E-books and audiobooks

Reviews: e-books and audiobooks - a secret service memoir, the joys of catching flies and modern romance

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 August, 2015, 11:04pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 August, 2015, 11:04pm

It is a shame that this book only skims the surface of Sue Ann Baker's job as a US secret service agent, an agency that was, for more than a century, male-only. Baker had grown tired of having to deal as a police officer with juvenile junkies so she applied, in 1971, when she was in her mid-20s, for a "more glamorous" job protecting the White House and embassies. She may have known how to use a gun, but otherwise it was on-the-job training. Baker recalls assignments in which she was tasked with keeping safe foreign dignitaries, including Sovanna, the wife of Cambodian leader Lon Nol, who fled the Khmer Rouge to live out his years in exile in the US. Baker also provided protection for Rahah Noah, wife of Malaysian prime minister Abdul Razak Hussein. Another highlight was "witnessing history being made" when US president Richard Nixon set off on the first presidential visit to the People's Republic of China in 1972. More context and detail would have given weight to Behind the Shades, although Baker should be recognised for her pioneering role.

Behind The Shades  by Sue Ann Baker  (WWP Publishing) e-book


There are anoraks, and then there are anoraks. Fredrik Sjöberg, however, makes his obsession yours with his charming book on collecting flies on Runmarö, a small island near Stockholm that was also the home of Swedish naturalist René Malaise, inventor of the Malaise insect trap. If you think collecting flies qualifies as a niche hobby, consider that Sjöberg cares only for hoverflies, of which there are 5,000 known species in the world. About his expertise, he says: "We are not many, but we grow very old." Sjöberg's triumph is in having captured 202 species. He acknowledges, drolly, the oddness of his interest by relating how, if caught doing what he does - standing in fields for hours - it is easier simply to lie: saying you are after butterflies, for example, will relieve you of follow-up questions. Sjöberg's self-deprecating wit comes through well in this Swedish-to-English translation, which is captivating despite, or perhaps because of, the subject's obscurity. You will learn, among other things, why Sjöberg likes insect pins from the Czech Republic and what a "pooter" is.

The Fly Trap  by Fredrik Sjöberg  (Pantheon Books) e-book


On the heels of the Ashley Madison hacking scandal, Modern Romance takes on added significance as Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg look at how courtship has changed in the digital age. Much now revolves around our phones, as people meet through online hook up sites, ask for dates via text messages and break up via the same. Worse, sexting, they say, is quickly becoming the norm, with iPhone users twice as likely than Android fans to send a sext during the preferred time slot of 10am-to-noon on Tuesdays. Quirky factoids lift the book, which, strangely for Ansari, a stand-up comedian, is more light-hearted than laugh-out-loud funny. But that's probably because the research asks to be taken seriously. NYU sociologist Klinenberg, also a co-narrator, worked with Ansari, using online focus groups to discover, for example, that "younger dudes were f***ing terrified of calling someone on the phone". Both sexes are guilty, however, of obsessing over text messages. And guys gagging for a date should stop asking women if they want to "hang out".

Modern Romance  by Aziz Ansari  and Eric Klinenberg  (Penguin Audio) audiobook