STAFF PICK: From The Corner Of The Oval

Post by Pam Campbell

Title: From The Corner Of The Oval
Author: Beck Dorey-Stein
Narrator: Beck Dorey-Stein

 

Thanks to Beck Dorey-Stein and her book From the Corner of the Oval, I know with absolute certainty that I don’t have the stamina or the party animal ability to work for the White House.

After answering a Craigslist add online, Dorey-Stein lands the job of a lifetime (and yes, the White House really did put a job posting on Craigslist) working as a stenographer for the 44th President of the United States of America, Barack Obama. She takes us inside the daily lives of the lucky individuals who travel around the world with the president and it is nothing short of a whirlwind: a high-flying, up-and-down party that is mixed in with hard work, and long hours. Dorey-Stein and her colleagues are dedicated to their jobs, but that doesn’t stop them from letting loose on a regular basis.

This is not a tell-all book of the president’s or nation’s secrets. You will not get any dirty gossip about Obama. This book is in fact a front row seat to a woman discovering who she is while she is learning the ropes of her new job in a high stakes working environment. She makes mistakes – professionally, yes, but mostly personally – and I found myself wanting to shake her and say “NO! Not again! Stop.” But just when you think you can’t keep up with the full throttle pace of her life, Dorey-Stein gifts the listener with moments of stillness, reflection, and exhalation.

Most of these moments come from her interactions with Obama himself or her watching his interactions with others. We learn of the heartfelt moments that Obama shares with survivors, we learn of his genuine kindness and more importantly we see the proof that the kindness, leadership, and grace of one person can have a profound impact on those around them. It was these moments throughout the book that really resonated with me. Knowing that in the midst of the very loud, adventurous, chaotic everyday comings and goings, your actions, your words, and attitude can have a positive impact both directly and indirectly.

So while this is a memoir of a stenographer for the 44th President of the United States of America, it is so much more than that. While Dorey-Stein’s story unfolded in a most amazing setting, at a daily pace much faster than the average person, it is easy to relate to her; to her setbacks, her triumphs and her doubts. The fact that Dorey-Stein narrates herself lends to the personal nature of the audiobook experience. I found myself not only cheering her on, but also enjoying her eloquent and witty perspective on navigating life.

From The Corner Of The Oval.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read more and sample the audio.

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STAFF PICK: Brotopia by Emily Chang

Title: Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley
Author: Emily Chang
Narrator: Emily Chang

Bloomberg Technology reporter Emily Chang confronts Silicon Valley’s rampant sexism, which has excluded women from the greatest wealth creation of our generation.

For a really terrifying listen this Friday 13th, look no further than Brotopia. From the very beginning, this book had me riled! It features example after example of women systemically being excluded from the tech industry. From unconscious bias to very conscious harassment, the industry is at best unwelcoming and has led to women dropping out of tech at a rate 45% higher than men, if they can even breach the walls at all.

With each new stat and story, I grew increasingly agitated. I’m quite good at multitasking with audiobooks, but here and there this one required me to pause to absorb the gravity of what she was saying. During some parts my jaw dropped and I glared at my audio-producing phone as if it would return my incredulous expression.

The narration feels unsurprisingly like a news report, which is not my preference but was subtle and suited the book’s content. Emily Chang is clear and steady, just as you’d expect from a trained reporter.

While it may make your blood boil, it ends on a high note, with encouraging stats and advice to build the solution’s momentum. Whether you’re in the tech industry or not, you can benefit from what Chang has to say. This listen certainly won’t brighten your day, but it will broaden your perspective.

Brotopia

 

 

Read more and listen to a sample here!

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STAFF PICK: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Title: Homegoing
Author: Yaa Gyasi
Narrator: Dominic Hoffman

My listening choices tend to be quite random, but for this title I made the decision after it won the Audie Award for Literary Fiction. I haven’t previously chosen a book based on an award, but after this I’ll do it more often! Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is a novel that takes you through seven generations of a family that’s separated in eighteenth-century Ghana. After the separation, one branch of the family continues living in war-torn Ghana, while the second branch endures slavery in America. I fully enjoyed the story told generation by generation, each touching on the impact of slavery and colonialism from a different perspective. Fourteen individual lives along the lineage casts light on 14 ways that the effects trickled down the family tree.

The narration is done by Dominic Hoffman, who beautifully performs different accents as the story switches from Ghana to America, and the voice changes from African tribe leaders to American slavers to British soldiers. When the accent transitions, I did not feel taken out of the story as is sometimes the case in other books – a talent I really value in a narrator.

I found the book touching and thought-provoking and it introduced me to a side of the story I’d never learned about. If you like fiction inspired by real history, this is a tale for you.

Listen to a sample of the audio here.

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STAFF PICK: Bread, Wine, Chocolate by Simran Sethi

Title: Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love
Author: Simran Sethi
Narrator: Therese Plummer

My interest in this book began right away when I saw the beautiful cover, and kept increasing the more I read. The subtitle of the book is, “The Slow Loss of Foods We Love,” which refers to decreasing diversity as the food industry turns more and more toward mass production. Sethi guides us through her travels from Ethiopia to Ecuador, explaining where diversity is decreasing as she explores the production of bread, wine, chocolate, beer and coffee.

Each food’s section follows a similar pattern. First she describes insights gleaned from farmers, manufacturers, breeders, seed bank scientists, and a slew of other experts. After stressing where diversity is at risk, she provides a beginners guide to tasting the food in question, which emphasizes the amount of different flavors that are at stake.

Therese Plummer does a fine narration job. Her voice is steady and conveys the passion behind the words. She reads at my preferred pace, and still enunciates with enough clarity that there is little distortion when increased to the next speed.

If you enjoy experiencing new flavors, if you’ve ever been curious about food production, or if you respect the value of quality food, I recommend that you give this book a listen!

Fun addition: This audiobook comes with a PDF as a reference for certain parts of the book. One of the PDF inclusions is a “flavor wheel” for tasting different foods, to encourage you to appreciate fuller flavors. I found this guide fun to glance at while I listen, but personally could detect neither butterscotch nor geranium in my wine when I tried. I have a ways to go.

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The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín — an audio book review

    The Testament of Mary audio book by Colm Toibin

     There is no doubt that Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary is a superbly written book. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2013, it’s elegant, imaginative, and steeped in grief. It’s a brave interpretation of one of the most hallowed and loved figures in history, Mary, mother of Jesus. Toibin gives new life to the flawless, soft and ever-obedient figure she’s typically portrayed as, making her into a strong and compassionate woman, at times cautious and fearful, at others, resistant and angry. Her relationships with her husband, her son and his disciples, and the other women in town all take on deep thought-provoking complexities. Toibin’s Mary challenges the agreed-upon history of events that took place leading up to and during her son’s death. I love historical re-imaginations, this one was written with insight, imagination and mastery. That kind of book, when being recorded as an audio book, requires a certain caliber of narrator—and Meryl Streep certainly fits the bill.

Meryl Streep

Streep was perfectly cast in this role. An Academy Award-winning actress, it’s castings like these that force regular audio book listeners to re-evaluate their idea of a “good narration”. Streep’s years of acting experience are present here in full force: I was told by a co-worker that she was exceptional, but I still wasn’t prepared for her expertise and skill. She caught me from the first words (literally, within the first 10 seconds), and held me, minute by minute, through the entire 3 hours. She does not simply narrate this book: it’s a performance, a one-woman show, bolstered by incredible words and a fascinating character, but brought to a new level by the woman delivering it.  I almost never say this, but the audio version of The Testament of Mary is a cut above the print version, as good as it is. Streep imbues Toibin’s words with much more emotion, fragility, tenuous strength and love than my silent inner narrator ever could. Sometimes people worry that the narrator influences their personal interpretation of a story too strongly, but in this case, that influence is a gift.

Which audio books do you think are better than the printed versions?

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