delighted by it.

Margarita is the daughter of a Cuban immigrant and the son of Ukranian holocaust survivors. Needless to say, she had an interesting story to start. Add to that the conflict in the 1950s with the Cuban revolution and the subsequent cold war, she definitely had  a story to tell. But: she chose to tell it through travel, through depictions of the island itself (which she described so lushly) as well as her family’s vacations to Mexico and Europe. She portrayed herself as an awkward child, caught between two countries and then unexpectedly cut off from half of her family. I can only imagine what her mother felt.

Elegantly told, beautifully imagined, it’s a love story to the power of words and images and home. (And I’m glad that her hope in her afterward for more normalized relations between the U.S. and Cuba may slowly be coming to fruition. I would love to visit there someday.)

How to Be a Heroine

by Samantha Eliis
First sentence: “A couple of summers ago, I was on the Yorkshire moors, arguing (over the wuthering) with my best friend about whether we’d rather be Jane Eyre or Cathy Ernshaw.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s a handful — not more than six — of f-bombs and some mentions of sex, but nothing graphic. It’s in the adult creative nonfiction section of the bookstore, but I’d give this to anyone in high school and up.

Somehow, I ended up with a complimentary copy of this book. I really have no idea how it ended up on my pile. I do know the idea of it (and the subtitle: “Or, What I’ve Learned from Reading Too Much”) appealed to me. Any book that is about books or the love of reading has to be good, right?

And it was.

The book is nominally a reflection of Ellis’s life. She’s an Iraqi Jew, living in London, with all the cultural and religious implications you’d think that entails. She struggled against expectations, she struggled with faith, she struggled to find her own path. And, on its own that would be a fascinating story. But she framed the book with an analysis, heavily feminist, of classic heroines. From familiar to me ones like Jo March and Anne Shirley and Jane Eyre to ones I’ve never heard of, like Franny Glass and Esther Greenwood. She explored their narrative arcs, and what she took away from their stories. Both when she was younger and then, as an adult, how she feels the held up. Some did. A lot didn’t. And many she got something different out of the book than what she got when she was younger. She discovered new things along the way, and made me want to revisit books I’d loved when I was younger and read ones I’ve not read before.

And for all the literary criticism, it wasn’t a stuffy book. Ellis has a way of drawing the reader in, of making the characters pop to life. Perhaps that’s because she’s a playwright and has a way with words as it is. But whatever the reason, this one won my heart over.