Tuesday, February 11, 2014

My Planet: Finding humor in the oddest places by Mary Roach

Follow New York Times bestselling author Mary Roach - but be careful not to trip - as she weaves through personal anecdotes and everyday musings riddled with her uncanny wit and amazingly analytical eye. These essays, which found a well-deserved home within the pages of Reader's Digest as the column "My Planet," detail the inner workings of hypochondriacs, hoarders, and compulsive cheapskates. (Did we mention neurotic interior designers and professional list makers?) For Roach, humor is hidden in the most unlikely places, which means that nothing is off limits. Whether she is dwelling on her age or talking about the pros and cons of a bedroom night light - "A married couple can best be defined as a unit of people whose sleep habits are carefully engineered to keep each other awake" - Roach finds a lesson, a slice of sarcasm, or a dash of something special that makes each day comical and absolutely priceless.

Full disclosure before the review: I listened to this as an audio book, rather than reading it as I usually would (in a physical book). I've recently taken on a new assignment through work, and now have alternating 10 and 16 mile drives back and forth to home. I thought maybe it was time I gave audio books another try, as my previous assignment, at only 4 miles from our apartment, barely gave me time to listen to one song on the radio. After trying this particular title, I can't say I'm sold yet on the idea.

I love Roach, ever since reading her first book Stiff: The curious lives of human cadavers. She's got a really neat way of looking at things, and a nice writing style - never dumbed down, yet always accessible. So it threw me for a loop when I found myself nearly nodding off at this audio version of her short vignettes (and that's definitely not something you want to do while driving!) I think it's not so much the words as the presentation. I've been told that the narrator makes or breaks the audio book, and in this case, well...for myself, it was a case of break. Angela Dawe is, I'm sure, a very nice person, and probably does some excellent work in film, TV, stage, and possibly other audio books (all talents of hers according to her bio on the back of the case). But I think she was the wrong choice for this title. She reminded me a lot of the voice you hear when you call your bank, the automated teller. And that's to her advantage for one of the tracks, "42 minutes" where she recites Roach's typical interaction with the automated voice of her credit card company. For that track, Dawe was perfect. For the others? Not so much.

The other thing I had a hard time with was the fact that 3 of the 4 cds ended in the middle of a story. Why? None of the tracks is particularly long, and when I got to the forth cd, I was shocked that it was over after 16 tracks - most of the other cds ran at 20 or so. Why not take those three interrupted stories and put them on that last disc? I've been told that sometimes the audio publishers do it this way, sometimes they don't. All I know is that I found it weird, distracting, and incredibly inconvenient - I mean, hello! I'm driving and you want me to switch discs all of the sudden?

Overall, I can't say whether the book itself is good or not. I think it is, but I'll reserve that judgment until I read it. In a nice cozy chair, using the voice inside my head. As for the audio version, I didn't care for it. I'll give one more title a try (maybe something in fiction) before I give up, but I'm leaning toward the "I'm just not a fan of audio books" school of reading.

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