Friday 30 November 2012

Review: Life of Pi by Yann Martel [audio book]

Life of Pi is a masterful and utterly original novel that is at once the story of a young castaway who faces immeasurable hardships on the high seas, and a meditation on religion, faith, art and life that is as witty as it is profound. Using the threads of all of our best stories, Yann Martel has woven a glorious spiritual adventure that makes us question what it means to be alive, and to believe. (via Goodreads)

As I mentioned in my last post, I originally started reading Life of Pi on paperback before switching to audio book. The audio book is narrated by Jeff Woodman and is just under 11 hours in length.

I definitely wouldn't have gotten through Life of Pi had I simply been reading it. The story is very slow and full of, what I considered to be, unnecessary detail. For example, Pi illustrates piece-by-piece how to cull several different kinds of animals aboard a lifeboat. I understand that his experience was extremely difficult, but I don't need to know everything. I wanted more scenes that had my pulse racing, not cringing with distaste.

There's also a lot about religion and philosophy, and because of this the beginning of the novel felt rather like a lesson which I couldn't fully appreciate. Again, whilst I'm aware that you need to know some background information to understand the survival part of the story, it just felt like too much.

But it's impossible to deny the amount of emotion that encompasses Life of Pi, and I put a lot of that down to the flawless, suitably animated narration delivered by Woodman. For me, he made the pages come to life in a way that I wouldn't have detected without his voice.

As for the characters, they're wonderfully developed. I particularly loved the tiger whose power I could almost feel and beauty I could almost see.

Altogether, Life of Pi is a good story of courage and survival with some interesting insights and heartbreaking emotion. Whilst I didn't enjoy it half as much as I wished to, I'm still eager to see the film adaptation when it comes out in December.

Rating: 3 / 5

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Audio books vs. the budget

I’ve realised that the reason I don’t enjoy certain books is because of the way I’m reading them.

For example, at the moment I’m reading Life of Pi which I originally started on paperback – a paperback I’ve had since at least 2005 but have only just began. I’m determined to finish it, not only because I’ve abandoned so many books lately but also because I have this new rule where I’ll refuse to allow myself to see any film adaptation unless I’ve read the book first.

Then I began to struggle reading Life of Pi, just like I have with so many others. For some reason, this year I’ve found it difficult to finish books in a timely manner if I’m not completely overcome by them. It can take a month to complete a title, unlike previously when I could read any book within a week. What’s all that about?

And then it hits me. Audio books.

I should be listening Life of Pi on audio book! Yes, that will work – someone can read the book to me instead. It’ll be more enjoyable hearing the words expressed. And perhaps by listening to particular audio books instead of purely reading, there’ll be many more titles to enjoy.

This is a massive possibility, but unfortunately I can't explore that option as much as I would like. Why? The answer is simply: price.

Thankfully, I managed to acquire Life of Pi for no cost by taking out this 30 day free trial. Though '30 day free trial' is very deceptive because it lets you think that you can download as many audio books as you would like, free, for the entire month. Actually, all a 30 day trial gives you is a single credit to claim a single audio book. After that, you have to pay £8 a month to receive another one audio book. This is a reasonable price if you consider how much they cost without a subscription (some as much as £25), but what if you’re listening to a series and you desperately want the next copy before the end of the month? Then you’d either need to transfer to print, pay to have your subscription upgraded, or fork out the full retail price. We are in a recession, you know!

Another option is the library. Now, I don’t know about everyone else’s library, but the audio books my local has on stock are terrible. It’s not the titles that are the problem, but the format: they are mostly cassette tapes… cassette tapes! In 2012! I don’t even own a cassette player anymore. What the hell am I supposed to do with that?

And let's not forget those cheap-as-chips audio books. In other words, audio books that have been poorly narrated and are priced accordingly. But who wants to hear The Lord of the Rings spoken by someone who sounds as if they've just swallowed helium while riding a bicycle? Exactly.

If quality audio books were made cheaper, or if libraries were funded to stay up-to-date with technology, there would be many more people exploring the literary world. I understand that narrators have to be hired to talk in a booth for hours, but is the price really justified?

What do you think? Do you know of a more affordable place to download audio books?

Saturday 17 November 2012

Review: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

"She was inside the wonderful garden and she could come through the door under the ivy at any time and she felt as if she had found a world of her own."

After the death of her parents in India, sullen and self-absorbed Mary Lennox is sent to live on her uncle's estate on the Yorkshire moors. Exploring the grounds, Mary discovers a walled garden, locked up, abandoned, and in ruins; and in a distant room in the house she finds a cousin she never knew existed-Colin, an invalid, ignored by his father and expecting to die. Mary and Dickon, the housemaid's spirited brother, befriend Colin, and set about restoring the garden, which opens up a world of magic, reconciling the children to the world of life.

Originally published in 1911, The Secret Garden, an extraordinary novel that has influenced writers such as Eliot and Lawrence, highlights the transforming powers of love, joy, and nature, and of mystical faith and positive thinking.) (via Goodreads)

The Secret Garden seems to be a favourite book of many. While I have never previously read it, I saw the film adaptation as a child and fell in love. So it's about time I finally sat down and got to reading!

Although it is without a doubt a charming tale with a great narrative and subtle moral focus, I just couldn't get into it. I don't know if it's because I've seen the onscreen version several times over the last few years and knew what to expect (though that's not been a problem I've experienced with other novels) or if the story didn't move fast enough, but there was something holding the pleasure back. It's very hard to pin-point exactly why I struggled.

There's so much to love about The Secret Garden, like the beautiful focus on kindness and nature, and seeing the character's personalities flourish with the seasons. I'm going to try and read it again at a later date and see if I enjoy it more (perhaps the book isn't to blame? It might have something to do with a reading lull.) But, for now, I might just pop on the DVD.

Rating: 3.5 / 5