The Big Sleep

The Big SleepThe Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Published: 1939
Length: 231 pages

With each novel I read, I become more and more a fan of Raymond Chandler. He has such a great way with words, his character descriptions are brilliant, and his novels are a blast to read.

I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.

Writing a synopsis of one of these novels is tough. The plots tend to twist all over and are difficult to keep track of, but this one begins with the our detective Philip Marlowe being hired by a rich dying man to find a blackmailer. As with all of these novels, the investigation leads to much more than that (including pornography, which is fun in a 30’s novel).

This is the first Philip Marlowe novel, but it interestingly feels like it could be any book in the series. None of the novels I had previously read started with a real introduction to the character or any backstory at all, and I always thought that was because I was in the middle of the series, but this novel did the same thing. We’re given the bare basics and you learn about the character through his actions and dialogue, which is great. He isn’t the most complex character in fiction, but it’s nice that you get to be surprised by his actions occasionally. Not in a ‘this is out of character’ way, but in a ‘oh, that’s the kind of person he is’ way.

As honest as you can expect a man to be in a world where its going out of style.

There are some issues, of course. Chandler’s writing doesn’t really have a lot of emotional depth, and at times the plot seems a bit unstructured, so you really have to be taken in by the wit and fun writing.

This also has a gay character that is spoken to in a pretty abusive way. In reading a lot of classics, I’ve become somewhat used to the casual racist terms, prejudice, and misogyny that can be attributed to being a reflection of the those times, but Philip Marlowe was openly hostile to the character in a way that was a little gross to read.

Other than that scene, the book was a fun read. The writing did feel a bit less developed than his later books, but still worth reading.

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What We See When We Read

What We See When We ReadWhat We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund
Published: 2014
Length: 425 pages

Peter Mendelsund is a book cover designer, so I imagine he’s someone who’s spent a lot of time considering how to visualize what we see in our mind’s eye while reading a novel. I’ve been a fairly avid reader my entire life, but I never really stopped to consider what I’m actually picturing as I read and how that might differ from what others are seeing.

I was really enjoying this at first. It’s a fascinating concept and the book is formatted in a really fun way, with diagrams and illustrations that make it feel like an art project. This was my problem as I read further, though – it reads more like an art project than a book, and as such feels a bit stretched for substance. There were a few ideas that he introduced at the beginning and then went over them again and again in different ways. Each iteration was meant to delve and little deeper into the concept, but I found myself thinking ‘okay, I’ve got it already’ quite a few times.

When we see plays performed on the stage, we work with a different set of standards. Hamlet is ours to picture as we’d like, as he might be played by a different actor in every new production produced. We do not refer to Hamlet as a character as much as a ROLE. He is clearly meant to be inhabited: played. And Denmark is a SET. It can be anywhere the director and stage designer imagine it to be.

(Perhaps these terms –ROLE and SET– should be used when describing novels?)

An author gives an outline of a character and the reader fills in the rest, so no two readers have the same picture in their head. While I disagree with him that Hamlet is never referred to as a character, I love the idea of thinking of characters in novels as roles we play. We know reading is highly subjective, but this example really highlights the idea that reading is a meeting of two minds. This is why sometimes you find yourself loving a novel you know is mediocre or hating a novel that is celebrated by others. It’s the same way an actor’s performance can, in rare cases, still save a film from a poorly written script.

Authors provide a few key descriptions of a character or setting and then leave our imaginations and past experiences to fill in the rest of the picture, and we’re better off for it. In the same way a horror movie is always scarier when the monster isn’t explicitly shown on the screen, just a shadow here and a quick movement there, our minds can come up with an overall scene that is perfect for us alone.

I would have liked more science included in this, to have some interesting studies cited would have been fantastic, but this book was really just his personal musings on the subject. Despite this, and the repetition, I did really enjoy the book. It’s a quick read, more of a big illustrated essay than a book, and definitely worth checking out. I do wish, in a way, that Mary Roach had written it though.

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May in Review

Books Acquired:
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
City of Thieves by David Benioff
The Human Factor by Graham Greene
Thud! by Terry Pratchett
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
The Lost World by Michael Crichton
The Star’s Tennis Balls by Stephen Fry
The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G.K. Chesterton
The Club Of Queer Trades by G.K. Chesterton
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett
I Dreamed of Africa by Kuki Gallmann
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Books Read:
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Earth Abides by George R. Stewart
The Nerdist Way: How to Reach the Next Level (In Real Life) by Chris Hardwick

My acquired list is massive due to the annual used book sale I attended earlier this month. The best part is with my new shelves they all fit without any double-stacking needed. In fact, I could even buy more! I’m almost giddy with power right now.

In other non-book related news, we have a new dog! She’s a two-year-old miniature schnauzer and she’s named Paisley, after my mom’s hometown. We would have liked to adopt a rescue, but living in a condo and being allergic to most dogs gave us some narrow adoption parameters. We called a breeder to see if they had an older dog for adoption, and they had Paisley. They had hoped to breed her, but she wasn’t having any of it.

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I’ve started using Instagram again after realizing I can follow famous chefs and see what they’re eating for lunch, so I’ll probably be posting many images of her there.

Movies watched:
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) – I loved this, in some ways even more than the first one. James Spader as Ultron was just perfect.

Mad Max (1979) – I’d never watched any of the Mad Max films before, so I thought I’d try to watch them all before the release of the new movie. This one was a fun introduction to the world, and the beginning and end had some exciting moments, but it did drag a lot in the middle. I liked it for what it was but my girlfriend hated it.

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) – This was my favourite of the three. Just as brutal and relentless, but with more of a budget to really show off the action.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) – This seems to be everyone’s favourite, and I did like it, but it felt a little Disney-fied from the previous two and the premise felt very lazy.

Magic in the Moonlight (2014) – Beautiful setting and costumes with some really fun dialogue, but overall not enough of the Woody Allen wit came through on this. I still enjoyed it, though.

TV watched:
Outlander: Season 1 (2014/2015) – My girlfriend is an Outlander fanatic, so of course we watched this. I love the cinematography and the music and the costume design. My mother’s side of the family are Mackenzie, so I like to pretend it’s a bit of family history. I do think it dragged a bit mid-season. I’m also not a fan of torture porn, so the last couple of episodes were a bit much for me, but overall I enjoyed it.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Season 1 (2013) – I had no desire to watch this at all, but it was short and on Netflix and we’d heard some good things about it. Anything sentimental or dramatic completely fails, but it is hilarious at times. Everyone on the show is really funny in their own way. We’re hooked now.

Games played:
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015) (PC) – I’m in love with this game right now, and I’ll probably be playing it for some time. There were a few bugs on release, but they were patched out a day later, and it’s been really stable since. Great writing and voice-acting, and so much detail put into the world.

What have you been reading/watching/playing this month?

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French Lessons

French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork, and CorkscrewFrench Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork, and Corkscrew by Peter Mayle
Published: 2001
Length: 240 pages

I read a couple of Peter Mayle’s books prior to this one, and I really enjoyed them. A life in the south of France as a writer, drinking pastis and eating three-hour lunches, is a life I’d gladly live. He’s a British ex-pat who’s been living in France since the late 80’s, so he’s in the interesting position of being integrated into the culture enough to really understand the day-to-day life, while also having a different enough background that he can pick out what’s interesting to foreigners. He’s also an incredible descriptive writer, and quite funny, so his books are a joy to read.

The early part of my life was spent in the gastronomic wilderness of postwar England, when delicacies of the table were in extremely short supply. I suppose I must have possessed taste buds in my youth, but they were left undisturbed. Food was fuel, and in many cases not very appetizing food. I still have vivid memories of boarding school cuisine, which seemed to have been carefully color-coordinated — gray meat, gray potatoes, gray vegetables, gray flavor. At the time I thought it was perfectly normal.

My favourite bits of his last books were the food-related stories, of which there were many. He enjoys his food and takes great pleasure in seeking out the unusual and traditional, which I love to read about. So I was very excited to pick up French Lessons, his book consisting entirely of food-centric stories.

Strangely, though, I found this book less compelling than his others. In his other books he describes incredible meals and wine tastings that leave you salivating and unable to sleep, but most of these stories were around festivals involving food. He focused more on the story of his time at each place rather than the food itself, which I found to be a bit of a let down. We go to a frog fair in Vittel to taste frog’s legs, but there’s very little written around the actual taste and preparation. It’s still an interesting, and at times hilarious, story, but it was a bit like sitting down for dinner and instead getting a movie. However good it may be, I was distracted by the hunger.

I still have Encore Provence, which I think might be the last of his French memoirs that I haven’t read. He’s also published quite a few novels, and I have the first of his mystery series on my shelf now, so maybe it’s time to jump into those.

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In the Ravine and Other Short Stories

In the Ravine and Other Short StoriesIn the Ravine and Other Short Stories by Anton Chekhov
Published: 1983 – 1900 (In the Ravine was 1900)
Translated by: Constance Garnett (from Russian)
Narrated by: Kenneth Branagh
Length: 3:35

This is a collection of Chekhov’s short stories, spanning from 1983 with The Trousseau to 1900 with the title story, In the Ravine. I hadn’t read anything by Chekhov before, and I’m usually not a huge short story fan, but a small collection narrated by Kenneth Branagh seemed like a great place to start.

This collected the following stories:

  • Oh! The Public
  • The Chorus Girl
  • The Trousseau
  • A Story Without a Title
  • Children
  • Misery
  • Fat and Thin
  • The Beggar
  • Hush!
  • The Orator
  • An Actor’s End
  • I In the Ravine
  • II The elder son Anisim came home very rarely
  • III In the village Shikalovo lived two dressmakers

I was surprised by how modern the writing and plot felt in some of these stories. I suppose I get that feeling with a lot of classics, but I think since these are so short and focused it’s easy to imagine some of them happening in our time. If the details of the setting aren’t relevant to the plot, they aren’t provided (Chekhov’s Gun I suppose), and I think that makes some of them feel timeless in a way.

Some of these are actually quite funny. Oh! The Public deals with a clueless train ticket collector dealing with angry customers. He tries to follow the rules but they just lead to more and more issues. The funniest of the bunch, I thought, was The Orator, in which a man at a funeral gives a eulogy but gets his information wrong. Instead of eulogizing the man in the casket, he accidentally speaks about a man in the audience and causes some offence.

Your speech may be all right for a dead man, but in reference to a living one it is nothing but sarcasm!

Hush! is a great little story of a writer blaming his lack of progress on everything around him. Too much noise, and not enough tea. He blames everything but himself and can’t see what a pompous tyrant he is to those around him while he tries to write. It reminds me a bit of when I try to write anything.

I loved Misery. It’s the story of a horse-drawn sledge driver who just lost his son, and he tries desperately to confide in each passenger he picks up. He wants to tell them what happened, but none of them will pay him much mind. It perfectly captures how surreal and isolating it can be to lose someone close, to have your world change so dramatically and then step back into your regular life to find that no one else is affected. To find that your loss is about as relevant to them as the five-day forecast, and how, as selfish as it seems, sometimes you just want to tell someone everything and try to have them understand a bit of what you felt. This man has no one in his life who will listen.

Just as the young man had been thirsty for water, he thirsts for speech. His son will soon have been dead a week, and he has not really talked to anybody yet… . He wants to talk of it properly, with deliberation…. He wants to tell how his son was taken ill, how he suffered, what he said before he died, how he died…. He wants to describe the funeral, and how he went to the hospital to get his son’s clothes. He still has his daughter Anisya in the country…. And he wants to talk about her too…. Yes, he has plenty to talk about now. His listener ought to sigh and exclaim and lament….

I listened to this on audio, which Branagh narrated perfectly, so I had no idea of Chekhov’s fondness for ellipses until just now. I wonder if that’s common in all of his stories?

Weirdly, In the Ravine was one of my least favourites of the bunch. It seems to be the most popular, so I might have to revisit it at some point and see what I missed. As a whole, though, I really enjoyed this. Maybe I’ll read one of his plays next.

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LolitaLolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Published: 1955
Narrated by: Jeremy Irons
Length: 11:32

This is regularly touted as one of the most beautifully written books of the 20th century, so it’s always been on my to-read list, but it wasn’t until recently that I actually read the synopsis and knew what I was getting myself into. The novel follows a literature professor in his late 30’s, Humbert Humbert (an alias), as he becomes obsessed with, and pursues, 12-year-old Lolita.

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

That is one of my favourite openings of any novel and a good example of why this is still in such high regard despite its difficult subject matter. His language just pulls you in, and you keep reading with the sickened intrigue of a crowd at a car crash. The more I read the more I needed to know how it all panned out. You hope for the best (whatever that may be in this case) but assume the worst.

I’ve seen a few reviews state that Nabakov was so masterful a writer that he could make you feel compassion for a pedophile. I wouldn’t say that’s the case at all. In fact, Nabakov’s genius is how he framed this story to make it actually palatable. In the forward, we’re made aware that Humbert wrote this, from memory and journal writings, while incarcerated and is now dead. We don’t know how he came to be imprisoned at that point, or precisely on what charge, but we do know that life doesn’t turn out well for him. This is also narrated from his point of view, an unreliable point of view, so there’s no objectivity in his opinions. This lets you disassociate yourself from them, as you know they aren’t stated as truth in the world of this novel but just in the head of this ill man. You may be in his head, but at no point is he painted as a sympathetic character.

I had a hard time seeing Lolita as a young girl, actually. The way she talked and acted seemed older than 12 to me. I’m not sure if this was a case of the unreliable narrator remembering deeper, more mature, interactions than what actually happened or if it was just an emotional defense I had with what I was reading.

Humbert is the sort of awful character I typically do love to read about – a misanthropic outsider with the ability to express his deep disdain for the people around him. As his character unravels, he falls into this more and more. In a great scene at the end of the novel, he’s gone so far outside the boundary of human law and decency that while feeling particularly unbound by societal constraints he starts driving down the wrong side of the road. It’s as if he’s no longer part of humanity and its laws.

This is a bit long, but the way he describes his night in a hotel is perfect, as anyone who has trouble falling asleep can attest:

There is nothing louder than an American hotel; and, mind you, this was supposed to be a quiet, cozy, old-fashioned, homey place–“gracious living” and all that stuff. The clatter of the elevator’s gate–some twenty yards northeast of my head but as clearly perceived as if it were inside my left temple–alternated with the banging and booming of the machine’s various evolutions and lasted well beyond midnight. Every now and then, immediately east of my left ear (always assuming I lay on my back, not daring to direct my viler side toward the nebulous haunch of my bed-mate), the corridor would brim with cheerful, resonant and inept exclamations ending in a volley of good-nights. When that stopped, a toilet immediately north of my cerebellum took over. It was a manly, energetic, deep-throated toilet, and it was used many times. Its gurgle and gush and long afterflow shook the wall behind me. Then someone in a southern direction was extravagantly sick, almost coughing out his life with his liquor, and his toilet descended like a veritable Niagara, immediately beyond our bathroom. And when finally all the waterfalls had stopped, and the enchanted hunters were sound asleep, the avenue under the window of my insomnia, to the west of my wake–a staid, eminently residential, dignified alley of huge trees–degenerated into the despicable haunt of gigantic trucks roaring through the wet and windy night.

Sometimes I read novels that have caused an uproar of controversy, and I just can’t understand what the issue is. I’m a liberal-minded person and not someone who is easily offended, and I would personally never try to ban any work of fiction no matter the content, but sometimes I can’t even understand what would motivate people to try with certain books. With this it’s very easy to understand how people could have a knee-jerk reaction – adult men with young girls is bad, therefore book is bad. I feel like the way the story is told makes this an interesting read, but not everyone will have the same opinion, so take that into consideration before picking this up. I have to admit, I listened to part of this audiobook in public and was definitely starting to feel like everyone around was secretly judging me.

I really enjoyed this. I’ve heard great things about Pale Fire, so that will likely be the next book of his I’ll read. I couldn’t bring myself to skip Jeremy Irons’ narration of this, but for Pale Fire I’ll probably go with the dead tree version to get a better feel for his writing and wordplay.

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A Hat Full of Sky (Discworld, #32)

A Hat Full of Sky (Discworld, #32) (Tiffany Aching, #2)A Hat Full of Sky (Discworld, #32) by Terry Pratchett
Published: 2004
Length: 352 pages

When Terry Pratchett passed away, I dropped what I was reading and picked up one of his novels. I still have a lot to get through, but the last I read was The Wee Free Men, so I decided to carry on with the Tiffany Aching books.

In this second novel, Tiffany leaves her hometown for the first time to apprentice under a woman named Miss Level, a witch that has two bodies that share one mind. Her apprenticeship isn’t what she imagined, however, as it seems to mainly entail taking care of others. It’s more errands around town than toil and trouble, but what she doesn’t realize is that she’s been followed by a truly horrific entity, and it’s what she learned from those errands, rather than straightforward magic, that is going to save her.

It’s still magic. Knowing things is magical, if other people don’t know them.

I love this sub-series of Discworld novels. This was even better than The Wee Free Men, and I don’t come to that conclusion purely sentimentally, although I’m sure his death changed my reading of the novel somewhat. My dad bought me these books years ago, and I think I mentally set them aside when I learned they were some of his young adult novels, but I honestly don’t think I would have noticed if I hadn’t known going in. It’s mainly labeled as such because the main character is a teenager, and there’s a lot of great little messages about taking responsibility and being yourself and knowledge having power, which I think a lot of adults in the world could do with some reminding on anyway. Pratchett doesn’t write down to his young audience, and he’s also not afraid to tackle dark topics like death and misery. He stated this in a 2008 interview with The Independent:

My advice is this. For Christ’s sake, don’t write a book that is suitable for a kid of 12 years old, because the kids who read who are 12 years old are reading books for adults.[…] Because you want kids to grow up to be adults, not just bigger kids.

Everything about this was fantastic. The witches, the baddie (which was actually surprisingly creepy), and of course the Nac Mac Feegle – six-inch tall blue-skinned, red-haired fairy folk who speak with a Scottish brogue, wear kilts, and spend their time fighting, drinking, and stealing. He pulls of their accent brilliantly, which is hard to do in a novel without driving the reader insane, and every scene with them is a lot of fun.

Another fantastic Discworld novel. Not much else to say, really. There will be four Aching books in total, once the last Discworld novel is published this year (that’s a sad sentence to write), and I’m looking forward to reading the next two.

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2015 Annual Book Sale Haul

Today was the annual Times Colonist book sale, which I mentioned earlier. It’s a great event that goes to charity, so not only can you buy what you want without guilt, but you can even feel good about it.

I’m always surprised at how large an event this is. The doors open at 9:00am and someone commented on their Facebook page that the first people started showing up around midnight. Another commented that at 5:30am there were already 50 people in line. That’s dedication!

It confuses me a little why people would do this, as there are more books than they can actually display and the stock is constantly being replenished, so much so that if you go six hours after opening it’s like an entirely new sale, but I guess they’re either just excited or they have an inside scoop that I do not. They did post a photo of one of the volunteers holding up a first edition Pudd’nhead Wilson in good condition, so maybe there are some collectibles on display that early.

  • Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • City of Thieves by David Benioff
  • The Human Factor by Graham Greene
  • Thud! by Terry Pratchett
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
  • The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
  • The Lost World by Michael Crichton
  • The Star’s Tennis Balls by Stephen Fry
  • The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G.K. Chesterton
  • The Club Of Queer Trades by G.K. Chesterton
  • The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
  • The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett
  • I Dreamed of Africa by Kuki Gallmann
  • Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
  • The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  • Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
  • Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

There are a few books here I’m not sure about, but I thought this would be a good chance to give them a try. Namely: Water for Elephants, I Dreamed of Africa, City of Thieves, and Boneshaker. The Master and Margarita makes me a little nervous as well. I think I’m most excited to read The Martian Chronicles, The Lost World, The Human Factor and the G.K. Chesterton novels. I’m reading Terry Pratchett’s non-fiction right now, and G.K. Chesterton comes up quite a lot. He seemed to have really influenced Pratchett when he was young, so that will be neat to read.

Three hours of marathon browsing and seventeen books for $38. Not too bad!

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April in Review

Books Acquired:

Books Read:
In the Ravine and Other Short Stories by Anton Chekhov
French Lessons by Peter Mayle
What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund

This month started off strong, but during the last couple of weeks I barely read ten pages a night, and I haven’t been listening to my audiobooks as much either. Those lulls in reading happen though, and I can start to feel a change in the last few days already.

No books purchased this month either, but that will all change tomorrow when my favourite used book sale takes place. Previous years have proven quite fruitful, so I’m sure I’ll have a ridiculous list for next month. I’ll likely do a book haul post on it as well, because yay for new books. I’m just glad we got our bookcases sorted out last month.

Movies watched:
Land Ho! (2014) – This was hilariously awful. I started watching it because I thought it was a documentary about two old guys taking a break from life and travelling Iceland, but it turns out it’s a poorly scripted comedy. It was so bad I couldn’t stop watching it, which doesn’t normally happen with me.

The Love Punch (2013) – This was also pretty terrible, but the actors are all very watchable, so it was hard not to enjoy it on some level. I also got romantic comedy brownie points with my girlfriend, so it was worth it I think. The story is so very stupid, though.

TV watched:
Departures: Season 2 (2009) – I love this series, and the second was just as good as the first. There’s a third season out there, but it’s not on Netflix, so I’ll have to search it out.

Parks and Recreation (2009) – I like pretty much everyone in this cast from their other projects, and my girlfriend caught an episode at a friend’s place and love it, so we finally decided to start watching. We’re fashionable a decade late to the party, but we’re loving it so far. The first season is just six twenty-minute episodes, so it’s easy to burn through.

Games played:
Insurgency (2014) (PC) – Yup, still playing this. I might have a problem.

A Bird Story (2014) (PC) – A fun little game from the maker of To The Moon. Not on the same level as that game, but a cute story with some innovative touches. Only about an hour and a half long.

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (2013) (PC) – I played a few days of this on the free trial and was actually having a lot of fun with it. It has a really interesting class system that I’d like to play with a bit more, but I can’t see myself picking up the paid game. I was already getting a bit bored with the combat when I stopped.

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Published: 1884
Narrated by: Elijah Wood
Length: 10:12

I read the The Adventures of Tom Sawyer two years ago and really enjoyed it. I listened to it on audiobook and loved the narrator’s accents, so I thought I’d carry on with the audio route for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. This is one of those cases where I feel like audio really shines.

This is another book of boyhood fantasies. Huckleberry Finn can’t stand life now that he isn’t poor, after acquiring some cash with Tom Sawyer at the end of the last book. Having to do school work and wear clean clothes and act civilized is driving him mad. He manages to escape for a life of adventure, but it happens in a rather unfortunate way.

On the way back from an outing with Tom and the gang, Huck’s alcoholic and long-lost dad reappears. He heard of Huck’s new fortune and wants in on it, but after some time in the town he isn’t any closer to claiming the money. He ends up kidnapping Huck and forcing him to live in a cabin in the woods. To get away, Huck fakes his own death and makes a run for it. He’s held up for some time on a nearby island where he meets Jim, a black slave he knows from town. Together they find themselves in a string of unlikely adventures – dressing up in disguise as a girl to learn news of town, stumbling across a spat between thieves, getting involved in a brutal blood feud between families, pulling off scams with a couple of con artists, and so on. Like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, it’s a child’s daydream come to life.

Throughout the adventure, Huck struggles with whether he should turn Jim in or not. In his mind, the morally correct thing to do is return Jim back to his masters, since he is by law their property. After travelling with Jim for so long, however, he couldn’t help seeing him as a regular person, and if he should be free why shouldn’t Jim? There are parallels in their past now, with Huck being held against his will by his father, and it brings out the absurdity of having to make that choice. It seems very progressive for its time in many ways, by humanizing Jim and showing how ridiculous it is that he shouldn’t be free, but on the other hand Jim is still quite often portrayed in an incredibly stereotypical way.

I loved this. The language is a bit hard to take, particularly in audio I think, but it’s a blast of an adventure. I wish I had read these as a kid, with an adult to read along with and explain why certain words and attitudes are awful, obviously, but this would have sparked my imagination for years.

When I saw that Elijah Wood has done an Audible Signature Performance of this, I admit I was a little skeptical. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to listen to him for a whole book, but he was fantastic. His characters were distinct and he did a convincing job, to an admittedly unfamiliar ear, with the different accents.

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