This month I took a small break from listening to audiobooks for a few days. I needed to step back for a bit since I had been on such a roll. I tried to make more headway in the physical reading of my Literati book club books: Smile by Sarah Ruhl and Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. I’m on page 60 of Smile, unfortunately. I need to schedule my reading time better – I always leave it until bedtime, which only allows me a few minutes before my eyelids are too heavy to feel open. Luckily the chapters are short, so I have been able to knock off one or two at a time. Four Thousand Weeks – the title alone intimidating.
When I returned to listening to my audiobook library, I decided to one of the longest titles that had been on my TBR List – The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, which was 21 hours and 43 minutes.
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Signature of All Things explores the mysteries and wonders of the world through its rich characters, Henry and Alma Whittaker, both figuratively and literally. Elizabeth Gilbert’s epic story spans 80 years, two generations and takes the reader on adventures around the world.
Henry Whittaker’s rags-to-riches story starts in the orchards of Kew Gardens and leads the reader along for his adventure aboard the HMS Resolution with Captains Cook, Clerke, and Gore. I was intrigued by all the history woven into this fantastic story and want to read more. The characters are full of depth. Henry is a force to be reckoned with, and I believe it was necessary to share as much about Henry and his story as Gilbert did to get the full scope of Alma’s character.
The bulk of the story is all Alma’s story, Henry’s firstborn and only biological child. Seeing Alma through Henry’s eyes gives the reader an intimate familial perspective of our heroine. Born in January 1800, the reader follows Alma through 8 decades of her lifetime. We are with her for the peaks and valleys, the unexpected detours, and the most intimate moments of her life. We learn about Alma slowly and closely, mimicking the way Alma learns about and studies her mosses. Alma is a fictional amalgamation of real-life women that Gilbert researched thoroughly for her story. Women such as Mary Treat, an expert on carnivorous plants who corresponded with Darwin, and Elizabeth Knight Britton, a respected moss expert who founded the New York Botanical Gardens with her husband. And Marianne North, who was a beautiful illustrator and botanist. These are just some of the 19th-century women whom Elizabeth Gilbert researched and used as such a solid foundation for building into her character in Alma.
I was intrigued by so many parts of this incredible story. I listened to this masterful piece of literature, and the narrator, Juliet Stevenson, is excellent. I understand the print edition includes beautiful illustrations, which I was sorry to learn were not included as a separate .pdf file for audiobook listeners.
However, I can see how this book may not be everybody’s cup of tea. It’s long, and some people aren’t capable of taking the time to share someone else’s story in such detail. I enjoyed every little detail and don’t think that Gilbert could have taken any part of this story out and been able to tell the whole story. I highly recommend it to those who enjoy historical fiction.
I wrapped up the month with a short listen after having come off of my previous long listen. My son had asked me to check out The Doors of Perception a few years ago and I was finally in the right mood for it.
The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Doors of Perception, initially published in 1954, is a day in the life memoir of Aldous Huxley recounting his first experience with a psychodelic drug, mescaline, aka peyote.
“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”
– William Blake
Heavily influenced by Blake, Huxley borrows the phrase ‘doors of perception’ for the title of his book.
I laughed along with Huxley during certain parts of his trip as memories of my own experiences on psychedelics were brought to mind. What’s impressive is that those memories are as vivid today as 40 years ago. Since I am familiar with psychedelics, I thought Huxley’s initial encounter with mescaline gives the reader a decent impression of what it is like to have a psychedelic experience.
He reflects on his experience recognizing that “for the moment the interfering neurotic who, in waking hours, tries to run the show, was blessedly out of the way.” His observations into his experiences on that day gave him a different perspective of the intimate world around him, the everyday objects such as a vase of flowers or the folds in his trousers.
Humankind’s search for enlightenment or transcendence to some spiritual awakening has been entwined with our beings for centuries. H.G Well’s called this The Door In the Wall, which Huxley refers to many times in the text.
I found this to be an interesting book and recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Huxley’s or psychedelic fiction or anyone curious to experience what someone could be experiencing under a psychedelic drug.
I listened to the Audible version narrated by Rudolph Schirmer and was a quick listen at 2 hours, 16 minutes.
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