Butter: A Rich History by Elaine Khosrova
Publisher/Year: Algonquin Books, 2016
What it is: Khosrova takes readers around the world to examine the cultural and religious significance of butter. She also looks at the history of butter making and its subsequent commercialization, then turns her focus to contemporary butter artisans. Only about half the book deals with butter’s history; the other half consists of butter-filled recipes.
Why I read it: Because butter is awesome.
What I thought: I’m glad to be alive now and not back in the day when butter sold on the market was filthy and sometimes loaded with rocks to make the butter seem heavier. But in all seriousness, the science behind butter making is really interesting, and Khosrova packs a lot of information into a few chapters without making it too dense. As someone who travels a few times a year, I kind of want to start hitting up butter artisans from now on to see what I’ve been missing out on!
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Publisher/Year: Random House Audio, 2013
Narrators: Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, and 164 others
Length: 7 hours, 25 minutes
What it is: Willie Lincoln died of typhoid fever in 1862. A grief-stricken Abraham Lincoln was said to have entered his son’s crypt in the middle of the night to be alone with him. On the other side, in the Bardo — a Tibetan term that refers to a sort of in-between place between the living and the dead — Willie Lincoln doesn’t understand what’s going on and why his father won’t take him home. Several other people, who are buried in the cemetery and are stuck in the Bardo alongside Willie, are touched. A plan takes shape as to what should happen next.
Why I listened to it: I preordered the audiobook partly because of the hype, but mostly because Nick Offerman and Carrie Brownstein are narrators. I was also curious about how an audiobook with 166 narrators would sound.
What I thought: I know this is an unpopular opinion because everyone raves about George Saunders, but I don’t get the hype. That’s not to say that the book doesn’t have its moments; there were parts that genuinely made me laugh, and there were several parts where the grief is palpable. It’s a unique spin on historical fiction, and I could appreciate what he was trying to do, but I just couldn’t get 100% on board with it. As for the 166 narrators thing, it’s…a lot. I do think that Offerman and Sedaris, whose roles are bigger than everyone else’s, were perfectly cast, though.
I listened to more audiobooks this year than any other year of my life, and I suspect the trend will continue. The first three titles below are my top three favorites of 2015; everything else is in alphabetical order.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, read by Rosamund Pike (1813)
Someone get Rosamund Pike an Audie (or all the Audies). I’ve long loved her velvety voice, and I think that’s what finally pushed me to “read” Pride and Prejudice after all these years; I pre-ordered this audiobook as soon as I saw she was the narrator. It’s a story Pike has a history with; she played Jane in the 2005 film adaptation. She does an amazing job with all the voices in this production; all of her characterizations are spot on.
The Martian by Andrew Weir, read by R. C. Bray (2013)
I don’t know if I would have loved The Martian as much as if I had read a print version of the book, but I’m head-over-heels in love with R. C. Bray’s narration. He does a great job of channeling Mark Watney’s smartass attitude, and he makes all the science jargon-filled sections fly by. When Watney says he’ll “science the shit” out of something and proceeds to describe how, Bray makes it all very entertaining.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, read by the author (2015)
I’m sure I would have loved this book anyway had I read it in print, but I think there was an added poignancy in listening to Coates speak to his son. I’m sure a narrator would have done a wonderful job with the book, but it felt more meaningful with Coates reading his own words; there’s a special wistfulness when he talks about France, and added gravity when he’s recounting some of his past traumas.
The first time I bought tickets to see Sleater-Kinney, I was living in a basement apartment in Yonkers, New York. I was in grad school, completely broke, but I bought tickets for me and my roommate. I can chart a lot of my grad school life in New York according to The Woods; in fact, that album basically provided the soundtrack for most of my thesis-writing marathons (I literally thanked Sleater-Kinney for that in my acknowledgements). Shortly after I bought those tickets, the bomb dropped: Sleater-Kinney was going on indefinite hiatus. The New York show, the last they’d play there for almost a decade, immediately sold out. Suddenly, The Woods tour turned into a farewell tour of sorts; my first time seeing them would also probably be my last.
In the nine years that followed, the women of Sleater-Kinney went on to different projects. Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss went on to do other music projects, while Carrie Brownstein is probably most recognized now for her role in Portlandia. Sleater-Kinney reunited in secret a couple of years ago, released a new album in January, and have spent the better part of this year on tour (I got to see them twice…yay!). Carrie also just released a memoir, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl (lyrics from a Sleater-Kinney song called “Modern Girl”). And while I’ll admit that my take on it is partially colored by the fact that I fangirl hard for Carrie, it really is a beautifully written book!