January 25, 2015

Audiobooks for Beginners (reasons why YOU should be listening to books, and resources for finding great free ones!)

Quirky Bookworm: Audiobooks for Beginners (reasons why YOU should be listening to books, and resources for finding great free ones!)
Book image by Jeff Daly.

I've mentioned before how much I love audiobooks, and how they're one of my not-so-secret secret ways to enable myself to read more than 100 books every year, even though I have small kids underfoot.

Here are just five of the many reasons why you should give audiobooks a try:
  1. They enable you to multitask. I can read books while mopping floors or doing dishes, which assuages my guilty conscience, and makes my house much cleaner.
  2. They add further dimension to a story. I tend to notice authors' word choices more clearly, or to think of characters differently when I have a voice to associate with that character. I love the Maisie Dobbs books on audio book, and now it seems like Orlagh Cassidy's voice IS Maisie Dobbs.
  3. Some books are better read aloud. I think Little House in the Big Woods was better on audio because of the fiddle playing. Or, a few years ago I read Footsteps in the Dark by Georgette Heyer. I remember thinking it was pretty good, but nothing special. Then I listened to the audio version, and loved it -- the narrator did such an astounding job of giving each person a distinct personality.
  4. They can occupy you on a long drive. The miles go by a lot faster when you have a good book to listen to.
  5. They're a great way to introduce stories to kids who are anti-reading. A fun production of a book can go a long way to enticing a reluctant reader. The library also has tons of audio sets, where you get a picture book to accompany the disc, which lets pre-readers "read" alone. 
Now that you're convinced that you should be listening to audiobooks... how do you go about finding them?

  1.  Your local library. Our library offers audiobooks in several formats. You can check out a book on CD, which is handy for in the car. Or you can download audiobooks via a couple of different apps - ours uses OneClick or OverDrive. I'm more familiar with Overdrive, which can be a little confusing at first, but your local librarian will be quite happy to help you sign up and get books downloaded. (Well, at least ours were, one of them spent more than an hour helping my grandpa set up OverDrive on his Kindle!)
  2. LibriVox. These are all volunteer recordings, so some of them aren't great quality-wise. But there are tons of apps out there (I bought one for my iPhone called "Free Audiobooks") which pull recordings from LibriVox, so you can listen right on your phone.
  3. Sync. Every summer Sync will give you 2 free audiobooks a week. And they don't expire, so you can download a bunch in the summer, and save them for later in the year.
  4. Audible. Audible is great for hard to find titles that aren't in your library system. The price is a little steep ($15 a month for one book a month), but I usually splurge once or twice a year, and buy myself a 3 month gift subscription, so that I can buy titles I don't normally have access to. Plus, once you're an Audible member, they have special member-only sales where titles go on sale for as little as $3 or $4.
And finally, now that you've found a good source for audiobooks, how do you choose where to start?

  1. Pick an author you already like, and listen to one of their books. Harry Potter is a great starting place, because Jim Dale is an excellent narrator. If you're trying classics like Sense and Sensibility on LibriVox, search for the versions read by Elizabeth Klett or Karen Savage.
  2. Try different narrators. Once you find one you love, try listening to a book they've recorded, even if it's a new-to-you author. Some of the narrators I love? Simon Vance, Rebecca Lowman, Ralph Cosham, Caroline Lee, and Orlagh Cassidy.
  3. Stay away from most ensemble cast recordings. (Graceling on audio? TERRIBLE.)
  4. Employ the "eject rule". If a narrator's voice is initially irritating for some reason, give it about a half an hour as a test. By the end of 30 minutes, if you're still paying more attention to the narration than the actual story, abandon it! Eject the disc, or delete the download, and get a different book on audio. 

Have any more audiobook questions for me?

January 22, 2015

Book Review: Fram by Steve Himmer

Have you ever read a book that you thought you didn't like much at first? But the more you think about it afterwards, the more it's grown on you? That's how Fram was for me. I initially found the surrealism off-putting, but I've found myself thinking about it a lot!

When the book opens, Oscar is a minor government employee.  He works as a prognosticator in the Bureau of Ice Prognostication. Begun during the Cold War, the BIP is tasked with making "discoveries" in the Arctic. By establishing imaginary settlements and "finding" nonexistent deposits of resources, and then creating the bureaucratic paper trail to back up these fictional discoveries, Oscar and his fellow BIP employees are saving the government the time and money that real exploration would cost.

Oscar's predictable life continues for years as he maps out the adventures he'll never take in real life. He's content because he's sort of fulfilling his childhood dream of being an Arctic explorer. Abruptly, however, Oscar is sent to the real Arctic, where he embarks upon a surreal journey that will cause him to question his work as a prognosticator, the strained relationship he has with his wife, Julia, and even the nature of exploration.

Fram is an enigmatic book, in which Oscar (and the reader) are never quite sure what is going on. Much like the original Fram (the ship of 19th-century Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen, who deliberately froze it into the Arctic ice pack in the hopes that the drifting currents would carry him to the North Pole), Steve Himmer's novel meanders along, taking the reader on an unexpectedly contemplative journey. Those who enjoy surreal fiction, musings on marriage or Arctic history books like Arctic Obsession: The Lure of the Far North, will likely embrace Oscar's exploits.

 Do YOU like surreal fiction?

I originally wrote most of this review for Shelf Awareness. Are you intrigued? Buy Fram
(or anything else) via my affiliate link, and I'll earn a few cents! Thanks for supporting Quirky Bookworm.

January 20, 2015

Unbroken: Musings on Sickness and Perspective

My kids are sick (again). In fact, Eleanor is sick for the second time already this year, and Juliet has been sick nonstop since the 2nd. Ear infections, vomit, and SO MUCH SNOT. Plus not nearly enough sleep. Noel and I were commiserating about it (I mean, for reals? Do I put them in plastic wrap or what?! How do we manage to get them healthy?); poor Juliet has literally been sick for at least 8 months of her 15 months of life.

But then I started thinking... in the grand scheme of things, it could be a lot worse. We have a friend who just got some devestating personal news. And, I've been reading Unbroken, which is gut-wrenchingly intense with regard to suffering.

I mean, yes, I'm tired, and I just feel bad for my poor miserable girlies, but, at least no one is dying. Or being slowly starved to death. Or being beaten by sadistic prison guards.

And everyone keeps telling me that this means they'll be super healthy as adults.* Which might be true, I guess. So I will keep doing mountains of laundry, and wiping boogers, and reading Unbroken when I get a chance. There's nothing like true deprivation to make your own life look much better.

Have YOU read Unbroken?

*Although, really, the next time someone says, "Oh it's better to get the sickness out of the way early in life!" I might smack them. Because how is it better for a baby who doesn't even understand what's going on to be sick?! Especially when she's too little for most forms of medicine! I feel like it's MUCH better for an 8 or 13 or 20 year old to be sick than a 1 year old.