If you think narrating audiobooks is a dream job because all you have to do is sit there and read, you’d be wrong. Way wrong. Read all about the complex matters of matching specific books with appropriate readers, of preparing, and of carefully avoiding extraneous noise in the recording studio. At the end of the article is an added bonus of a short history of talking books.
Writer Alison B. Hart rediscovers the joy of reading for pleasure—“ that swoosh of momentum that carries you past the letters on the page, straight into the heart of a story”—by reading Anne of Green Gables aloud to her 8-year-old daughter.
Older adults, particularly older women, often feel invisible, ignored and completely misunderstood by the younger world moving quickly around them. This article by Peter McDermott showcases several Irish authors whose recent novels feature older adult characters. There’s much insight here. For example, McDermott asked about younger authors portraying older characters:
Asked about possible pitfalls in depicting older characters, [Caoilinn] Hughes [the 34-year-old author of Orchid & the Wasp (2018)] said they would be exactly the same as a “writer can fall into when writing any character: undermining their humanity through lazy writing by privileging assumption over observation.”
This article caught my eye because, although I’ve read quite a lot of Didion’s nonfiction, I haven’t read any of her fiction.
What no Didion heroine can entirely reconcile herself to is the split between what she wants and what a woman is supposed to do: marry, have children, and keep her marriage together, despite the inevitable philandering, despite her other hopes and dreams. Didion’s women have an image in mind of what life should look like—they’ve seen it in the fashion magazines—and they expect reality to follow suit. But it almost never does. In Didion’s fiction, the standard narratives of women’s lives are mangled, altered, and rewritten all the time.
Scholarship has generally dated the first writing by English women to about the 12th century. But here Alison Flood discusses a new book, Women, Writing and Religion in England and Beyond 650-1100, by Diane Watt that places the emergence of women’s writing much earlier, in the 8th century. “Watt, a professor at the University of Surrey, lays out in the book how some anonymous texts from the period were probably created by women, and contends that men rewrote works originally produced by women.”
Psychologist J.L. Doucette also writes mystery novels. When a body was found buried in the back yard of a house formerly owned by her grandmother, Doucette began to “question my choice of genre as if by writing about murder I was somehow complicit in bringing violence into the world.”
The great power of fiction originates in the universality of the particular stories it tells. Since growing up is something we all must do sooner or later, coming-of-age novels are among the most prevalent and most affecting of all.
Here Emily Temple offers her list. I agree with some of her choices: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, Cider House Rules by John Irving.
But there are a lot more I would add: The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens, My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier, The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni.
While The Goldfinch was a bestseller and won the Pulitzer prize for fiction, it divided critics. One challenge to film-makers is its length (864 pages in the current paperback edition; well over 300,000 words). It was called “Dickensian” by some admiring reviewers, but the largest Dickens novels rely on highly elaborate plotting and a large cast of characters. The Goldfinch offers neither of these.
I loved Donna Tartt’s novel The Goldfinch, but a lot of people did not. The film version will be hitting theaters soon, and I’m eager to see it. But, as this article discusses, many are wondering whether this novel can be made into a satisfactory movie.
What a time-consuming yet fruitful project this turned into. When I started looking back at my long-term reading log for the 6 Degrees of Separation meme, I discovered a lot of authors and/or series that I had begun to enjoy in the past but had not kept up with more recently. Many of these authors and series I discovered back in the early days of recorded books, which were called books on tape back then because they came as a series of cassettes in a cardboard box that we mailed back when we were done with them so that we could order more. Back then our daughter was swimming competitively, and we spent lots of time in the car driving to and from swim meets. I therefore went through a lot of recorded books.
Eventually CDs replaced cassette tapes, and then the CDs gave way to downloaded audio files. Those changes combined with the end of my daughter’s swimming meant that I listened to fewer audiobooks. That was when I lost track of many authors and their next publications.
There are a few authors whom I’ve followed faithfully and have read every one of their books in some format (printed book, ebook, or audiobook):
(formerly) Sue Grafton
The list below (ordered alphabetically by author’s last name) comprises authors whose works I’ve lost touch with over time. Only a few of them are authors I gave up by choice because their novels no longer worked for me. So unless stated otherwise, assume that I haven’t read these authors recently because of this most cruel fate for book lovers:
I first learned about Kate Atkinson back in 1997 when my library book group read and loved her debut novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum. I next read Case Histories for another book group, the introductory novel of her Jackson Brodie series, in 2006. Over the intervening years I’ve read a couple more of Atkinson’s novels but none of the Jackson Brodie series. There are now four more, which I’m looking forward to reading after rereading Case Histories.
I know I’m in the minority here, because a lot of people love this series. But after reading the first novel in the series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, I had no desire to read any more. I like a good child narrator, but little Flavia just annoyed me right from the beginning.
I’ve missed Edna Buchanan. In fact, I thought she might have died until I recently came upon this article. Now in her early 80s, she’s still a fixture in Miami but hasn’t published a work of fiction since 2011, a fact that explains why I’d heard nothing about her for a while.
Buchanan first made a name for herself by reporting on crime for Miami newspapers. She won a Pulitzer Prize for her newspaper work in 1986. I discovered her back in 1992 when I read her nonfiction work The Corpse Had a Familiar Face, a compilation of cases she’d reported on. But I most enjoyed her crime novels set in Miama featuring reporter Britt Montero.
For a further look at Edna Buchanan, see the New Yorker profile by Calvin Trillin from 1986.
James Lee Burke
My husband and I both love Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series, which we discovered in the mid 1990s, in our heyday with books on cassettes. I’ve listened to seven Robicheaux novels, but I have some catching up to do, since the series is now up to 11 books.
Sarah Caudwell was the pseudonym of British barrister Sarah Cockburn. She wrote her four-book Hilary Tamar series over the course of 20 years.
Reminiscing about Sarah Caudwell in Mystery Scene Martin Edwards writes, “Sarah Caudwell’s books are admittedly an acquired taste. . . . Readers who crave penetrating social comment or in-depth characterisation in their mysteries should look elsewhere.”
I read both the first (Thus Was Adonis Murdered) and the last (The Sibyl in Her Grave) books in this series but never felt compelled to read the two middle ones. What I remember most about them is that they never reveal whether Hilary Tamar is a man or a woman. This is harder to accomplish than it might seem. Imagine having to construct every sentence so as to avoid using either he or she—and to do so without having the sentences sound awkward or unnatural.
According to her publisher, Penguin Random House, Sarah Caudwell died in 2000.
I initially liked Cornwell’s series featuring medical examiner Kay Scarpetta. But I quit that series after book #9, 1998’s Point of Origin because, as Kay Scarpetta became more shrill and self-centered, the story lines also became more improbable. According to Patricia Cornwell’s website, she has published 14 more Scarpetta novels since Point of Origin. She also has two additional series and a bunch of other books, but I won’t be reading them.
I discovered Stephen Dobyns back in 1994 when I listed to a book (on tape) from his Charlie Bradshaw series, all of which contain Saratoga in the title. The series comprises 10 novels published between 1976 and 1998, plus an 11th book published in 2017. These are entertaining mysteries featuring a former police officer now working, by choice, as a private investigator. One of the recurring themes is Charlie’s mother’s complaints that he should get a real job and his attempts to convince her that he’s a PI because he WANTS to be. These mysteries features some of the quirkiest yet most lovable minor characters you’ll ever meet.
I also have to mention Dobyns’s stand-along novel The Church of Dead Girls, an unflinching depiction of mob mentality couched in a murder mystery. And his novel Cold Dog Soup is, no kidding, about the weirdest yet most engaging novel I’ve ever read.
Dobyns is also well known as a poet and a writing instructor.
Earl Emerson was a firefighter in Seattle, WA, for 32 years. He began publishing mysteries and thrillers in 1985. I discovered him when our daughter entered the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA, the city where Emerson was born. He’s the author of two series—the Thomas Black series and the Mac Fontana series—as well as several stand-alone novels. His books have won several awards.
More information about Emerson and his books is available on his website.
I discovered author G.M. Ford at about the same time I became aware of Earl Emerson because both lived in Seattle. (But according to Ford’s current publisher, Harper Collins, he now lives in Oregon.) I’ve read a few of Ford’s
Leo Waterman novels, which feature a fiesty private detective living and working in Seattle. Ford’s first published book, Who in Hell is Wanda Fuca? (1995) introduced the Waterman series and was nominated for three mystery awards. There are currently 11 Waterman novels, of which I’ve read only a few, but I have several more waiting on my Kindle.
Ford also writes the Frank Corso series, which is now up to six novels. In addition, he has published three stand-alone novels.
Like just about every other mystery fan, I loved Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone series. I usually preferred the audiobook format of these novels because I liked hearing a spoken version of Kinsey’s quirky voice.
Unfortunately, Sue Grafton died in December 2017, after the publication of “Y” is for Yesterday. She had planned to name the next book “Z” is for Zero, but complications from cancer treatment prevented her from doing much work on it. After she died, her family stated that, for them, “from now on, the alphabet ends with Y.”
I first read some of P.D. James’s Adam Dalgliesh series back in the early 1990s, although I didn’t read them in order. These novels use most of the classic mystery plot devices but rely on well-developed characters to hold the reader’s attention. Her Inspector Dalgliesh is an introspective, deeply moral character. The last of the 14 Dalgliesh novels, The Private Patient, was published in 2008. I hope to read the rest of this series.
James also wrote two novels featuring Cordelia Gray, a young private detective, and a few stand-alone novels, which you can read about on the author’s website.
P.D. James died on November 27, 2014.
I discovered Jonathan Kellerman’s series featuring clinical psychologist Alex Delaware back in 1992, with the fifth book in the series, Time Bomb. I’ve read eight of these books, but, as the series is now up to book #34, I have a lot more to look forward to. I have #10, The Web, on my Kindle now.
For more information about Jonathan Kellerman and his books, see his website.
Salvatore Albert Lombino (born in 1926) legally adopted the name Evan Hunter in 1952. For more than 50 years he was a prolific writer of fiction, screenplays, and television episodes but is probably best remembered for his fictional 87th Precinct series, 55 novels published under the pseudonym Ed McBain between 1956 and 2005. This series set the standard for what would develop into the genre of police procedural fiction.
The 87th Precinct novels are set in the fictional city of Isola, a thinly disguised version of New York City’s Manhattan. Although several characters appear in many of the novels, the focus is always on the squad as a whole rather than on individual detectives as they work to solve crimes.
In addition to crime fiction, Evan Hunter published science fiction and wrote many film and television scripts under several names before his death in 2005.
I also discovered Scottish crime writer Val McDermid on tape. She currently has four series going, but I’ve only read (or listened to) several from the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series. This series features clinical psychologist Tony Hill working with detective Carol Jordan to solve crimes by getting inside the mind of the criminal. With the next installment of the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series, How the Dead Speak, due out in the U.S. on 12/3/2019, I have some catching up to do here.
I should also mention McDermid’s stand-alone novel A Place of Execution, which is so good I’ve read it twice.
Back in 2001 one of my book groups read Garnethill, Scottish writer Denise Mina’s first novel, which won the CWA John Creasy Dagger for Best First Crime Novel. Since then, I’ve been aware of Mina’s subsequent publications and the prominence they have brought her. According to just about everyone, her fame is well deserved, so I should try to catch up with her work.
Her complete publication list appears on her website, along with other information about the writer and her career.
I discovered Marcia Muller back in 1996, when I got interested in contemporary portrayals of female detectives. Edwin of the Iron Shoes, the first novel in Muller’s Sharon McCone series, was published in 1977. McCone therefore preceded both Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone and Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski, both of whom were introduced in 1982 (Milhone in “A” Is for Alibi and Warshawski in Indemnity Only).
Back in 1996 I read the first two Sharon McCone novels. According to Goodread’s Sharon McCone page the series is now up to more than 30 books, with the most recent, The Breakers, having been published in 2018.
Along with Marcia Muller and Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky revolutionized the portrayal of women detectives with her V.I. Warshawski series.
I’ve read several of those novels, but by no means all. Paretsky lives in Chicago and is an outspoken critic of efforts to silence women’s voices and to take away their rights. More information about both her fiction and her nonfiction is available on her website.
Ann B. Ross
I discovered Ross’s Miss Julia series back in 2000 when my library book group read the first novel, Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind. Miss Julia is a Southern widow of a certain age, with a sharp tongue and crazy friends. I should read more of these books now that I myself have attained a certain age.
More information is available on the author’s website.
When I realized that I hadn’t heard anything about Walters, including any new publications, I went looking and found this article in The Guardian dated May 8, 2017. According to the article, Walters helped create the genre we now know as the psychological thriller with “an unbroken run of bestsellers from 1993 [that] ended abruptly in 2007 with her last crime novel, The Chameleon’s Shadow.” Walters attributes this long break to burnout over writing crime fiction. The article heralds Walters’s shift to historical fiction with the publication (in November 2017) of her first novel in 10 years, The Last Hours, about the Black Death.
I love to innovate and, while it pleases me greatly that I’ve helped create the genre of psychological crime fiction, I’d be going against my nature if I didn’t look towards different horizons.
A look at my reading database and Minette Walters’s website reveals that I’ve read the first seven of her novels, so I have many more—including a few of her early psychological suspense and several more recent pubications—to look forward to.
I particularly recommend her first novel, The Ice House, and her third, The Scold’s Bridle.
I discovered the Alan Gregory series by Stephen White back in the early days of books on tape. I listened to the first eight books in this series featuring clinical psychologist Alan Gregory but then lost touch with the series as technology changed and books on cassettes transitioned to audiobooks for download. Finding book #9, The Program (2008), recently on sale as an ebook reminded me of this excellent series.
A recent check of Stephen White’s website revealed that his latest novel, Compound Fractures, is the 20th and final installment of the Alan Gregory series. But White assures his fans that he can’t imagine himself not writing. He’s currently working on the development of two television dramas and has several ideas for novels bouncing around in his head.
I don’t remember exactly what lead me to author Stuart Woods, but I know I discovered him back in those heady days of books on cassette tapes. I have first-hand knowledge of four of his series:
After Chiefs, I started reading Woods’s series featuring former NYPD detective now turned lawyer Stone Barrington. I began with the first novel in this series, New York Dead (1991). I read several more of the books in the series but eventually stopped because the stories became progressively more and more outlandish and just plain silly.
I’ve read only the first book, Santa Fe Rules, in this series featuring New Mexico lawyer Ed Eagle.
4. Holly Barker series
I’ve also read only the first book, Orchid Beach, in this series.
Woods also has three more series, which you can read about in Liberty Hardy’s article A Definitive Guide to All of Stuart Woods’ Series. But the Stone Barrington series, now at more than 50 books, is obviously the author’s baby. The other series are all much shorter, and many of their main characters appear at least tangentially across more than one series.
Stuart Woods has also written several stand-alone novels, of which I’ve enjoyed several. For more information, including a downloadable PDF checklist of all Woods’s books listed by series, see his website.
Welcome to solarpunk, a new genre within science fiction that is a reaction against the perceived pessimism of present-day sci-fi and hopes to bring optimistic stories about the future with the aim of encouraging people to change the present. The first book that explicitly identified as solarpunk was Solarpunk: Histórias ecológicas e fantásticas em um mundo sustentável (Solarpunk: Ecological and Fantastic Stories in a Sustainable World), a Brazilian book published in 2012. In 2014, author Adam Flynn wrote Solarpunk: Notes Toward a Manifesto.
Tom Cassauwers reports that this new genre began to take off in 2017.
Colm Tóibín recently revived the age-old, snobbish distinction between literary fiction and genre fiction by declaring “I can’t do any genre-fiction books, really, none of them. I just get bored with the prose. I don’t find any rhythm in it. It’s blank, it’s nothing.”
Mikaella Clements writes about her enjoyment of Mary McCarthy’s novel The Group, published in 1963 and set in 1933, which she describes as “alarmingly modern”:
Though its politics are deeply rooted in the 1930s—the novel addresses the idea of the New Woman, the optimism of socialism before WWII and the Eastern Bloc, and the rise of fascism—it is as much about the feminist movement of the 60s and the pitfalls of cultural movements that posit themselves as revolutionary and instead find new ways to minimize, cage, and hurt women.
Novelist Laura Lippman discusses Herman Wouk’s 1955 novel Marjorie Morningstar, “which I have re-read every year for almost 35 years.” She calls it “a unicorn of a book—a so-called women’s novel, written by a man, that takes its heroine very seriously.”
Lippman says that she doesn’t know whether Marjorie Morningstar is a great book. “But it is a serious book that finds a big, sprawling story in what seems like a small, narrow life. More novels, even crime novels, should dare to do the same.”
When we hear the word “noir,” our minds flash to black-and-white movies driven by hard-boiled, big-city detectives. But in the 21st century, a new genre of crime fiction has risen from the swamps, mountains, and suburbs of the South. Norris Eppes interviews seven rural noir masters to make sense of a thrilling literary genre that rings true to our region.
The authors interviewed here are Brian Panowich, Ace Atkins, Karin Slaughter, Attica Locke, Tom Franklin, James Sallis, and John Hart.
Abby Hargreaves talks about Novelist, a database that librarians use to recommend books to patrons. This database, which may be available to you through your local library’s web site, is especially good for finding recommendations on what to read next if you liked a particular book and would like to read more similar to it.
While NoveList only organizes fiction, there’s a companion database called NoveList Plus that includes nonfiction, too.
Because I love thrillers, I read a lot of descriptions of books in that genre. Here, thriller novelist David Bell explains why some many of those descriptions contain two elements: families and secrets.
It’s true that we thriller writers often exaggerate the problems and secrets that families deal with. Most families don’t experience murder, kidnapping, extortion, disappearance. (Some do, of course.) But so many times those wild, exaggerated crimes that occur in a thriller start with something small. Something ordinary. A secret kept. A promise broken. The smallest splash becomes a tidal wave.
And he offers a possible explanation of why readers love thrillers so much: “When they see the disasters that happen to fictional characters on a page, they feel relieved.” No matter how messed up our own family members might be, most of them are nowhere near as bad as the characters that inhabit the latest best seller.
I’ve always insisted that listening to an audiobook “counts” as having read the book as long as you listen to the unabridged version. But in this piece author Betsy Robinson argues differently: “ audiobooks and books are as different as movies and books.”
A former playwright now turned novelist, Robinson believes that audio productions minimize “the value of the direct relationship between books and readers.” I agree with her analysis of the reading process, called reader-response theory or transactional reading, and I therefore agree with her in the case of people who fall asleep while listening or are “missing whole paragraphs when one of the kids spills his Cheerios.” Since I no longer have a child whose eating requires monitoring, I’m seldom distracted in that way. But if I do miss a chunk of the recording, I back track until I get back to something I remember, then relisten.
And for that reason, I will continue to include unabridged audiobooks in my yearly count of books read.
Here’s something we classics major have always known:
There is nothing like ancient poetry for making you reassess your priorities. Homer, Virgil, and Ovid can make you feel small and insignificant, but those feelings tend to pass and are worth enduring for the clarity they bring to the bigger picture. If you only let them in, the poets of ancient Greece and Rome can bring the kind of life you are living and person you want to be into sharper focus. They are surprisingly adept at cutting through the noise of modern life.
One of the most memorable novels I’ve ever read is Richard Russo’s Empire Falls, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. The novel contains a school shooting, which most people assume was based on the 1999 high school shooting in Littleton, CO. Russo explains that he finished the book’s manuscript before the Colorado shooting and that, in fact, the fictional incident was based on a shooting in Paducah, KY, that occurred in 1997.
But, Russo continues, which event formed the basis for the novel’s plot is not important. Once such an event has occurred, it’s nearly impossible for writers NOT to incorporate it into their work:
as I wrote and revised the novel, . . [e]ach day became an exercise in magical thinking: If I could face the worst of my fears on the page, maybe I’d be spared in real life. I didn’t want to write the story, but how could I not?
Because, Russo writes:
And yet it’s novels we turn to for a deeper understanding of life than we get from politicians and others with ideological axes to grind, which is why some other novelist (probably thinking, How can I not?) is no doubt at work on a book that centers on a school shooting. Every day she sets about her horrifying task, trying to imagine, What if one of the dead kids in Parkland was mine? Could I go on? What would my mission in life become after life as I knew it ceased to exist? Questions like these drive novelists, not because we have answers, but because we don’t. All we have is moral imagination, which, over time, can help heal wounds but also has a nasty habit of opening them, as my novel did and continues to do.
That novelist currently writing is in an even more anxiety-ridden spot that he was because “such tragedies have become commonplace.” And also because:
As a nation, we have not decided that our children are more important than our guns, and any new novel on the subject will have to address that tectonic shift. We’ve changed. Our nation has changed.
Writing about all this, as Russo does here, is an act of tremendous bravery for which he deserves our gratitude.
I love audiobooks; they enable me to read while plodding along on the treadmill or doing chores around the house. I’ve always thought that listening to a book instead of reading it is not cheating as long as I listen to the unabridged version.
And now I feel validated:
This question — whether or not listening to an audiobook is “cheating” — is one University of Virginia psychologist Daniel Willingham gets fairly often, especially ever since he published a book, in 2015, on the science of reading. (That one was about teaching children to read; he’s got another book out next spring about adults and reading.) He is very tired of this question, and so, recently, he wrote a blog post addressing it. (His opening line: “I’ve been asked this question a lot and I hate it.”) If, he argues, you take the question from the perspective of cognitive psychology — that is, the mental processes involved — there is no real difference between listening to a book and reading it. So, according to that understanding of the question: No, audiobooks are not cheating.
Now, as a person who writes reviews for a living, I am curious to know: How do professional authors handle unsparing criticism, written in just a few days or weeks, of something they’ve toiled over for years?
She put this question to her friend, Curtis Sittenfeld, “author of “Prep,” “American Wife” and most recently, “Eligible,” a modern retelling of “Pride and Prejudice.” Read here how Sittenfeld feels about reviews of her books.
I’m always interested in ways in which literature crosses over into everyday life. Here’s one example:
In 2002, the Supreme Court barred the execution of the intellectually disabled. But it gave states a lot of leeway to decide just who was, in the language of the day, “mentally retarded.”
Texas took a creative approach, adopting what one judge there later called “the Lennie standard.” That sounds like a reference to an august precedent, but it is not. The Lennie in question is Lennie Small, the dim, hulking farmhand in John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.”
The article ends with remarks by Thomas Steinbeck, son of author John Steinbeck.
If you don’t yet know Maria Popova’s astounding brainpickings, you’re in for a treat. Here she discusses “the significance of books and the role of reading in human life [that] comes from Neil Gaiman in a beautiful piece titled ‘Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming.’”
This is not an example of outstanding writing. But I can’t help but warm to someone who can write this:
While reading you create a universe within you where your characters talk and move through breathtaking landscapes and everything is as unique as you and your imagination are.
You become the container of that universe where the book comes to life. You give life to something bigger than you, you become THE LIFE for your characters which exist only as long as you keep imagining them.
Read what else Daniel Scott has to say about reading, including why he’s never read an e-book and why he prefers to buy new rather than used books.
I’m not trained in teaching children how to read, but I do usually hear about kids’ graduation to chapter books as a milestone in their process of learning to read. And my impression is that most of those chapter books are fiction. In this article Susie Wilde proclaims:
Children who appear to be nonreaders are often nonfiction readers. While fiction demands the sequential flow, factual books permit stop-and-go reading.
It makes sense to me that some children may in fact prefer reading nonfiction rather than fiction, just as some adults do. According to Wilde, there are now many books available for those children. Read her recommendations for children in the following age groups: 3–5, 4–8, 8–11, 9 and up.
I have been a big fan of audiobooks since they first became available. My husband and I started by renting titles that came in boxes of several cassette tapes from Books on Tape. Now we’ve upgraded to downloadable books from Audible. It’s now also possible to borrow audiobooks electronically from many public libraries.
I’ve always believed that listening to an audiobook “counts” as having read the book as long as I listened to the unabridged version.
In this article in The Guardian Claire Armitstead wonders “if the oft-maligned rise of spoken word recordings isn’t actually improving our understanding.” She writes that hearing a recorded version of Colm Tóibín’s novel Nora Webster after she had read the book made her understand how the author “weaves a manner of thinking into a manner of speech, so that a whole era and society are contained in the narrator’s broken reporting of spoken sentences.”
Armitstead quotes from critic Harold Bloom, who believes that listening to audiobooks does not allow the whole cognitive process that reading from printed pages does, and from writer Neil Gaiman, who says that dismissing audiobooks is “just snobbery and foolishness.”
On this page you can listen to some audio versions of stories.
I continue to love audiobooks because they make me feel that I’m not wasting precious time when I listen while, driving, folding clothes, or plodding on the treadmill. However, I usually choose mysteries or thrillers to listen to rather than literary fiction. If I know I’m going to want to savor a writer’s style, I’ll read the book on either printed or ebook format.
I recently discovered this site, which deals with all things pertaining to e-books:
TeleRead is for technogeeks who love books—and booklovers who love gadgets. We write about Kindle-type ereaders, phones, tablets, other devices and apps in a practical way. TeleRead runs book news and reviews and keeps up with other media appealing to smart booklovers. Along the way, we strive to help narrow the digital and reading divides.
You’ll find all kinds of articles here, including reviews of specific books and of e-reading gadgets as well as a list of sources for free e-books. There’s also information aimed at librarians and at authors interested in producing e-books of their work.
Novelist Lily Tuck calls fiction a creative act, “an act of the author’s imagination and likewise, ideally, it should be read with imagination.”
Here’s how she hopes people will read her work:
In my own writing, I have been accused of (or is it praised for?) being a minimalist, which I suppose means that I don’t write a whole lot. This is true. For the most part, I avoid adjectives and I definitely avoid adverbs, which also means that I tend not to describe much. I rarely describe what my characters look like or what they wear or how they do their hair. My hope is that this will either not be important or if it is important it will somehow surface within the text. But better yet, by avoiding descriptions and explanations, I allow the reader the freedom to picture for themselves what my characters, their clothes and haircuts look like and thus participate in the text. In other words, I hope my readers will read my work with imagination.
Reading in this way—active reading—allows readers to participate with authors in the creation of the meaning of the text.
And isn’t it just this creation of meaning that allows us to derive such pleasure and knowledge from reading fiction?
Jessica Lahey offers advice, from experts and from her own experience, for getting teens back into the habit of reading for pleasure. One tactic that she found successful was “ to ‘seed”’ my older son’s room with a wide range of books for him to find on his own time and on his own terms.”
Here are some other approaches to try:
Make reading for pleasure a priority at home.
Don’t offer rewards for reading.
Give children the power of choice over the books they read for pleasure.
Ditch the rules! “Children need to be able to abandon books they don’t like, peek at the endings, and read books they love over and over again.”
Think outside the Y.A. section of the bookstore.
She suggests providing sports books for children interested in sports or nature books for kids who like animals.
The article concludes with a link to the Dartmouth Bookstore’s “Adult Picks for Teens” recommendations. And that page in turn contains a link to the School Library Journal’s “Best Adult Books 4 Teens.”
This is a double-pronged love story: of two people who met at a bookstore and got married, and of the couple’s love for books and nature.
Jeff Lee and Ann Martin both worked at The Tattered Cover, a bookstore in Denver, where they fell in love. They met in 1986 and married in 1991. On a trip to the London Book Fair they spent some time at “St. Deiniol’s, a castlelike residential library in the Welsh countryside founded in 1889 by a former prime minister, William Ewart Gladstone. He was a lifelong book lover who centered his collection on Victorian history and theology.” (St. Deiniol’s has since changed its name to Gladstone Library.) Enchanted by the place, Lee and Martin envisioned a similar project in Colorado.
The result is the Rocky Mountain Land Library, still under development in South Park, CO:
The project is striking in its ambition: a sprawling research institution situated on a ranch at 10,000 feet above sea level, outfitted with 32,000 volumes, many of them about the Rocky Mountain region, plus artists’ studios, dormitories and a dining hall — a place for academics, birders, hikers and others to study and savor the West.
Lee and Martin found an abandoned ranch, Buffalo Peaks, about a two-hour drive outside of Denver. The City of Aurora leased them the ranch at “a deep discount.” The couple has already amassed a “collection of 32,000 books, centering the collection on Western land, history, industry, writers and peoples.”
The project has received a grant from the South Park National Heritage Area, but so far Lee and Martin have raised only about $120,000 additional of the estimated $5 million renovation cost. They continue to work toward the realization of their dream: “a rural, live-in library where visitors will be able to connect with two increasingly endangered elements — the printed word and untamed nature.”
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, recently finished another book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. While working on the new book, this devoted reader adopted some new habits to allow her to get more reading done. She offers these 10 steps that worked for her and that might work for others as well.
Quit reading. She doesn’t mean quit totally, of course, but she learned not to spend time continuing to read a book in which she had lost interest.
Skim. Again, this doesn’t apply to everything. She advises skimming materials that don’t need to be read carefully to leave more time for “high-value reading.”
Set aside time to read demanding books. She created the habit of scheduling “study reading” each weekend for getting through challenging books.
Always have plenty of reading material on hand.
Keep a reading list, and keep it handy.
Don’t fight reading inclinations. Read what you feel like reading, not what you think you should read.
Read Slightly Foxed, a magazine containing short essays about people’s favorite books from the past.
Start or join a book group.
Join my monthly book club.
More on #10 (Rubin’s monthly book club):
I have a monthly “book group,” where I recommend one great book about habits or happiness, and one great work of children’s literature, and one eccentric pick (a book that I love but may not appeal to everyone).
The article ends with a link where, if you’re so inclined, you can sign up for this group.
This is Part 1 of Jenn Northington’s discussion on BookRiot of applying the principles of Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up to her overwhelming book collection:
So while I’m not an actual hoarder who will die buried under stacks of mildewed paperbacks, I do have a space and attention-span problem. Which is why I’m spending this weekend picking up every book I own, and sorting them by the KonMarie Method: “Does this spark joy?”
And at the end of the day, after I washed off all the dust and had tidied the giveaway stacks and gotten over the sheer shock of reducing my book collection by more than half, I felt good. Now I can actually see what I have, and don’t have to take half of the books off a shelf to see what else is hiding behind them. Now I can see the ones I had promised to read, or been dying to read, or had been sent a personalized recommendation for. And as hard as it is to give up some of them, it is equally fun to imagine who might discover them next. When you know you’re sending them to a good home, it’s easier to wave goodbye.
The digital revolution has contributed to the dramatic rise in audiobooks:
Once a small backwater of the publishing industry, in part because of the cumbersome nature of tapes, audiobooks are now flourishing. Sales have been rising by double digits annually in recent years. A recent survey by industry groups showed that audiobook revenue climbed 22 percent in 2012 compared with 2011.
And the increased popularity in audiobooks has, in turn, created a need for readers. Here’s the story of how actors are filling this need. Some even make this reading work their primary employment.
new research suggests that thinking about stereotypical and nonstereotypical trait pairings increases social identity complexity, a psychological construct linked to “tolerance of outgroup members.” In other words, the more often we are reminded that not all computer scientists are male, that an insurance underwriter can also be a legendary game designer, and that artists can also be tennis players, the more we internalize the degree to which people belong to multiple, nonconvergent social groups, and the closer we feel to those who are members of social groups that differ from our own.
This article describes how playing games can battle stereotypical thinking, but reading literature can produce the same effect.
Like any enduring cultural experiment, science fiction has evolved its own codes, its own logic. Some of the genre’s most intense and visionary work talks in a shared language of concepts that can be hard for the uninitiated to penetrate – works Samuel Delaney’s Dhalgren or James Tiptree Jr’s Ten Thousand Light Years From Home, for instance, would be a forbidding place to start. But if you want to catch up with the literature of our shared future then where can you begin?
I didn’t grow up reading science fiction, as many people I know did. But recently I’ve realized that good science fiction isn’t really about the futuristic stuff, but rather about the state of contemporary culture. Nonetheless, learning to appreciate the background and tropes of this type of literature can be daunting.
Read why Damien Walter recommends these novels as good places to start:
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
Pattern Recognition by William Gibson
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin
The Player of Games by Iain M Banks
China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F McHugh
To Walter’s list I’d add a couple of other books that illustrate how science fiction explores social and cultural issues:
Tom Vanderbilt turns to a science fiction movie in answering the following questions:
What actually makes a work of art—a film, a novel, architecture, fashion—seem “dated”? The Web site of Merriam-Webster defines dated as “outmoded, old-fashioned.” And yet, this lacks explanatory power; every historical artifact (not to mention some that are new and “already dated”) could fall under that rubric. Why do some things seamlessly slip from their temporal context? When does something cross from historically appropriate to “dated”? And is there a time window for datedness, a kind of reverse statute of limitations, beyond which things are doomed by their historical patina?
Vanderbilt says that after a recent viewing of the 1979 film Mad Max he found the movie “remarkably fresh,” as if it could have been made last week:
the movie is not moored to any time. It opens with the vague phrase “A few years from now,” and, rather than any trappings of the fetishized future, “Mad Max” looks backward. At the end of the day, with its lone frontier rider trying to preserve order, it is a Western, with muscle cars. The costumes, the soundtrack, the peculiar mutterings of the outlaws (“Joviality is a game of children”) are at once familiar and slightly out of joint.
Vanderbilt goes on to define datedness as “a sort of overdetermined reliance on the tropes, whether of subject or style, of the day—a kind of historical narcissism.” He discusses how director Alfred Hitchcock went out of his way to avoid including things that would make his films seem dated; perhaps this is one reason why Hitchcock’s films remain so effective today.
And the best way for science fiction to avoid becoming dated? “As [writer William] Gibson has written, the best way to write about the future is to write about the present.”
The Pew Research Center offers some encouraging findings about library use among younger Americans:
Younger Americans—those ages 16-29—exhibit a fascinating mix of habits and preferences when it comes to reading, libraries, and technology. Almost all Americans under age 30 are online, and they are more likely than older patrons to use libraries’ computer and internet connections; however, they are also still closely bound to print, as three-quarters (75%) of younger Americans say they have read at least one book in print in the past year, compared with 64% of adults ages 30 and older.
I was particularly interested in these statistics:
Younger Americans are also more likely than older adults to have read a printed book in the past year: 75% of younger Americans have done so, compared with 64% of older adults.
Younger adults are also more likely than their elders to use libraries as quiet study spaces. Moreover, they are just as likely as older adults to have visited libraries, borrowed printed books, and browsed the stacks of books.
Though an author’s film cameo is often a lights-on, fully-clothed activity, that doesn’t make it any less sexy, ego-gratifying or even illicit than many of the other perks that go along with presiding over a pop culture empire. The gods of the literary world have long held a special mystique for Hollywood as the Platonic form storyteller; and the movie industry has kissed the ring in the only way it knows how — by pointing a camera at them.
Gina K. Hackett, a writer for The Harvard Crimson, the university’s student newspaper, reports on a fascinating new piece of eliterature: an iPhone/iPad app that uses GPS to allow readers to access a fictional narrative, then contribute to the story. The app reinforces the interaction between story and setting.
Unfortunately, those of us who don’t live in Massachusetts seem to be left out of this new experience unless we’re willing to travel.
Well, whaddya know, Marilyn Stasio, mystery reviewer for The New York Times, has discovered the beauty of audiobooks. I’ve been a big fan of audiobooks for years, and during those years I discovered that mysteries are particularly good for listening to, especially on long drives. One time on a road trip from St. Louis to Florida my husband, teenaged daughter, and I pulled into a gas station for a pit stop but stayed in the car until we had reached the end of an action scene in Tom Clancy’s Clear and Present Danger.
Anyway, read why Stasio recommends the following audiobooks:
Also in The New York Times, William Grimes addresses both the pros and the cons of audiobooks:
In reality, the book-length recitation turns out to be a very tricky medium. A good reader can lift a mediocre book above its station. A bad reader can ruin a masterpiece. And there are all kinds of variation in between: A so-so book rich with incident and characters can delight, while a good book can be good in the wrong ways, with sumptuous, tightly written sentences that make it almost impossible to stick with, especially for listeners who are driving, or making dinner — which is to say, most of the intended audience.
Read what he has to say about these recent audio renditions: