Tag Archives: audio books

FIVE Non-Fiction Books!

(Sing the title to the Five line of the 12 Days of Christmas. Ok, it doesn’t quite fit perfectly, but that’s what’s in my head.)

I mentioned in my 4 reasons for not posting for a while that I went on a road trip last month. I listened to two non-fiction audio-books on the road, one for the way there, and one for the way back. Let me tell you about those two books and three other non-fiction books that I read after that road trip.

  1. Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe by Thomas Cahill. I’ve read Cahill before. I quite enjoyed his How the Irish Saved Civilization in the “Hinges of History” series. This book also fits into that series. I’m afraid I didn’t find Mysteries as well argued as How the Irish. I read the Irish book and came away convinced of the importance of the Irish monks in preserving historical documents in the early Middle Ages. Mysteries I found over-ambitious in its reach and without a clear-cut argument. I think Cahill was trying to show that good things came out of the Medieval Catholic Church, but I didn’t need convincing of that. He also elevated the expression “vox populi, vox deus” to scriptural status, which I find unwarranted. I am pretty sure that the vox populi can be misguided. Witness Rob Ford. The book contains interesting stories about interesting people, but its overall argument is not strong.
  2. The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum. I rather enjoyed this tale of murder and death in New York City, despite the general sense that it is in essence a tract on the evils of prohibition. Besides railing on the US Government and its misguided prohibition amendment, the book tells the story of NY City’s first medical examiner and his colleague, who developed the field of forensic toxicology. It is pretty interesting stuff. You should read it. Or listen to it.
  3. The Lion’s World by Rowan Williams. This is Rowan Williams’s reflection on Narnia. Reading this short book made me want to read all the Narnia books again. I am still not convinced that one should read the Narnian books in chronological order as Williams suggests (and yes, I know Lewis suggested it too) but Williams did give me different ways of looking at some parts of the books that I’ve never really liked, including seeing the value of The Last Battle, my least favourite book in the series.
  4. Time’s Anvil: England, Archaeology and the Imagination by Richard Morris. This is a fascinating book. I read it over a very long time, more than six months, and it talks about understanding the data of archaeology in different ways, so that the past can be accurately heard in the data. I thought about finding Richard III a lot when I read the chapter on digging up battles and seeing that the story told by the remains doesn’t match the written historical record. The aerial survey photos and the writing about new techniques in archaeology are extremely interesting.
  5. Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis. I’d not read this particular Lewis book before. I found his reflection on Praise the best part of the book. It is a nice short book, and easy to access.

What non-fiction books are you reading?

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Emma: A Media Mash-Up

I was listening to Emma by the incomparable Jane Austen last week. Then there was a glitch. Somehow the final files of the recording didn’t get properly downloaded from the library. I’m not sure what happened. After some failed attempts to download the missing files, I decided to finish the book by reading the copy that I own. I thought that this would be an interesting comparison of audio vs text on a single book.

True confessions: I don’t like Emma much. There are too many people who talk far too much. I don’t even find the over-talkers funny. Miss Bates and Mrs. Elton are the worst offenders. They would be more comic if they got less air-time. Mr. Woodhouse I can tolerate as a mildly amusing eccentric old man, but even he gets tiresome by the end. And don’t get me started on the romantic relationships. Not Interesting.

Given that I don’t like the book much, I found it pleasant and easy to move through the book while listening to it. I could do what I’ve decided I really like doing — play a silent and slow puzzle game while listening to the book on my iPad. I enjoyed having Emma read to me by a person with a nice British accent who gave the characters different voices. I found it tedious to pick up and read the final third of the book. I found the difference interesting. The momentum of someone reading the book aloud kept me moving through the tedious and unending visits and parties, the foolishness of Emma’s internal thoughts, and the not very interesting appearances of Mr. Frank Churchill. When I had to move my own eyes across the page I found it much more difficult to continue. I did finish. My initial opinion of the book, however, was confirmed. I think that this ranks near the bottom of the Austen oeuvre in my estimation. I know my friend the Canoe-Head English Teacher will be disappointed.

Conclusions regarding audio books: If you find something difficult to read, try the audio version, maybe the momentum will help you get through it.


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Reading Out LOUD

I’ve just come in from a workshop on reading scripture. We spent more than two hours on practical tips, then rehearsing and performing a particular reading. I was working with a team on a reading of Isaiah 6, the bit where Isaiah sees the Lord. It was a good workshop, lots of interesting points. It made me think about how I preach as well as how I read scripture. When I preach, I preach from a manuscript, so it is essentially a reading. I also got to thinking about some discussions and experiences of reading aloud that I’ve had in the past few weeks.

1. Reading aloud — “It slows me down.” My friend, the priestling, who is in her first year of Seminary, told me that she sometimes reads her textbooks aloud because it slows her reading down. She cannot skip over bits of the text, let her eyes slide over words without really comprehending what the words say. I have never actually read aloud to an audience of just myself. I feel a bit self-conscious doing that. I should probably just get over it. If I’m reading aloud at home there’s no one but me to hear it. It isn’t as if I’d try this on the bus or in a library. At times I need to slow some of my reading down, and experience it with more than one sense. I think I’d like to try this.

2. Listening to someone read — details get picked up. I’ve said before in this blog that I find the experience of listening to an audio book substantially different from reading a book. Last week I listened to Pride and Prejudice and found that listening to a book I’ve read a few times to be an enriching experience. I’ve read P&P many times, and thought I knew the story backwards and forwards. Listening to someone else read it highlighted some details that I have never noticed before. This may be part of that whole slowing the book down process. It was pretty interesting. I think I’ll try some other re-reads as a listen next time through.

I’ve got more to say about reading aloud as performance, and thus preaching as performance, not to mention the hideous habit some people have of speeding up when they read scripture verses as if the Bible were something to be rushed through so we can get to what the person themselves has to say. But I’ll stop for now with these two reflections and ask what you’ve read aloud/been read lately?

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Other People on Old Books

I’ve found a couple of other places where people are talking about reading older books/classics in 2013. Over at the Englewood Review of Books there is an ongoing feature of authors listing their favourite classics (the link is to the most recent one). In the introduction to each of these lists, the ERB points to an article by one of the editors at ERB who gives his definition of a “classic.” As you know, my challenge is to read one older book for every two newer ones, but the ERB challenge suggests a 1:1 ratio and, as I have done, suggests you make your own definition of a classic or older book. I’ve gone with “older than 1970” for my older book selection, and I’m still working on the 1 older for every 2 newer, and I’m exactly on target so far this year.

Over at Book Riot, here is a post on Reading Hard Things. I think it is clear from the post that the author is not talking about Reading Badly Written Things, but Hard Things, things that are difficult and worth fighting through. The problem is, one doesn’t know if it is worth it until one tries. So C.S. Lewis in An Experiment in Criticism. But trying is important. And ploughing through something that is difficult may produce a new understanding. You may find, as I did after wading through Pride and Prejudice, that you LIKE the book that was difficult, and that re-reading it becomes a pleasure, not a chore.

Speaking of Pride and Prejudice I am enjoying it in audio form at this time. It is a different experience hearing the book. Details stand out differently. Try it out with one of your favourites. I’m sure the library will have a copy in audio form.

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Audio Books While Packing

I’ve talked about audio books in this space before. I don’t think that listening to an audio book is the same thing as reading, but I will concede that listening allows one to access the content of books in a different way. As I’m cleaning and packing and culling and doing all the things associated with moving, I’ve been listening to an audio mystery, In the Bleak Mid-Winter by Julia Spencer-Fleming. This is the first book featuring Rev. Claire Fergusson, an Episcopal priest in a parish in a small town in up-state New York. The book involves parish politics as well as bodies and mysteries. I am quite enjoying it. I shall have to investigate the rest of the series once the move is over.

In conversations around decorating my new place my friends think I am overly concerned with bookshelves. I think they don’t quite get it. The living room is the library. In a library, the shelves are very important. The shelves need to be placed first, and other furniture around the shelves. Why? Because once a bookcase is anchored to the wall and filled, it isn’t going anywhere very quickly. Also, the most exciting thing about moving is having more shelves, and the chance to arrange and reorganize my books. This is Very Exciting.

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multi-platform, multi-books, too much multi-ing?

Today I did a quick count of the number of (fiction) books I’ve got on the go at the moment. There are four. One is an E-book, another is an audio book, there’s a library hardcover, and a used book-shop paperback. Three of the four are mysteries, and the fourth is an interesting surreal novel mostly about New York City in winter. I think I can give you a plot as-I-understand-it synopsis for each. I wonder how many books I can have on the go at once, and whether multi-reading, especially across delivery systems, will just make my life more spinny than ever.

I’ve also got at least two non-fiction books on the go, meaning I’ve read from them in the last week and I intend to finish them.

Hmm. I think I might be a bit rootless in my reading right now, more like tumbleweed instead of a firmly planted tree (think Psalm 1). I’m not sure why I ended up with six active books, usually I keep it to two or three. Maybe the multi-media thing contributed to me not realizing how many I’ve got in the air.

How many books do you have on the go at once? How many is too many in your experience?

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Story Circles

This weekend I drove a lot to see AMom and her sister, Auntie, for Mother’s Day and (94th) Birthday respectively. I decided to take out an audio book from the library for the trip. Wow, did that make the boring old drive down the flat highway fly by. I think I’ll do that again. Problem is, 8 hours of driving is not enough to finish the audio book. Now I have to make time to listen to the other 5/9 of the book. Then there’s the question after I finish listening: Did I actually “read” that book or not? Do I list it in the books read file?

Last year I listened to some Story Circles (audio books on cd are story circles — didn’t you know?) and I counted one as a book read and listed it in “books read.” The others I didn’t count — mainly because they were radio theatre adaptations of books, not books that were read aloud. I did hesitate before counting the spy novel I listened to on a road trip. Why? you might ask. Because listening to an audio book is a different experience than reading a book.

Yes, listening to an audio book is a different experience than reading a book. How? you might ask. I’ll tell you.

1. Listening to an audio book is an auditory experience requiring only one sense. Reading a book takes at least two senses, sight and touch.

2. Listening to an audio book leaves you free to do other things — like drive a car or knit a sweater. Don’t try to drive while reading a book. I think reading makes knitting a little more difficult as well. Reading a book involves all of ones attention.

3. Listening to an audio book is an experience in time – you hear the story at the pace another person reads it to you. Reading a book is a more timeless experience.  You probably read silently more quickly than anyone can read aloud. You can read more quickly in some places, and more slowly in others.

4. Listening to an audio book is a sequentially ordered experience. You don’t have to read a book in order. You can read and re-read a paragraph. You can pause after a poignant scene and possibly go back to pick up a few lines again. You can skip ahead in a tedious bit. You can read the end, then go back to the middle.

I like reading a lot, and the experience of reading is, to me, more satisfying than the experience of listening to story circles. Story circles do make a long road trip fly by, though, and I think that I will certainly listen again while driving. What about you? Do you listen to audio books? Under what circumstances?


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