28 February 2015

Simon won't let me talk about audio books


Jeremy Northam. See number 6.

I keep bringing up audiobooks on The Readers, but I don't think Simon really wants to talk about them. I can understand. Before I became a convert I didn't want to talk (or hear) about them either.

1. I'm counting them on my books read list for the year. I used to think this was totally cheating. But now that I am listening to books on my driving commute since I can no longer read on a mass transit commute, it feels like a much more equivalent activity than I ever would have thought. Plus one still spends a lot of time with an audiobook. 40 hours for a Trollope. One still goes through the ups and downs of the story and feels the emotions of it. And in some ways I think I am even more aware of the prose than I am when I read.

2. I'm still only choosing books that I have already read. In general they are books I read and liked years ago and would like to revisit them without taking away from reading other books for the first time. This has proven quite ineresting.

3. I need plot and/or material details much more in audiobooks than in regular books. Abstract concepts or thoughts are a little too hard to follow when driving. I'm dying to listen to all the Brookner novels I have downloaded, but the car isn't the right place for them.

4. So far, children's dialog in audio books is dreadful. The readers voicing the children make me want to reach in the book and slap the kids silly. They all sound so whiny and annoying. Then again I felt that when I read Pied Piper and What Happened to the Corbetts as well, so maybe it has more to do with the way Nevil Shute writes kids.

5. IF YOU ARE GOING TO RECORD GIOVANNI'S ROOM BY JAMES BALDWIN YOU BETTER BE ABLE TO PRONOUNCE 'GIOVANNI' AND BASIC FRENCH. AND, IF YOU INSIST ON RECORDING IT EVEN WITH YOUR TERRIBLE PRONUNCIATION, COULD YOU AT LEAST BE CONSISTENT IN YOUR MISTAKES. I HAVEN'T HEARD 'MONSIEUR' PRONOUNCED THAT WAY SINCE I WAS IN MY 11TH GRADE BEGINNING FRENCH CLASS.

6. Our Man in Havana
Graham Greene wrote some unbelievably good books. And OMIH is not a bad book, but you have to be ready for a few scenes that are of the "Who's on First" type of farce. I laughed like crazy at the famous Abbott and Costello routine when I was a kid, but as an adult that kind of farce makes my teeth itch. I first read this book back in 1997 and quite enjoyed listening to it recently on audio book. But the heavy farce scenes were even more annoying on audio than on the page. I largely liked Jeremy Northam's narration, not sure all his accents were very solid, but Northam can whisper in my ear any day. The worst part about this audio book was the use of bad faux-salsa music between chapters.

The only thing more handsome than Jeremy Northam is Jeremy Northam with a beard.
Here he is in The Golden Bowl.

22 February 2015

I won't be buying these Penguins

[I was so good about posting regularly in January, but then I got busy and ran out of ideas. Haven't quite snapped out of the rut, but working on it.]


Regular readers know that I am a sucker for a matched Penguin set. In the past I have gone to great lengths and expense to collect them. I bought the English Journeys series, the Great Love series, and most infamously all 100 volumes of the Great Ideas series. And then when push came to shove I got rid of all of them selling them for pennies on the dollar. Still, I can be sorely tempted when I see a nice matching set, which is why I am grateful that Penguin's latest release isn't much of a temptation for me. Even though the design of them hearkens back to the early, uniform, glory days of Penguin, I find them uncompelling--almost ugly.

The main reason I dislike them is the use of the serif font for the titles. I'm not universally opposed to a serif font, and I actually kind of like this one, I just think it looks a bit anemic against all that black. It also doesn't help that the somewhat dainty titles sit below the the bolder sans serif font used for the authors. makes it feel a little top heavy. If the titles had been placed on top I think the serif font would have worked better. Also, without measuring them, it looks as if the white band is centered top to bottom and then both the author's name and the title are centered in their respective parts of the black space. It's oddly discomfiting visually. Again, without measuring them, on the original orange and white covers, it appears that the top orange panel is slightly shorter than the white panel and the lower orange panel. This just feels better I think. The centered-ness of this new set makes it feel oddly out of balance.

If you are like me and can pour over graphic design, good and bad, for hours despite being no expert or having any graphics art training, you should check out this website that compares logo redesigns. If you do a search on "penguin" on their site, you will find more than a few that relate to Penguin logos.

01 February 2015

Parsing Sarah Palin (I promise this isn't political, it's grammatical)

 
This is not a take down of Sarah Palin, and it isn't a defense of Sarah Palin. It's more of an observation about the speech she gave recently in Iowa. It was pretty much panned from all points of the political spectrum and one of the biggest criticisms has been her (not new) trouble with the English language. There are plenty of reasons why people are piling on at the moment, but there is something about recent criticism that I find slightly disingenuous. This is the part of the speech that seems to be getting the most buzz:
It’s too big to succeed, so we can afford no retreads. Or nothing will change, with the same people and the same policies that got us into this status quo. Another Latin word, status quo. And it stands for, man, the middle class, every day Americans are really gettin’ taken for a ride. That’s status quo. And GOP leaders, by the way, uh, you know, the man can only ride ya’ when your back is bent, so strengthen it. Then the man can’t ride ya’, America won’t be taken for a ride because so much is at stake.
Folks on the left and right have been pointing to this as completely incomprehensible. It really isn't. If we can understand Faulkner and Joyce and William Burroughs why do we act like we can't understand Palin? And for anyone who has even the faintest understanding of Palin's political views understanding Palin's speech is a whole lot easier than understanding the lions of the English speaking literary world.

So let's take that "paragraph" phrase by phrase (keeping in mind I make no claims about the veracity of any of it or whether or not I agree):

It’s too big to succeed
Our government is too big to be effective.

so we can afford no retreads
We can't keep doing the same thing.

Or nothing will change, with the same people and the same policies that got us into this status quo. 
Again, we can't keep doing the same thing.

Another Latin word, status quo. And it stands for, man, the middle class, every day Americans are really gettin’ taken for a ride. That’s status quo.
The system is rigged against the middle class.

And GOP leaders, by the way, uh, you know, the man can only ride ya’ when your back is bent
Telling GOP leaders that if they had resolve, the man (aka big government/Democrats) couldn't take advantage of them.

so strengthen it. Then the man can’t ride ya’,
An exhortation to strengthen their resolve.

America won’t be taken for a ride because so much is at stake.
We won't let this happen because too much is at stake.

This might be the most political thing I will say: Sarah Palin isn't the only American whose grammar and syntax sound like this. And I'm not talking ideology or even intelligence. We hear it in wedding toasts, we hear it in sales pitches, we hear it in man-on-the street TV interviews. I'm not suggesting the world should be a grammatical free for all. Let's just quit pretending that we don't understand it.