For Your Listening Pleasure: Why Audiobooks Are Great

There seems to be some contention about audiobooks. By listening to a book being read to you, are you really reading the book?

A stray tweet reminded me recently of the early discovery of the joy of having a book read aloud. Sure, the Disney records and books were also about learning how to read and follow a story, even if there were words on the page that were beyond the reader’s vocabulary at that point. The chime of a bell to mark the turning of a page would probably still produce a response from me today.

Audiobooks on tapes, CD and MP3 are provided by local libraries, and now they can be downloaded online from the comfort of home. There is no fear of forgetting to return them and incurring fines as they simply vanish on the expiry date unless you extend the loan. It really couldn’t be easier to tap into a whole world of literature and non-fiction with the only expense being time and bandwidth.

I have been introduced to many of my favourite books through listening to the audio version. Recent highlights have included:

  • The Belltree Trilogy by Barry Maitland: a detective series featuring Harry Belltree and set around western Sydney and Newcastle. This was memorable for the morally ambiguous main character and the excellent narration of Peter Hosking, who has guided me through many books including several featuring Peter Corris creation PI Cliff Hardy.
  • The Sellout by Paul Beatty. This was a recent read for my book group and whilst I had the book itself, I was struggling to get into it. I listened to a sample of the audio book and suddenly the narrator’s voice was clear and I ended up enjoying the book much more than I would have thought.
  • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Again I had the book and had read segments of it, but listening to it read by the author added an extra element of enjoyment and depth. It was an invigorating experience.
  • Rain and Other Stories by W S Maugham and The Home Girls by Olga Masters. Two short story collections by masters of the craft. Years later I can still recall elements of the stories made even more vivid with the telling.
  • Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, narrated by Simon Slater and Simon Vance.  I don’t usually listen to audiobooks more than once but these books are an exception to the rule.

There are, of course, downsides to listening to books. If the narration doesn’t resonate I tend not to persevere. Fortunately you can usually download a sample before committing to the entire book. For really long works this is a wise step as some books can go for days, literally. And it isn’t possible to listen all the time: concentration does drift away sometimes and some books have the odd boring passage. As yet, I haven’t skipped to end of the book to see how it ends, which is something I would do with a physical book that was not maintaining my interest.

If I really enjoy the audiobook, I will usually pick up a copy of the book itself to revisit passages or re-read entirely. For me, audiobooks supplement my love of reading, providing a convenient entry into another world, and one that I can enjoy whilst driving, cooking, cleaning and the like.

Do you listen to audiobooks?

[Photo: reading room in one of the buildings at Sovereign Hill, Ballarat]

 

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Blue Mountains Book Settings

There are many upsides to sorting out your book collection. A definite highlight is being reunited with books that captured my attention and took me on a journey that remains vivid, years after reading them.

Amongst the stacks of books, there were some that I’ve put aside into a cluster of stories featuring the Blue Mountains. Here are a few fictional books that come to mind.

The Service of Clouds, Delia Falconer. Set in the early 1900s, this is the story of cloud photographer Harry Kitchings and Eureka Jones, a pharmacist’s assistant. I read it a couple of years before I moved here and think of it often when I catch myself looking upwards to watch clouds moving across the sky. The mural in Katoomba Street near St Hilda’s in honour of photographer Harry Phillips reminds me of it too; it is based on one of his photographs of the Bridal Veil Falls.

Dear You, Kate Llewellyn. This novel of love letters is set in Leura where the author lived for a few years. I read this when I first moved to the mountains, and remember scanning the entries for mentions of snow falling as that was one of my big concerns, being snowed in. It is a story of lust and longing and the everyday and gardens and being aware of the world in which you live.

Miles Off Course, Sulari Gentill. This is the third book in an excellent mystery series set in Australia in the 1930s featuring Rowland Sinclair. Rowly is an unconventional man from a privileged background who has bohemian friends including fellow artists and musicians. They get involved in all sorts of interesting situations which are historically accurate but with contemporary echoes. The series includes various famous and infamous people of the time in cameo roles. This book starts off in the Hydro Majestic where famous entrepreneur and hotelier Mark Foy is seeking Rowly’s input on the plans for his grand tomb which was to be carved into the grounds. This was true: it was incorporated into Foy’s will but it was ruled as not financially feasible by the court and his executors were released from any obligation to complete it.

Ash Island, Barry Maitland. This is the third installment of a trilogy featuring Harry Belltree, a Sydney detective with a troubled past and a complex network of enemies. In this final book, there is a murder early on in Blackheath, with Harry’s estranged wife Jenny the main suspect. But are things really as they seem?

Beware of the Dog, Peter Corris. My liking for Australian detective stories is apparent, and Corris is fondly regarded as The Godfather of Australian crime writing. His main character, Cliff Hardy, entered the literary scene in the 1970s and has been all over the country, and in various parts of the world, in his role as an old-school private investigator. In this installment, Hardy follows a lead up to a remote property past Mt Victoria, and the essence of this mountain village is well depicted. Hardy makes his final fictional appearance this year.

The Palace of Tears, Julian Leatherdale. This multi-generational fictional drama is based on the life of Mark Foy and his family. The author lives locally and has an extensive background in the arts and hotel management. This novel was a popular choice when it was released in time for summer reading a couple of years back and there is an interesting twist at the end. Julian has an article on the excellent Dictionary of Sydney website about the Hydro Majestic here.

Evergreen Falls, Kimberley Freeman. I came across this book by chance after listening to an interview with author on So You Want To Be A Writer. This story is set in modern times with historical flashbacks to a singular event in the 1920s which changed the course of the lives of several people. I liked the attention to detail, and the references to an old motel undergoing extensive renovations rang true as the Hydro was brought back from disrepair to its much more fashionable state.

Have you come across any books set in your town?

[Photo: detail from the mural in honour of Harry Phillips, Katoomba]

 

Blogs I Enjoy

In last week’s post, I wrote about the reasons why I blog. Like most people, I read blogs for a long time before ever considering that I would write one. These days I am reading more blogs than before, and for different reasons. It made me think about the blogs that I really enjoy and why.

Newtown Review of Books

There are often really interesting book reviews posted on this blog. I used to cherry pick the books that sounded like they were up my alley, but over time I’ve discovered lots of great books and interesting writers by reading the posts regardless of whether they are in an area or genre I would normally lean towards. The reviews are well written and informative, and I have picked up many useful recommendations from this blog.

The Godfather: Peter Corris

This blog, also hosted through Newtown Review of Books, is by the oft-named Godfather of Australian crime. Corris is a prolific writer and is best known for his series of Cliff Hardy books. Hardy is a Sydney private investigator and the books are engaging with Sydney and its surrounding areas forming a characteristic background. The weekly blog covers a wide range of topics, from music to books to memoir, and is always enjoyable.

Meet Me At Mikes

I mentioned Pip Lincolne’s blog last week as it has started me off on an I spy hunt. Pip is a well-known Australian blogger and craft creator. Her regular posts contain warmth and humour, a ray of sunshine in your inbox.

Quiet Revolution

This is a fairly recent find, and it may have come about after I posted a review of Quiet by Susan Cain. This blog is for introverts, and there are regular postings and articles about how to survive and thrive as an introvert. There was a recent two-post special on creating the creative space as an introvert which I will return to at a later date.

In addition to these blogs, there are an increasing number of blogs that I am following as part of the wider blogging community on WordPress. These include – but are not limited to – the following:

Autumn: for her thought provoking posts on all matter of things, and especially for her Whacky Wednesday posts.

Real life of a MSW: a mix of posts across professional life, home life, cooking and current affairs, this blog often gets me thinking deeper on issues.

La Tour Abolie: lyrical writing across a range of topics, interspersed with humour and warmth. Always a delight.

Barbara Ann Paper Arts: I came across one of Barbara’s beautiful cards online and am so glad I did as her posts are worth lingering over. Whilst not especially crafty myself, I take delight in seeing her creations and getting a glimpse into what is required to create these cards and other creative projects.

Edge of the Bell Curve: a lyrical mixture of poetry and the challenges of real life. As the online magazine Algebra of Owls grows, this blog often provides insight into what goes on behind the scenes of creative publication.

Muddling through my Middle Age: these blog posts cover a range of topics and delve a little deeper on issues such as friendship, blogging and changes over time.

Suzanne Rogerson: this blog offers lots of interesting information about the process of self-publishing as well as fantastic photos. A visual delight.

Every time I open my mouth some idiot starts talking!: the name alone of this blog is irresistible to me, but the content is also well worth the reading time.

What blogs do you love?

[Photo: garden at Everglades, Leura]