Thursday, October 27, 2016

Burned by Books

I lead a very busy life that involves a fairly lengthy commute to my job. To minimize the chances of me getting out of my car and assaulting another motorist (no really, my commute is that bad) I picked up the habit of listening to podcasts and audiobooks. The podcasts have been overall pretty engaging, but sometimes I just don’t feel like hearing people talk to each other. It’s at those moments I turn to audiobooks and, thanks to my local library, I have access to tons of them via Hoopla Digital or Overdrive. My library also has rows of the old CD versions and the MP3 players that you can check out, but nothing beats being able to decide in the moment what you want to listen to through an app.

Artist's rendering of me (on left) once I step outside of my car
Image via Pixabay
Some of the books have been amazing, I even have a favorite audiobook performer now (shout out to Simon Vance, I listen to all of your stuff and I’m a huge fan). Others have been…not so great, either because of content or performance.  A bad story is a bad story whether it is read or listened to and not all books will be to my taste. A poor performance, however, can ruin a perfectly well-written story. I once accidentally downloaded a version of "Interview with the Vampire" that may have been created by a very dramatic Anne Rice fan back in the 80’s. It opened with “Intaaaarvieeeeeew with thaa Vahmpiiiiiiiire”. I said “No thanks” and immediately abandoned it for another version with a more palatable narrator. Then there is the third category where the writing and performance were excellent, but the story took a turn that I did not enjoy. I want to talk about the third.

I have twice (TWICE!), two times in a row listened to lengthy audiobooks which were well-written and masterfully performed that still left me feeling so friggin’ mad by the time the final chapter rolled through my car speakers.

The first was "The Time Traveler’s Wife". Now, I know I’m behind the curve since this book and its accompanying movie have been out for some time now. But I was browsing through what was available on Hoopla and I figured I’d give it a shot since it was so highly ranked.


For those of you who have not read it or seen the movie, the book goes back and forth from the perspective of a time traveling gentleman and his lady friend. It gets weird because she grows up with him visiting her throughout her childhood. That was my issue number one with this book, by Henry appearing in her childhood he essentially tells her who she will become and what choices she will make. I understand it is all kind of set in stone since he is from her actual future, but still. Leave a little mystery in this poor girl’s life! Once they get together in the same “present” timeline it seemed a bit better, but Clare never felt like her own person to me. Once Henry eventually died, I thought, “Okay, NOW she’s going to live her life on her own terms”. Even though she had her time traveling child to worry about, I assumed she would be able to live life more in the moment and maybe even find love again; she wasn’t very old when her husband passed. But instead of being her own person and making her own decisions she chooses to just wait her entire life to get one last glimpse of her husband as an old lady. Which I get it, it’s soooooo romantic, but it is also like being trapped in an emotional prison. He never should have told her when she would see him again, by disclosing that knowledge he locked her into a state where she would never move forward on her own. Infuriating. 

The second was "Snowflower and the Secret Fan". This book was a fascinating look into the life and traditions of women in 19th century China. 

I have no idea how accurate it all was, but the story was compelling enough that I was happy to listen to the audiobook in my car. In this book, women were told very little useful information about marriage, let alone sex before being sent to the homes of their husband’s. So, when the two main characters of the story are married off, it was no surprise that one of them had figured out that sex is super-awesome and feels great for the woman AND the man, while the other girl 100% did not understand that. Without the mechanics of sex and satisfaction explained, it can be pretty confusing to a young girl, so I gave that a pass in the moment. It wasn’t until the very end of the book where the main character is 80 years old and talking about the concubines she got her husband later on in life did it dawn on me that she NEVER figured it out! At no point in the story did she think to ask how or why “bed business” (their code for sex) was so great for other people in her life. Lily has like….6 kids! 6 kids and never once figured out orgasms. That poor, poor woman. I was upset on her (fictitious) behalf.

I think in a way, the ending of "The Time Traveler’s Wife" was meant to make you feel a bit stuck, the whole book could be seen as a metaphor for relationships that trap you into thinking there is no future without the other, that do not allow you to be whole on your own, or for those relationships that find themselves interrupted by forces beyond their control. But….goddamn, Snowflower and the Secret Fan" couldn’t give Lily even one moment of figuring out that really great sex can leave you seeing stars and wondering if you had died from pleasure?

I was on the waiting list for 11/22/63 by Stephen King for months and it just became available to me. The audiobook version came highly recommended, so I'm hoping to break the streak. It's either 3 strikes you're out or 3rd time's a charm. Let's hope for charming!

#books #audiobooks 

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