June 30, 2012

Another Religious Adventure

The Book of Names
Jill Gregory & Karen Tintori
To Buy Amazon - Barnes & Noble

Here's another review for Audiobook Week (an occasion I didn't know about this until I stumbled upon a twitter hashtag on Tuesday). The book is seven discs, (8 hours), and is narrated by Christopher Graybill.

It took me awhile to warm up to Graybill's reading, as it is with nearly every audiobook I listen to. Generally my first thought on track one is something like 'this guy/gal sounds so weird, how did he/she get this job?!' but about five minutes in everything is fine, and the voice simply becomes part of the story (except in one or two very bad cases). It catches my interest when an audiobook includes some kind of audio detail that you don't always hear, and in The Book of Names, it was sort of an echo microphone effect used when characters were either thinking to themselves or conversing through a telephone. It was a little odd sounding, but it was very effective within the story. The book is broken down into very small 'chapters', usually jumping points of view as the action sets up, typical thriller set up. I've seen some audio books that use multiple narrators to cover the voices, but that wasn't the case here. Graybill used variants of his vocal range and regional accents to cover the entire character spectrum. Some of the voices seemed a little exaggerated, but there was an international cast of characters, so it worked pretty well.

It is said that there are 36 souls in each generation that are capable of complete spiritual enlightenment. If any of them die prematurely, leaving less than 36 righteous souls at any time, the world becomes more chaotic. If all of them should die, the world as we know it, comes to an end. These names were recorded by Adam from the word of God, and were passed down until eventually the Book of Names was lost in time...

I liked the story - the fast pace and interesting historical questions made the time pass quickly while I listened at work. I have a love of old cultures and traditions, so many of the subjects discussed in the book intrigued me: Kabbalah, Tarot, Zodiac, biblical references, the Tree of Life, and of course, any secret societies (there is a bit of a conspiracy theorist in me)! I have little to no knowledge about Judaism, so a lot of the content was new to me, and I'm not completely certain what was fact and what was fiction, but it doesn't detract from the story.

The plot was very DaVinci Code esque:

In the DaVinci Code, Robert Langdon, a world-renowned symbologist (a person who studies symbolism throughout time and cultures), who teaches class at Harvard University, is sought out to help solve the murder of the Louvre curator. After analyzing the body and teaming up with a police cryptographer, Langdon begins an incredible journey of puzzles, history, and alternate biblical conspiracies.

In The Book of Names, David Shepard falls off a roof when he is young, and has a near death experience. Ever since that time, names fill his mind, names he's never heard, people he's never met - and he records them in a journal. We find out that these names are the same names in the fragments recovered from Adam's Book of Names. Unfortunately, a dark, evil, secret society, the Gnosios (I think, I only listed remember? The word derives from Gnostic) also finds out that David knows these names; names they have been desperately trying to recover for generations in order to destroy the world as we know it, to have it born anew.

The plots are fairly similar, but one thing really jumped at me. In DaVinci Code, Langdon is the teacher. He goes through his adventures with a knowing and calculating mind, and all the tools he needs as his adventure progresses. Shepard, on the other hand, knew nothing of any religious affiliations or even anything strange - for all he knew, the names were just a slightly strange side effect from a nearly fatal accident when he was a kid. I mean, his degree was in political science (his dad was a senator), and neither of those facts came in handy for him, except for one character he met through his father. I'm not sure which is more annoyingly convenient; having a character that 'happens' to know everything he needs to survive, or a character that depends on the people he 'happens' to meet along the way - I think the latter, because how could he have known who to trust? If he had let the wrong sort of person know about his gift, the story could have concluded with the end of the world.

As it was, David Shepard happened to hear one of the names on the news one day as he was writing it down - the woman had been murdered. Once the initial shock passed, he began searching for the other names, finding many of them also deceased. Unsure of what to do next, he asks his best friend and colleague, a professor of religion, who refers him to a Rabbi, and the adventure goes from there. Before he sees the Rabbi, however, he received a call from his step-daughter, whose mother had just remarried. The new husband adopted the daughter, changing her name to something very familiar to David...one of the names on his List...the list of people who mysteriously end up dead.

June 26, 2012

A Humorous Bite of Life

Tina Fey

I am a huge fan of memoirs. I’ve read only a handful at this point, but I’ve enjoyed them all quite thoroughly (small insight into my life? I have never been able to spell ‘thoroughly’ without spell check – I know, really Emma??). I found Bossypants as an audiobook in my local library, and listened to it while diligently working, as I do.

I found Bossypants much more well-rounded than I expected. I’m not sure why I’m always surprised by the validity of books with cheesy/humorous titles, besides the same reasons other people have for the same thought. I was aware of how popular the book was, which is usually a turn off for me, but by now the hype has died down about it, and it was sitting there so politely on the library shelf on display. The rest, my bookish followers, is history.

The Bossypants audiobook is, as the best ones are, narrated by the author. The book is about 5 ½ hours on 5 discs and includes a PDF file for embarrassing/milestone photographs. One of the best things about this audiobook, that differs from other audiobooks that I’ve read so far, is that Fey recognized her readers as ‘listeners’ and changed some things to be more suited to her audience. Brilliant. She often related that there was a corresponding picture to the anecdote currently being discussed to be found in the PDF, and the original SNL skits are actually played for us to hear in the chapter about Tina’s ‘Sarah Palin days’.

I was surprised at how much I liked Tina Fey. I’d heard of her before, I knew enough about her to know she was on Saturday Night Live (which I’ve only seen skits of on youtube), and to recognize her by sight (she was in Mean Girls, for instance, but did you know she wrote the screenplay too?), but beyond that...clueless. When writing about her life, she made the awkward and light-hearted things laugh out loud funny, but kept the serious things serious, which brought the well-rounded feeling overall. She wrote a lot about growing up and becoming a woman, into her improve days, and how all that has helped her in her life today. The part I enjoyed the most were the bits about her daughter and parenthood (both the funny and serious parts), and I loved how honest she was throughout (no problem spelling that one, by the way!). The book was closed (I don’t consider this a spoiler because it is a memoir after all, and she is a celebrity) by her internal debate on whether or not to have another baby, and how at the end of the day, it was her decision, no matter how many things hung in the balance (possibly the difference between sanity and the alternative).

The only thing I wasn’t so sure about is the title. The book led up to her show, 30 Rock, of which I guess she is ‘The Boss’, but she didn’t necessarily write about being the boss. She did talk about the inner-workings of the TV show a bit, and how she is involved in the many aspects of it….I guess when I think of ‘Boss’, it’s the managing people part of it that I think of. I didn’t really get much of that from the book here, which is not necessarily a bad thing, just something I noticed. And 30 Rock is after all, only a small piece in the book that is Tina Fey’s life.

I would highly recommend this book to everyone, in every walk of life – after all, who doesn’t need a good laugh? This book was energetic and refreshing and a joy to read. I’m seriously considering purchasing (the audiobook version) for myself to keep listening to forever, but the price is not quite right for this point in my life ($20!). [This is the reason all the audiobooks I review come from the library!] My alternative is the paperback version. But if you can get your hands on the audiobook version, I’m telling you, you won’t be sorry!

Excuse me, everyone, while I go look up how much “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me” by Mindy Kaling is on NookBook!

June 18, 2012

Library Love Flashback

This, quite obviously, is not my typical book review - more of a bookish rambling inspired by my trip to the library today. As I'm sure I've mentioned before, there is a library branch located just across the street from my work building. Since I just got my license a month ago (and still don't have a car, so my boyfriend carts me around), I've spent a lot of time there in limbo between my work and my ride.

I got my first library card when I was five years old. That is the earliest you can get one in my neck of the woods. My mother was good like that :-) I remember being so excited that I could finally check out books with my own name. Also, how about a shout out for libraries around the nation that have amazing sections for kids, which don't only have amazing books at every reading level, but adventurous and comfy places to curl up and read them. Some of my fondest memories of the library are from back in those days. 

Anyway, I've always loved to read, and all of my books came from the library when I was growing up. I don't think it actually occurred to me, other than when the book wagon came to school, that you could buy the same books they had at the library. Not to say we didn't have books at home, I remember we got The Berenstain Bears books by mail twice a month. I just don't remember ever in my life thinking 'Hey, that was a really good book, I want to buy it and put it on a shelf'. I guess I just always figured that any particular book would go back to the library shelf and wait for me until I was ready to read it again.

I don't remember many of the books I read from the children's section way back when, but I actually remember the day I graduated to the young adult section. I think it had been quite some time since our last trip to the library, I might have been 10 or 11. The branch we were in had the kids section entrance on one side once you walk in the door, and the adult section on the other side. Well, I must have been feeling a little old for the kid section, so I went with my mom to the adult section. I can't remember if she suggested it, or I found it on my own, but there was a separate room in the back of the adult section for young adult books. It was perfect. There were several shelves, and it felt isolated, like my own secret library. I think at that time I was still a little young for some of the themes in those books, and I can't remember any of them very clearly. 

Jump forward and I'm about 15. A new library had been built not far from where I was going to school, and I went there frequently. The young adult shelves there hold the books that I start to remember reading. These books I fell in love with. I remember standing there looking at the shelves, usually in the A-G section and just looking over the titles over and over. I remember being diplomatic about some of my book choices. Sometimes I would pick a book by an author there was only one book by. Sometimes I would pick a book by the most interesting or colorful cover. Sometimes I would pick by the merit of the title. Sometimes I would deliberately leave my comfort zone of shelves A-G and pick a book from the other shelves H-Z...though for some reason I never liked doing this (even though I found some good books there too). A few titles I can remember, but I never learned the authors. Armageddon Summer, Someone Like You, Stargirl, East. Mostly I remember the content. Sometimes it haunts me that I will probably never know what book some of these ideas in my head came from. So many of them changed the way I read and look at the world. 

I remember for a short phase I would go to the D section in every young adult section of every library I went in and picture where my future books would fit in with all those others (it has always been a distant dream of mine to be among the library titles). Usually it was near the bottom or way up high, or in between unattractive books. I think that was the driving force behind my strange book picking habits. What about those authors, I would think, they worked just as hard and as long on their books, and most people don't even look that high, or that low. I made a point to be the person who did. 

That feeling, the feeling of perusing the shelves, knowing the perfect book is out there if you just look for the right thing, that's what I had again this afternoon. Most other days I go and plop into a chair to read the book I brought with me. It's been a long time since I just wandered the shelves looking through everything, considering titles, authors, covers, and plot summaries. It seems like lately I don't read a book unless I've seen a high rating of it somewhere, or someone else I know is reading it. It's easy to forget while clicking from one link to the next on the internet that it's the books in between, the ones hiding between the hits on the shelves, that can be the most valuable treasures. 

Hopefully this idea sticks with you, and on your next trip to the library you will take a second look at some of the books you've never considered before. Chances are, you'll find some really good stuff hidden in plain sight. 

Happy Reading Everyone.

These pictures are not of my local libraries, but random libraries scattered throughout the internet ;-)

June 9, 2012

These Ancient Greeks Are Just Like Us!

Unknown Translator

Well this is a first for me - I have never reviewed a play before on this blog, in fact, I haven't really read any plays before (save for one or two in high school). But after watching my friend Dean's video book review on it, I decided it may be worth a go. It took only an evening for me to read it on my Kindle (94 pages) and this morning I watched it in play form on youtube (which I highly recommend after reading). 

I downloaded the free version from the Kindle store, which was 'converted from its physical edition to the digital format by a community of volunteers.' (from the book description), but unfortunately I was unable to find which translation it was taken from. The version I read had a list of characters in the front of the book, but was not separated into acts and scenes as a standard play would be. I think it was especially helpful after reading this play to watch it being performed, as many of the parts were declared simply 'women', 'men', 'Spartans', 'old men', and 'Athenians'. One other critique of this version is the over the top lyrical lines. This was obviously not written in English, so even though it was poetic in Ancient Greek, I would rather have more exact translations to really get the meaning behind the lines. If I ever end up purchasing this play for my library, I will hunt around for a better translation.


Lysistrata is an example of a timeless piece of work, been written and performed before the time of Christ, it still resonates with us today. It is a Classical Greek Comedy, set during the Peloponnesian War (civil war between Athens and Sparta which lasted from 431 BC to 404 - 27 years). At the start of the play, the women had been suffering the absence of their husbands for years. One woman, Lysistrata, thinks she knows a way to end the war, and calls a meeting at the Acropolis to discuss her tactics. 

Lysistrata is hesitant at first to reveal her strategy to end the war, as it would prove a difficult trial for both the women and their husbands. Her plan is to lock themselves into the Acropolis to ensure the celibacy of the women, wives of soldiers and powerful men. Hilarity ensues as the play unfolds - some women try to sneak out of the meeting, making up ridiculous excuses, to which Lysistrata is not fooled. As time passes in the play the men becoming increasingly sex starved (not to mention the women), are all walking around with massive erections by the end of the play, begging for a resolution. 

Many critics have dismissed this play because of it's phallic nature, but you can't deny the themes we can still sympathize with today. I don't know of how many jokes I've heard on movies and television of women trying to manipulate men in the same ways described in this play. Thought the concept of this play is humorous on the surface, Lysistrata's motivations were pure. She and her comrades were quickly aging while their husbands were away, dwindling down their child bearing years, for what? In one line, Lysistrata is arguing with the magistrate about the issue. She offers that while the men also age, coming back with heads of grey hair, they are still able to take a young ripe wife if he so chooses, while women only have so many fertile years to bear before 'shriveling' up. 

It is for these timeless themes that I believe Lysistrata has endured the centuries, and will continute to resonate with readers for many to come. Before Dean's review video popped up on my youtube feed, I had never heard of this play, so thanks Dean! I look forward to reading and reviewing many more plays, and also some more ancient greek stuff, which I always enjoy :-)

If you'd like an extremely quick and hilarious summary of this story, click here!

Happy Reading Everyone!