Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Rant or Rave?

One of the "regular" features I hope to incorporate into this blog are reviews of books, DVDs, and other materials available at the Library. Just some food for thought and a starting point for some impromptu discussion.

This particular Rant or Rave will be two-fold: Audiobooks: Rant or Rave and Lisey's Story, by Stephen King. I'll end all of the suspense and give the quick and dirty evaluation here: Rave. I am now a big fan of audiobooks and Lisey's Story is one of King's better efforts.

Okay, audiobooks: Love them. I presently have a 40 minute one-way commute, so having one of the many novels I haven't had a chance to read to keep me company is most excellent. And there is a certain richness to the audiobook-- you can't skim or skip or read quickly. The story will unwind in its own time and I can only sit and listen to that story being told at whatever pace the author and reader have determined is appropriate. In that way, audiobooks are somewhat akin to a play or movie, yet deeper and fuller than any dramatic presentation can be.

One other quirk to the audiobook-- the reader of the book makes a huge difference in the overall success and quality of the novel itself. Again, similar to a play or movie-- the best script in the world is easily reduced to dreck if the direction and acting is substandard and hackneyed. By the same token, a good reading of the material can greatly enhance the overall impact and effect of the written material. I recently listened to a collection of Harlan Ellison stories as read by the author-- and they were fantastic. I've always liked Ellison's edgy fiction, but it was SO much better when read by him as he intended it to be read.

Lisey's Story: I have been a Stephen King fan since about fifth grade when I read The Shining. Scared me to my toes, but I also loved it. After reading other King novels, it became clear that his work is a bit hit or miss. Or perhaps more acurately, his work at its best is tight, riveting and pure storytelling and at its worst is bloated, meandering and ponderous.

Lisey's Story falls into the former category. It is not quite on a level with The Stand or the best parts of the The Dark Tower saga, but it is very fine storytelling indeed. It is the story of Lisa Landon, Lisey, widow of bestselling author Scott Landon. Of the love they shared, of the secrets we all hide, even from ourselves or from those we love the most and are closest to. It is about memory, and grief, and loneliness and the creative process. There is quite a lot of suspense in the novel, but very little horror.

In many ways it is an autobiographical look at King himself and perhaps an answer to that age old question for popular and prolific authors: Where do you get your ideas? And it is King at his best, with little fluff or distraction, gracefully unwinding the story of a life. He is one of the finest storytellers of the 20th and early 21st century, though not as highly regarded as the Hemingways, Steinbecks and Vonneguts of the literary world.

Final words: kudos to Mare Winningham, who reads the story with admirable timing and excellent voice characterizations. She captures the central figure, Lisey Landon, extraordinarily well, but also voices the central conflict/danger of the book, Zack McCool/Jim Dooley extremely believeably. I think my appreciation for Lisey's story was greatly enhanced by hearing it read so extremely well.

So, any other thoughts? Contrary opinions? Suggestions?


Anonymous said...

This is cool. Great idea. You've got an excellent library and a fantastic staff.
Keep up the book reviews. I'll happily chime in on anything related to mysteries/thrillers, that type of thing. I have to admit I haven't read much S. King, but will give him another try.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget to try audio books for young adults and children. It keeps you in touch with what is out there for the young people of today.
You are right about the reader making the story come to life.
If you like Stephen King, try his wife Tabitha's books. She captures the young people of today with real situations and complex characters that tug at your heart.

The Director said...

Thanks for the kind words, and I agree that the staff and the library are excellent.

Mr. King is an excellent storyteller at his best, but he is so prolific that his material is a little hit or miss. My personal favorites are The Stand, The Shining and most of short story collections. The Dark Tower series is also quite good overall, outstanding in parts, but suffers from some drag simply because it is SOOOO long.

I admit to having never read Tabitha King. I think we do have one of her works on CD, so I will have to check it out. After I listen to Stenibeck. I'm going to try East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath again-- I haven't read either of those since high school and I only vaguely recall them.