What I’ve Been Listening To: an enthusiasm for measuring, an enthusiasm for endorphins, our quest for a soul mate, how to breathe, amazing life stories, and the terrifying beauty of nature

My scattered thoughts on this fabulous bunch of books… science, memoir, history, essays, and adventure.

The Invention of Nature

This is a long audiobook, but I was riveted. There’s history, science, politics, nature, travel, letters (so many letters!). I was amazed by how much Humboldt accomplished in his lifetime, and wonder why he’s not as celebrated as some other scientists. It’s the kind of book that had me saying–every night at the supper table–“Did you know?” What struck me the most was that Humboldt and others knew what was coming when they saw the way we were living over here in North America – all those years ago they were predicting the environmental problems that we have now. Humboldt himself is a fascinating creature – so focused on learning and measuring and writing and sharing knowledge. He was a machine.

The Professor and the Madman

This story was interesting, but also felt pretty bleak. The idea of creating the dictionary for the first time is incredible – how overwhelming a job that must have been. Almost too overwhelming to feel happy or inspiring. And then there’s the “madman” who helped with so many words and definitions – it’s a cool story that he was able to do that from the institution he lived in, but his life was sad and disturbing. It did cheer me a little to know that the wife of the man he killed eventually befriended him. But that poor woman.

Dopamine Nation

The general idea behind this book is that pleasure and pain are connected, and finding the right balance is the goal. In the world we live in now there is so much easy access to pleasure – video games, social media, google, youtube, online shopping, etc.. — but a lot of these things can lead to unhealthy addictions that can disrupt our lives. The author uses examples from her own clients (and herself) to illustrate how the pleasure/pain balance works and some things we can do to help keep it within a healthy range. There’s a wide range of reviews for this book on Goodreads, but I’m always fascinated by the “fast” way we live now, the science behind it, and the possible consequences of it.

Marry Him

I ended up listening to this as a result of not being able to find her more recent book at our library. Then, even though the subject doesn’t have a lot to do with me personally anymore, I found it interesting on the behalf of everyone I know who’s finding it hard to find “the one”. Basically, what she’s saying in this book, is that maybe there isn’t a “one” and we’re being too picky and expecting too much from a partner. And perhaps this is just getting worse with online dating, since we can just look at someone’s picture and dismiss him based on what he looks like – not even give him a chance. What do you think? Is settling for “good enough” really settling, or is it being realistic?

Where I Belong

This is the first memoir put out by Alan Doyle of Great Big Sea. (I read the third one first.) In this book, Doyle talks about his childhood, growing up in Petty Harbour, Newfoundland. Hanging around the wharf with his friends, selling cod tongues, crossing over from the Catholic side of town to the Protestant side, his brother and sister, the generations of musical talent in his extended family, and his mother’s bread. In fact, what stands out most in my memory is his mother’s bread. It was a staple in their house – badly needed to help fill up any empty corners in their bellies. I think this is also the book in which we hear about Alan’s first real job at a museum in St. John’s and what a natural he was at giving tourists a good taste of Newfoundland storytelling and hospitality. If I’m ever in Petty Harbour, I’ll be looking for his mom and her bread.

The Anthropocene Reviewed

This was a fun book, although it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I think I see the word “Anthropocene” and expect something heavy and environmentally focused, but John Green is just writing about things that are very human – sometimes humorous – and then rating them. For example, he writes about grass lawns, staph infections, the QWERTY keyboard, the environment, his time as a hospital chaplain, his brother, his childhood, his family, anxiety and depression, his love of Dr. Pepper, and the Indie 500. He pours his heart into his essays in a way that feels personal but not too much. He sounds like a really nice guy.


Before I read this book, I wondered how you can write a whole book just on breathing. But you can! And it’s fascinating! Each section of the book felt like the newest, most important thing to know about breathing, and I was going around my house reminding everyone to breathe through their nose and to take slow deep breaths – otherwise, who knows what might happen to you. As the book goes on, the breathing techniques get more and more wild, leading to Wim Hof-type feats. It sounded so cool that I put the Wim Hof Method on hold. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m sure, once I do, there’ll be nothing stopping me from swimming in the ocean all winter long!

Beyond the Trees

This book made me want to listen to all his others immediately. Alas, this is the only one available to me. It’s probably just as well – too many of them could result in my own isolated expedition into the north with way too much gear and not enough experience (or any at all). Adam Shoalts is amazing. He goes a really long way, up north where no one lives, by himself (which he prefers), with a very regimented calorically calculated food supply (4000 calories a day and he was still losing weight), and 14-hour-long days paddling himself UP rivers instead of down them. And there are grizzly bears. If any of this is of interest to you, read his books.

Driven: The Secret Lives of Taxi Drivers

Marcello Di Cintio interviews a selection of taxi drivers across Canada, and relates their stories – amazing stories about incredible people. He interviews immigrants who work their butts off to make a life here; people from war-torn countries; taxi drivers who are doing well and some who are not; a group of volunteer women who drive Indigenous women around the city of Winnipeg to protect them from harassment; and an ex-taxi driver whose books have been long-listed for the Giller Prize. We learn the varied backstories of the drivers and what brought them to the profession they are now in. The author also gets into recent threats to the taxi industry, such as Uber and Covid-19. It’s the kind of book that reminds you to be kinder to the people around you. It also makes me want to walk up to people and ask them about their lives.

What have you been listening to lately?


20 thoughts on “What I’ve Been Listening To: an enthusiasm for measuring, an enthusiasm for endorphins, our quest for a soul mate, how to breathe, amazing life stories, and the terrifying beauty of nature

  1. Karissa says:

    I’m just getting into the world of audio books and I haven’t tried any non-fiction yet. Do you prefer non-fiction or fiction audio? I feel like it would be harder for me to absorb information this way but you’re tempting me with a few here.

    • Naomi says:

      I only listen to nonfiction on audio. I feel like I don’t have to cling on to every word like I do with fiction. Although, I have started listening to fiction for children as well as NF, and that seems to working okay too!

  2. A Life in Books says:

    Wonderfully varied selection, Naomi. I remember the Winchester being published, then called The Surgeon of Crowthorne. A surprising bestseller. Of the others, Driven most appeals. Love your furry friend!

    • Naomi says:

      It was an especially good batch of books! Driven is a good one for you, I think.
      I have had the Winchester on my shelf for 10+ years, so I was very happy to finally “read” it. Now I’m trying to decide which one to listen to next…

  3. wadholloway says:

    I listen to a lot of audio books, but outside of a few biographies, very little non-fiction. And yet I agree that the stuff you found fascinating I would find fascinating, especially science.

    On the subject of Marry Him, I can remember thinking when I was at school, there is only one and how will I find her? But look around. Most people marry from within a very limited circle, and yet they work. Arranged marriages between strangers work. I have a niece who is pretty, 30 and desperate. I wouldn’t dare give her advice to her face, but it would be settle for a guy who is reasonable (not controlling) and work at it.

  4. Laila@BigReadingLife says:

    This is a great selection. I’ve read Breath and also had the same urge to tell everyone to breathe through their noses! But I have noticed that I’m better about doing that now myself, since reading it. The John Green is on my list, and I’ve been looking at Dopamine Nation.

    I’m not listening to an audiobook right now, but I have one on hold – The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness by Robert Waldinger and Marc Shulz. It will be a while before I get it though. Lately I’ve been consumed with podcasts and music!

    • Naomi says:

      The fact that I only listen to what I can get from the library helps keep things varied. I place holds on whatever sounds interesting and wait and see what becomes available when I’m ready for a new one!

      • Rebecca Foster says:

        It’s great that you can continue supporting the library while consuming books in this format. One of our book club members always tries to get the book on audio, but she’s limited by what Audible carries.

  5. annelogan17 says:

    Awesome selection of books! Adam Shoalts has always interested me as a writer, no doubt his stuff is fascinating to live vicariously through. The Marry Me book is interesting as well. And she makes a good point about online dating – I doubt i would have ‘clicked’ on my husband, as his personality is what i love most 😉

    • Naomi says:

      Somehow, Shoalts is able to make a journey of paddling day after day after day fascinating to listen to. Paddling, portaging, setting up camp, eating and drinking tea. Seeing the odd animal. That’s about it. But so good.

      • Naomi says:

        Yes! That’s how I feel, too. I think that’s why I like to read about it… I can imagine myself there instead of him, but I don’t actually have to be there. Lol

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