11 August 2013

Bits and Bobs (the video book edition)

I am one of those people who thinks that listening to audio books doesn't count as reading the book. I know, we could get into all kinds of discussions about why that may or may not be a fair statement. How about we agree to disagree? Lately I have been thinking about getting an audio book. For me though, for that audio book to then make it onto my books read list, I was thinking I would have to sit with the book and follow along verbatim. I think this actually might be quite interesting. I was thinking maybe I get an Anita Brookner. Since I have read all of her novels, I thought it might be interesting to hear how a trained voice reads it. Plus if I followed the words on the page it really would be reading it a second time. This idea may have to wait a while however. I am re-reading her novels in chronological order and I am several novels away from finding an AB novel that is available in audio book format.

I have been reading a lot lately. I just don't have anything particularly bookish to write about. So I thought I would pretend like all the TV and film I have been watching were analogous to audio books. I know, I know, even an audio book snob like myself recognizes that there is nothing analogous about the Real Housewives of Orange County and War and Peace on audio book. Except maybe that there is less fighting in the latter. But hey, I needed a hook for this edition of Bits and Bobs.

The Audience
Many of you have already seen this at a cinema near you. The National Theatre in London has a series of their productions that have been, or will be, shown live or recorded at cinemas around the world. The Audience is a  wonderful play by Peter Morgan (writer of The Queen and much more) and is wonderfully acted by Helen Mirren who reprises her role as HM and cast of other characters who play various Prime Ministers who have met with the Queen once a week during her long reign. It really is brilliantly done. The script is funny and poignant, the staging is very well done, and unlike filmed versions of plays that used to make it onto the small screen, the camera work and makeup allows one to forget it is a filmed play.

I am guessing that Mirren doesn't want to spend the rest of her life playing QEII, but I will continue to stump for her to bring Alan Bennett's The Uncommon Reader to the screen. PLEASE!

Yes, there were real corgis on stage. This is a picture of one that was apparently fired for ignoring Mirren on stage.

Orange is the New Black
For those of you with Netflix, you really must watch Orange is the New Black. I suppose it isn't for everyone, there is strong language, nudity, violence,etc. But for the non-squeamish among you, this is a wonderful drama. Engaged to be married, upper middle class WASP, Piper finds herself heading to federal prison for a bit of illegal activity she did ten years previously when she was dating a drug dealer--who just happened to be a woman. Based on a true story, each episode follows Piper as she gets used to prison life, but more interestingly, it introduces us to a cast of fascinating, scary, funny, and very human characters who are also doing time.

Perhaps one of my favorite scenes is when some of the inmates are chosen to interact with some juvenile delinquents as part of a "scared straight" program. One of the characters, Suzanne (or Crazy Eyes) who tried to make Piper her "wife" in an earlier episode, volunteers to participate so she can get a chance to act. So when the kids show up and the inmates are let loose to verbally intimidate them, through the din of all the yelling one sees Crazy Eyes up in the face of one of the young girls performing/yelling a scene from Shakespeare. I love Crazy Eyes.

I know I am prone to hyperbole, but this show is probably the best written and acted TV drama I have ever seen.

Main character Piper (left) and the wonderful Suzanne (Crazy Eyes)

Jean and Lionel are the only two who don't piss me off
If  you live in America and watch PBS, by now, no doubt, you can recite dialog from As Time Goes By from memory. It is on so often. Yet I still end up watching it. Even weirder is that the only two characters that I like are Jean and Lionel. I can't stand the rest of them. I find Judith spoiled and sulky and just plain whiny. Sandy is such a wishy-washy wet blanket. Alistair is easily one of the most annoying characters in television history. I hate Lionel's parents in the same way I hate rapping grannies--"Oh look at the old people acting like young people, isn't that hilarious?" No. No, it isn't. I should say that I do like Penny and Stephen. Incidentally, for true Britcom fans, you may recall that the actor who plays Penny also played the wife of JJM managing director Andy on The Good Life.

Which brings up a good point. Why does PBS play endless repeats of As Time Goes By and Are You Being Served when there are so many other fantastic older Britcoms they could be showing us like Sorry! with Ronnie Corbett and The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin with the brilliant Leonard Rossiter and a young Lionel (Geoffrey Palmer).

The kitchen scenes are the only thing that keep me watching this show. I have often said that I would watch anything that has British people buttering toast or otherwise preparing tea or breakfast. Nothing cozier than Jean and Lionel in the kitchen. Setting the table, getting trays of tea ready...remember the episode where Penny meets Lionel for the first time and Jean and Lionel go into the kitchen to prepare a tray of strawberries and cream? Perfection. I do love mundane minutiae. 
Leonard Rossiter as Reggie chatting with Ponsonby.
A young Geoffrey Palmer playing Cousin Jimmy on The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin

Project Runway / Top Chef / Great British Bakeoff
I have loved Project Runway from day one some 11 years ago. I love watching folks with real talent and creativity conjure up something out of nothing. The same reason I love Top Chef and the Great British Bakeoff. Although to be fair, I think the GBBO contestants get a fair heads-up and what their challenges will be. By the by, GBBO starts back up on August 20th.

This season's cast of Project Runway. No predictions yet. Well I do have some, but too early to share.
The current show is actually Top Chef Masters which has different hosts and judges but I love it anyway. Here we see the wonderful Gail Simmons, the guy from Saveur Magazine who I find annoying, some woman I don't know in red, the hunky Aussie Curtis Stone, and the goddess of food writing Ruth Reichl. If you have haven't read her memoirs Tender to the Bone, Comfort Me With Apples, and Garlic and Sapphires, you are really missing out. They are glorious.
The GBBO crew. Hooray, can't wait for the new series.
And who could forget the infamous GBBO squirrel?

The most delusional character on reality TV
I am sure all of you are watching Princesses Long Island. What a cast. Sheesh. Ashlee is 30 going on 13. She is bossy and mean and unpleasant and then sobs to mommy or daddy about how everyone is mean to her. My favorite part is when she wanted to take a jet to go from one part of Long Island to another because everyone was being mean to her.

Right before Ashlee had to be rushed to the hospital to take a Benedryl. (Crying on the phone to daddy about everyone being mean to her. Send the jet!)


  1. I also feel conflicted about audio books, especially since I feel I don't retain as much because I don't SEE the words or something. And I also tend to find a hard copy and double read. Nevertheless, I like them for distracting me from road rage, so I consider them a good thing, even if I feel I can't add them to my list of books read. (Similarly, I won't add children's books to my list, since they are only 32 pages....)

  2. I usually have an audiobook in the car, simply because the radio here in Texas is so dire. I will often have a print copy as well (sometimes two -- one at home and at work) so I can keep reading when I'm on my lunch break etc. Of course I then spend most of my time in the car trying to find my place in the book. Or, I'll have an audio of a favorite book I want to reread. Right now it is Pride & Prejudice for Austen in August. I'm listening to the Naxos Audiobook narrated by Emilia Fox, who played Georgiana Darcy in the 1995 BBC version.

    I'm also a big Project Runway fan -- what's up with all these unconventional materials challenges this time around? That Yoplait/Coney Island challenge was just sad. Dom was robbed. She and Bradon are by far the best but the producers are already pushing Kate as the winner.

    And where does one watch The Great British Bake-Off here in the States? Hulu?

  3. I love audiobooks but can't imagine counting them as reading. My basic criteria for qualifying something as reading is: are you reading? The answer here is pretty clearly no. Still, they're great fun to listen to while I'm walking or running errands. I do like listening to easy books or ones I've already read before.

    I'd missed hearing about The Audience but it sounds wonderful. It has a couple more showing at the theatres near me in September so I'll have to try and make it to one of them.

    I'm counting the days until the GBBO is back but killing the time until then watching the Great Australian Bake Off, which I'm quite enjoying. It's introducing me to all sorts of Aussie baked goods (coffee scrolls, anyone?) I'd never have heard of otherwise. And more Dan Lepard in my life is always a good thing.

  4. I, too, feel that audio books don't really qualify as books I've read. After an eye problem in February that hasn't totally resolved, I'm listening to some audio books to rest my eyes. But I feel like I'm cheating and have decided that, in all honesty, I have to mark books listened to as 'audio' in my 3 x 5 card file.

  5. Many audiobooks seem to be abridged in some way too - I'm an All Or Nothing reader. ;-)

  6. I love you for writing about Project Runway and As Time Goes By in the same post. I wouldn't be able to choose which of those I loved more (btw, I think Dom could be a quiet outsider, but they are clearly gearing up for Kate to get a redemptive win.)

    Oh, and Penny & Stephen - I worship the episodes in which they appear. But it is the everyday silliness/cosiness of Jean and Lionel which makes it - unlike the early episodes, where Lionel was supposed to be some sort of Casanova.

    My other TV obsession at the mo: Long Lost Family.

  7. I only an audio book if it's (a) something I've read and am very familiar with or (b) a children's book that doesn't require a lot of concentration. If it's a familiar book, I actually like to fall asleep listening to it - it's like someone telling you a bedtime story!

  8. Oops, that's "I only LISTEN TO an audio book" - that'll teach me to post before reviewing my comment.

  9. I also love Orange is the New Black! The scene you highlighted is indeed fantastic. Oh, Suzanne. Another great literary-related moment is when Taystee, the inmate in charge of the library, won't let another unnamed inmate check out Goblet of Fire to use as a step stool. Instead she gives the inmate Ulysses.

    - Christy

  10. My dear Thomas,

    Hope you are well. I look at the audiobooks from slightly different angle from you and most of the readers here. Let me qualify straightaway by saying that I am not tryind to be controversial for the sake of conflict.

    But personally, I don't see listening to audiobooks as cheating. The audiobooks give you a different experience from reading a book. I would still recommend to read the book first. But if you are interested to learn about the writer's voice and how the rhythm and tone shifts and changes in his or her sentences, one could learn more by listening to the sentences.

    I'm pleased to hear that you are reading AB's novels. I've got all the audio books on tapes (all unabridged version) of all AB's novels. Here are my favourite audiobooks and narrators:

    1. Visitors read by Sheila Mitchell

    2. Hotel du Lac read by Anna Massey

    3. Latecomers read by Andrew Sachs (I think he is the only male narrator voice I like because he has got the most cultivated and cultured voice. It's rare to find a man narrator reading AB novels but as you know, majority of AB's protagonists are female characters)

    4. Undue Influence by Diana Quick (Absolutely wonderful narrator with a plummy, melancholy voice with perfect diction - perfect ingredients for AB's characters).

    5. Brief Lives by Anna Massey (I would listen to Anna Massey's voice even if she reads out the telephone book!! It's exquisite.)

    Have a wonderful weekend and enjoy reading, watching TV programmes and follow the bliss...

    Best wishes, ASD

  11. PS. FYI - Diana Quick is the actress who played Julia Flyte from Brideshead Revisited.

    Sheila Mitchell read AB's novel, "Visitors" with a sure, clear voice, which exudes an educated Oxbridge voice and her delivery of conversation is very posh and precise. Her dicition is very old-fashioned. It reminds me of the voice an old English actress, Edith Evans who played Lady Bracknell in 1952 version of the film, "The Important of Being Earnest" (O. Wilde).

  12. Jill: I definitely don't retain stuff I hear. Often when I listen to NPR in the car I am interested but then my mind wanders and I look for the rewind button to see what I miss.

    Karen: If I commuted by car I would probably do the same. I agree about Dom and Bradon. I have no idea why they keep pushing Kate.

    Claire: You will love The Audience. Don't miss it.

    Joan: I love that you have a 3 x 5 card file. Have you read Tepper Isn't Going Out by Calvin Trillin? I love the card files in that book.

    Vicki: Oooh, I hate anything abridged.

    Simon: I don't get why Kate deserves a redemptive win?! She bugs me. I think even worse than Lionel's Casanova days are when Alistair was after Jean.

    Leticia: I fear I would always fall asleep.

    Christy: I would definitely want to work in the prison library.

    ASD: I am envious of your AB audio collection. They aren't so easy to find here.

  13. I'm also confused about why she's there too! But she is nicer than they portrayed her last season, I'm sure. I mostly feel sorry for Sue, who ended up in teams with two horribly aggressive men, and seemed very downtrodden by it all.

  14. Thanks for the information about Tepper Isn't Going Out. I haven't read that, so I just put a hold on it at the library. Yes, I love my old oak library drawer for my 3 x 5 cards. I'm a lover of old libraries and all the musty paper that goes with them.


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