Audiobooks – Part 2: Many favorites

As promised in my last installment in which I introduced my hobby of Audiobooks, I shall now go through a long list of my favorites recommendations. This post may be a bit all over the place but I perhaps you’ll find something you may like and it was worth it~

(Here is my full Goodreads list for those interested, and links to specific bookshelves shall be shared intermittently below)

 

First off, this doesn’t even technically count as audiobook but sometimes there’s nothing like a BBC radio drama–well, not always BBC but usually the BBC. Instead of one actor reading an entire book, the lost art of the radio drama employs multiple actors and gets rid of those pesky “he said” and “she said”s to efficiently tell the tale in a manner best suited to this particular medium. They are often much quicker listens than the unabridged texts and more entertaining.

Several classics come to mind, but above all The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy stands out as the greatest. Trippy sci-fi and trippy comedy, nobody does it better than Douglas Adams! Interestingly, before any other iteration it was meant to be a radio show originally and that was always Adams’ preference. The saga started way back in 1978, and do check out the 2004 and 2005 series too.

Other noteworthy radio dramas include The Hobbit by Tolkien, Neverwhere and Good Omens by Gaiman, Foundation by Asimov, and Neuromancer by Gibson.

If you ask very nicely I may even send you the files but you didn’t hear that from me; support your local BBC and buy legit whenever possible 😉

 

Next I feel I must continue on the subject of Neal StephensonSnow Crash as said is my the best ever, but pretty much any Stephenson tome will give hours upon hours of thought-provoking big ideas and exciting writing.

The pseudo-sequel postcyberpunk The Diamond Age is quite well done, but my second favorites are tied with the epic hacker thriller Cryptonomicon and philosophical extreme geek discourse that is Anathem. I am due to even listen to those a third or fourth time eventually. Reamde is another fun tech thriller, and by the way next on my list whenever I find the time is Seveneves.

 

On the subject of quality science fiction, I’d be remiss if I did not mention the late great Philip K. Dick. A powerful and timeless author who prediction the confusion of reality-questing modernity more than anyone else, P.K. Dick’s novels are not too long and pack quite a punch hence well suited to the audio format.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is an obvious recommendation (and Blade Runner is indeed currently back in the public consciousness!), but my ultimate top pick is the theological tale of madness VALIS. That one needs to be reabsorbed every few years for maximum pondering. Other listens include the also-currently-back-in-the-public-consciousness tragic nazism of The Man in the High Castle, and the random enjoyable mindfuckness of Counter-Clock World.

What should I listen to next? I was thinking either Ubik or A Scanner Darkly. 

 

If I may feel more literary, there’s always acclaimed Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. The dreamy magical realism style makes for gooood listening on those long melancholic nights of travel and introspection…

So far I have only listened to a few favorites The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Norwegian Wood, with the former being a slightly superior book in my opinion but the latter’s more grounded nom de plum stylings a better fit in the audio format. Kafka on the Shore made for an interesting production employing multiple actors but it just doesn’t seem to work as well. Honestly, as my reading tastes evolve, I find Murakami becoming more hit or miss. But the hits when hitting are still amazing.

 

Next up is my ‘not even reread’ section. What I mean is, because of my low-attention span I am a quirky yet stubborn reader so I have figured out my best method for audiobooks is to listen to one of my favorite novels that I have already read. It’s a great way to reread and absorb the content more deeply.

However, some audiobooks are so engaging even I can listen to an entire book for the first time and actually pay attention to most of it. These are the not-even rereads.

Often, that especially goes for books written by performers in which the performers say aloud their own works. Especially with comedy books. Yes Please by Amy Poehler was a great surprise in one of the best memoirs I had come across. A lot of charm and heart, with guest speakers. So far it’s the only audiobook I’ve gotten others to listen to! Bossypants by Tina Fey was also wonderful in a similar vein, and The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer didn’t quite work as well but did showcase a perspective worth listening to. And now I have just noticed that pattern has emerged with regards to comedian demographics. I should mix it up. So how about next on my list is Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.

 

Just a few more of my very favorite favorites to round it out:

There are the nonfiction social justice books, such as Life Inc. and Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus by Douglas Rushkoff. I learned a hell of a lot about the system, man. The controversial Going Clear by Lawrence Wright displays a fascinating study of the Scientology Cult, an unbelievable true story of American insanity that left me on the edge of my toes.

Some newer science fiction such as Ready Player One by Ernest Cline which may not always be as smart as it strives but is eminently entertaining. Gun Machine by graphic novelist Warren Ellis was a wild ride told in the grittiest of grit.

Lastly, the absolute most interesting book of them all is certainly Sapiens by Professor Yuval Noah Hareri. A sprawling history of the human race that gives a new light to all that makes us human, expressed in myth-busting factoid after myth-busting factoid. The entire anthropological record always in readable prose. It has since impacted me more than any other book I’ve read in years, giving me so much to think about with where humanity has gone and where to go next. I recommend this book to everyone, from cynics who need to get the proper big picture to naive optimists who don’t truly understand the past. An incredible book, and I just hope I learned as much as I can from initially listening instead of reading. (I did purchase the paperback of Hareri’s followup, Home Deus, so I should be all around good.)

 

That’ll have to be about it. So many memories of walking around the neighborhood and experiencing other worlds, sights and sounds and smells reminding me of the voices who told me stories…

What have I left out? So much! Classics like Orwell, or of the beat era like Burroughs, and important contemporary American authors Bret Easton Ellis and Janet Fitch. I can only fit so much in one organized blog posting, but in any case I hope you will consider some of these brief introductions and enjoy the possibilities of literature in whole new ways.

What are you going to read/listen to next?

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South Africa Part II: Kruger Park and Cape Town

In the last installment, I arrive in South Africa which is the home nation of my lovely girlfriend. I explore Joburg, meet her dad, and experience the chill South African lifestyle of braais.

Now, the real part of the trip was to begin.

All the while, I should mention, Trevor Noah loomed in the background. Yes, by coincidence it was the same week that Trevor started at the Daily Show! I’ve always been a big fan of Jon Stewart and I was really looking forward to it. It was a big deal, his face was everywhere. South Africa seems to be pretty proud of their native son taking over my countries best political comedy show. His face was on every newspaper. Especially after the now legendary Trump-as-African-dictator bit.

(Although the place we mostly stayed at had cable, soon I would be without it, without even Wi-Fi on my laptop to catch up with TV. I’d eventually catch up, I always do, but to tell the truth being off the grid was hard on me. More on that in a moment. )

Also, people paid attention to the Rugby World Cup. Not only am I an American, I am an American who doesn’t follow sports. I didn’t really care. People seem to care a lot still. Something or other happened, Japan, Samoa, Wales, New Zealand. I don’t know.

Okay, on with the story.

 

Days Five to Nine

Day Five was a busy day. In the morning we went to downtown Pretoria and saw the capital Union Buildings. Then, transferred to another parent and in the evening we were to spend time with the mother. Again, I was anxious. Again, it was no big deal and everyone was totally welcoming.

I suppose being in one’s thirties, parents would have to accept whomever their daughter chooses to be with. Even me.

An uneventful evening, and then the next day the trip to the Kruger Park began!

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Oh no, I knew it would partake of some driving, I knew it would be a challenge, but I didn’t know it would be that much driving.

My girlfriend’s mother’s husband drove, and we sat in the back. For days on end, we were driven around sitting in the back. Felt as if I was twelve-years old again.

Luckily I had my iPod. Got a lot of audiobook listening done: Gun Machine by Warren Ellis. I recommend it, a good listen.

First day out, a slow drive north with many stops at sleepy little towns where there’s nothing to do but buy postcards and trinkets from locals. Finally we arrived at Grasskop to stay at log cabin guesthouses on the night before the Kruger Park camping started. A nice town, an interesting art hotel nearby, and we ate decent Portuguese food.

Another thing about these old people I was hanging out with, they are serious morning people. Nice people, absolutely generous people who are kind enough to support and show me around their country on this tour. But seriously morning people. And I happen to be not. Had to get used to that.

At dawn left for the Kruger Park. Finally made it!

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The way the Kruger Park conservation park works, is that it’s not some zoo with animals on display for you. It’s an enormous area the size of a city or province. The animals simply go about their life. There is a fence around the edges, and I’m sure the rangers control the animal populations to some degree. Yet for the most part the animals are living exactly as they would in the wild, and any visitor can certainly get the sense that this is no zoo. No zoo pretensions here, it’s totally authentic nature, the way South Africans like it.

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One just drives around, on dirt roads, following a map if one likes or only wandering, and see what animals turn up. If there’s a lion, roll up the window. If an elephant is standing on the road, no choice but to wait until he decides to walk on (please don’t antagonize the elephants).

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Right off the bat I saw a lot. Giraffes chewing on the leaves of trees. Zebras hanging around. Families of elephants enjoying the day and spraying themselves with water to cool down. Endless herds of impala. With my binoculars, I sat in the backseat and we parked around various locations and took it all in. I got some good pictures.

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The campsites don’t open until the afternoon, so we really took it easy. Like, hours and hours of taking it easy. After a certain point, I was listening to my iPod and reading my thick George R.R. Martin (Storm of Swords, best book of the song).

The campsite parts of the day were more chill. You aren’t even allowed to go for a drive when it gets dark, unless it’s a guided tour, so we stayed in. Read in the cabin, relaxed. Swam if there’s a pool. Listened to the noisy frogs at the nighttime pool. Read some comic files on my computer, unitizing my laptop best I could though there wasn’t even any Wi-Fi! Used up the airtime on my phone fast.

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Every day we went to a different campsite, each with its own stylized bungalows. “Round hovel” or something it’s called in Dutch/Afrikaans. The first had these silly-looking blue-headed guineafowl birds that walked about.

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The second included a rhinoceros exhibit with a fenced trail, and we happened to even see a rhino walk right up (sadly no camera on me so no rhino selfie). Poor endangered creatures, least they have their horns here.

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The final was near Crocodile Bridge and filled with baboons and vervet monkeys walking around the site chill as can be – do not ever feed the monkeys.

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Every night, of course this being South Africa, we drank wine and had a braai. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, but it’s not my scene to be so into nature. I could have used a little bit more technology to pass the time. I mean, the stars were beautiful. The animals were indeed beautiful. Like that scary late part of the night when the leaves were rustling and the flashlight revealed a baby elephant came right up to edge of the camp to munch on greens. I was so nervous upon approaching. That was some moment. Even the hyena was beautiful.

Yet, I sometimes feel worried that there is something wrong with me. I cannot appreciate it the way other people can appreciate. I need something to read. I need some interactive media to comfortably remind me that the rest of the world exists, some distractions. I like that. Unlike locals that are ever content listening to the winds on a slight buzz. All the while, I partly felt like there was this underlying conflict because I wasn’t having some spiritual epiphany out there in the African wilderness.

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