Wednesday, 20 October 2010

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover
The Scarlet Pimpernel
by Baroness Orczy

narrated by B. J. Harrison
"Perhaps the most famous alias of all time, 'The Scarlet Pimpernel' hides the identity of a British nobleman who, masked by various disguises, leads a band of young men to undermine the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution. As he makes daring raid after daring raid into the heart of France to save aristocrats condemned to the guillotine, at each rescue he leaves his calling card, with its image of a small, blood-red flower."
This is actually a podcast download in several episodes from iTunes, and further stories become available weekly, all narrated by the same chap. He's American, narrating a story written by a Hungarian about an English nobleman operating in France, and his command of accents is not great, let alone his pronunciation of French. I think I have worked out that 'sarn-seer' is his version of 'Sancerre' but without the text, I can't be sure. Similarly, 'imp-ass-ay' is probably 'impasse'. But apart from this, it's not a bad reading, and the story's a good one, and it's free, so why am I being so picky? I've enjoyed it.

Image of the book cover
Dreams from my father
by Barack Obama

"The son of a black African father and a white American mother, Obama details the dramatic journey that constituted his parents’ life, before his own trip to Kenya to confront the sobering realities of his father’s life."
This is so well-written and insightful that I was able to grasp some of the identity issues of this black American raised in Hawaii and Indonesia by his white mother and grandparents, among others. His early career felt very familiar too - he was a 'Community Organizer', confronting entrenched attitudes and values to try to improve life for people, mainly but not exclusively black people, in Chicago. The quality of his writing, his demonstrable intelligence, and the early desire to make the world a better place for all are in stark contrast with the previous President's capabilities and ambitions.

Image of the book cover
Wolf Hall
by Hilary Mantel

narrated by Simon Slater
"Tudor England. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is charged with securing his divorce. Into this atmosphere of distrust comes Thomas Cromwell - a man as ruthlessly ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages."
I bought this in print for Mr A, who read and recommended it in audio form. It's a long, hard slog, written in a style that doesn't always allow the listener to be certain who's speaking, and without the ability to flick back to earlier passages. I liked the immersive experience in the 16th century, experiencing the all-pervasive nature of religion, the separate lives of men and women, the uncertainty of disease and the contrast between power and helplessness. But I've no idea why it's called Wolf Hall, which is the Seymour family residence and is only mentioned occasionally throughout the book, including in the very last sentence.

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