Tell me a story : audiobook bliss

Cover of The adventures of Augie MarchScrolling through shelves of audiobooks on Overdrive recently I came across The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow, I’ve always skirted round this heavy weight literary man (multiple award winner including the Nobel prize for Literature in 1976). This time on impulse I decided to “give him a go” and I’m chuffed that I did! I was immediately hooked by the opening paragraph and the narrator’s gravelly, fast paced “Bronxy” voice.

I am an American, Chicago born — Chicago, that somber city — and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent. But a man’s character is his fate, says Heraclitus, and in the end there isn’t any way to disguise the nature of the knocks by acoustical work on the door or gloving the knuckles

For me an audiobook is completely at the mercy of the narrator; if the voice, inflection, pace etc doesn’t grab me, that’s it, no matter how enjoyable the writing. In this case both work so well together. From the word go I became absorbed in the life story of Augie, a poor Jewish boy born to a simple minded mother and a long ago absented father in the Chicago of the early decades of the 20th century (Al Capone, Prohibition era.)

I was impacted by Bellow’s sentences let alone the epic tale full of vivid, larger than life characters trying to get ahead and live the American dream. It did require very focused listening so as not to miss out on the richness of the language or get mixed up with the many characters. Also it’s a long book and there’s a limit to the amount of sitting around listening an able bodied person can do. So I’ve been doing a kind of relay – listen, read the book, listen and knit, read the book.

So many knockout sentences but I’ll leave those discoveries to you if you so choose! Except for another little taste, a description of Grandma Lausch, Russian pogrom refugee, not really Augie’s grandmother, but ruler of his childhood household nevertheless.

She was as wrinkled as an old paper bag, an autocrat, hard-shelled and jesuitical, a pouncy old hawk of a Bolshevik, her small ribboned feet immobile on the shoekit and stool Simon had made in the manual-training class, dingy old wool Winnie(her dog), whose bad smell filled the flat, on the cushion beside her.

Augie takes us on a series of often bizarre adventures, as he tries  on different lives inspired by people he comes across, on into post WW2 America; ultimately most are a wrong fit. He never does settle but in the end he celebrates the ride. Martin Amis, among many others, called this “The Great American Novel”. Worth checking out.

Cover of The LacunaBarbara Kingsolver is another great American writer and, apart from her wondrous ways with words, she has the gift of being able to narrate her own work with a warm, clear and expressively easy to listen to voice. She takes on different characters and different accents with aplomb. Hearing her read The Lacuna, probably the finest of her novels, is a real treat. I love this book and find her narration adds to its magic.

I listened to it as a pre-loaded digital audio book from CCL’s Playaway Collection that let me listen while moving about and “getting on with things”.

This story, coincidentally, covers the same time span as Saul Bellow’s novel. Very briefly, for readers who haven’t caught up with The Lacuna, the story’s protagonist is Harrison W Shepherd born, like Augie March, in the 1920s in the USA to a less than ideal family situation.

It takes us for a time to Mexico and into the lives of Frida Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera and of Lev and Natalia Trotsky who are hiding from Stalin and his Secret Police. Harrison in his early 20s becomes part of these two remarkable households as cook, secretarial assistant and friend. He is “uncurious about politics”. He cares about people and writing. He becomes inextricably involved. Consequently he is devastated by the eventual murder of Trotsky at the hand of a guest he himself invites into the guarded house, and by the confiscation of his own writings along with Trotsky’s.

Oh… I just had to delete a big paragraph outlining more of the plot! Hard to keep quiet when you fall in love with a character(s) and feel honoured by knowing them, their aspirations, trials, hopes and sorrows, the burden of events beyond their control. There’s a lot of good stuff in here about friendship, art, history, the Cold War –  its propaganda and witch hunts, the damage of Press inaccuracies and lies and the fragility of a man’s heart and of his reputation. It looks to be a tragedy and in many ways it certainly is but the ending is a not. It’s a very rich listen!   According to Muriel Rukeyser a US poet of the same era as our two stories said,

The universe is made up of stories not of atoms.

I reckon we’re never too old, too busy or too anything, to bend our ears to a gifted story teller.

At home in your track pants? Go eBook, eMag and eResource

When I get home from work even a crowbar wouldn’t get me back into the cold and the congestion. If you are poor like me, then your entertainment options at night are limited. Luckily the library provides a number of solutions for getting through those dark and cold nights.

Cover of Donna Hay Cover of L'Uomo Vogue

You can:

  • Cook a decadent recipe from Donna Hay’s cooking eMagazines then look at the latest fashion in Vogue and feel bad about yourself with Zinio for Libraries;
  • Learn photoshop with Lynda.com to hide the consequences of comfort eating;
  • Download an eBook romance from Askews and steam up windows already wet with condensation;
  • Learn to speak Scottish Gaelic with Mango just in case that Scottish laird with a broken heart and rough ways does ever find you;
  • Indulge in some aural escapism in the form of Music Online and escape your families pleas for attention;
  • Start figuring out where it all went wrong with downloadable self improvement eAudiobooks with OverDrive then laugh away with recordings of Dad’s Army and Blackadder;
  • Read all the latest eNewspapers online with PressDisplay to remind yourself it could all be a lot worse!

Libraries are open online 24/7 for your research and recreational needs. Check out our eResources. On some levels we never shut. Which is good because just how many variations on cooking shows on TV can one person stomach?

Even in my former life I was working class

51IM6lHhFLL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_When I was younger I had the privilege of living in London for a couple of years. Like most people on their OE, I visited all the historic sites I could get my hands on including Warwick Castle. Warwick Castle is a medieval castle that has undergone massive restoration to give the visitor a real feel for a thousand years of English history. Entering into the medieval kitchen I can remember being hit with a very strong sense of déjà vu. This medieval kitchen felt very familiar to me with the strong smells of the herbs, rushes on the floor and seething cauldrons, open fires and hanging livestock. I didn’t have the same sensation when I went upstairs into the Lord and Lady’s living area! It would appear I have been scrambling for a living for longer than what I can even remember which is rather depressing. It may though explain my interest in history.

One of the best books that I have read in a long time has been Ian Mortimer’s The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England. It reads like a Lonely Planet Travel Guide except the place you are visiting isn’t on any current map instead it is a time. It will tell you about who you will meet in Medieval England, what they will wear and where you can stay and expect to eat. For a start, green vegetables are considered poisonous and potatoes have yet to be discovered. If you are staying overnight anywhere it is also considered good manners to hand over your sword until you leave. I already have a hold on Ian Mortimer’s The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England.

Winners of the Summertime Sounds Competition

Summertime Sounds Teen Music CompetitionOver the Summer we ran our Summertime Sounds competitions which challenged teens to create a theme song or a playlist for their favourite young adult book.  We had some amazing entries for both of the competitions and the judges were blown away by the creativity of all the teens who entered.  It was a tough task choosing the winners because we could tell how much effort went into each entry.  The winners each receive a $50 Westfield voucher.

Drumroll please…The winners are:

  • Original theme song 15-18 years – Matthew P with Divergent inspired by Divergent
  • Original theme song 11-14 years – Izzy C and Sarah H with More Than This inspired by The Giver
  • Playlist 15-18 years – Grace C playlist for Princess Academy
  • Playlist 11-14 years – Sara D playlist for Clockwork Angel

You can listen to all of the song entries on our playlist.

Matthew describes his theme song for Divergent:

My theme music is for Divergent by Veronica Roth. It is scored for symphonic orchestra and has a sinister and mysterious feel to match the dystopian setting of post-apocalyptic Chicago, but has happy, joyous parts to portray the romantic subplot of the relationship between Triss and Four despite the society they live in. The structure loosely matches the plot- The mysterious opening as the protagonist explores her identity and doesn’t know which faction to choose. The driving triplet rhythm in the strings signifies her choosing the Defiant faction. The piece builds up in intensity to match the exciting moments in the plot, with quiet parts when the action and conflict aren’t present. It builds to a thrilling climax like the novel and abruptly fades away, sounding unfinished, portraying the end of the novel as they board the train, setting it up for the next book in the series. The main theme represents the character if Triss and the variations of this theme explored throughout the piece represent her experiences throughout the novel.

Izzy and Sarah describe their theme song for The Giver:

Our song is about the character of Jonas and the development of his views and opinions about the world he lives in. At the beginning of the song Jonas suspects there may be more to his sheltered life, and he feels he is different from others. As the song progresses, Jonas becomes more suspicious, as he gains more knowledge about the community. By the end, he has seen colour, memories of the past, and he has experienced pain, all of which have strongly influenced his view on the way the community functions. Jonas now knows for certain that there is ‘More Than This’

We have tried to give double meanings to some of the lyrics in the song. For instance ‘We’re black and white’ shows how they are literally living in a world without colour, but also shows how the people in the community are always open and honest, without any ‘grey areas’.

For some of the lyrics in the song, we have been inspired by particular quotes in the novel, Such as the lyric, ‘But when you lose something, there’s always something to gain’ was inspired by ‘We gained control of many things. But we had to let go of others.’. We have slightly flipped the meaning of the lyric, making it more positive. This shows Jonas’s hope for the future, that even though he let go of his life in the community, he gained freedom and true emotion.

Thanks to everyone who entered our Summertime Sounds competitions and congratulations to the winners. Find out more this and our other competitions for teens on The Pulse.

Advice on your eBook device

db-OverDrive-CKEY685249So it is nearly Christmas, which according to retailers actually started in October. In anticipation of rampant present buying I am getting in early with some “advice on your device”!

My advice is to do a bit of research if you want to use our three free eBook services! What? That’s right your library has three amazing eBook platforms which are spellbindingly good. They include:

  • OverDrive (20,000 eBooks and downloadable eAudiobooks),
  • Askews (British eBook content)
  • and Wheelers (NZ eBook content).

Our eBook platforms will pretty much work with any device – except Kindle eReaders which are designed by Amazon to work only with Amazons eBooks i.e. stuff you will have to pay for.

In the United States they are working on getting these two to talk but chances are this will not translate into changes in New Zealand any time soon. There is also the Kindle Fire tablet which does work with OverDrive – but if you want to keep it simple there are a multitude of tablets, eReaders and other portable devices that work just fine – buy those my peeps and avoid disappointment!

To help out we provide a list of approved devices from us and OverDrive.

Happy shopping.

Freegal Friday – animal noises

In honour of the A&P show this week we decided to give you livestock-themed titles to browse. I honestly thought that I’d be pushing my luck to be able to pull together such a selection but I was pleasantly surprised by some of these and will be downloading The Monas and Killed By The Bull tracks. YMMV of course, but that’s the beauty of having such a huge pool of music to choose from – something for everyone.

Tres Cabrones by the Melvins Chicken Run movie soundtrack Black Sheep by Julian Cope Manic Sheep Killed by the Bull Genuine Bull by Bintangs Animal by The Monas Mechanical Bull by The Kings of Leon Gift Horse by Mark Minelli

Keep Learning: Mental Health Awareness Week

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. The focus for this year is Keep Learning, and what better place than the library for inspiration!

Evidence shows continuing to learn throughout life can help improve and maintain our mental wellbeing. Learning can boost self-confidence and self-esteem, help build a sense of purpose and connect us with others. Studies have shown that ongoing learning can be linked with greater satisfaction and optimism and improved ability to get the most from life.

Learning isn’t about going to University and aiming for that Ph.D. in Neuroscience (although that is a worthy aim); it’s also about connecting with other people, having fun and achieving something… anything!

Cover of Everyone Can Learn to Ride a BicycleIt doesn’t need to cost money and may not take up much time depending on your circumstances, but it is a way to reach out and learn at the same time. This earlier post from our blog has some great ideas for lifelong learning.

Our CINCH database is also a good place to start. Every type of skill or hobby imaginable is listed and I am always amazed at just how many people out there are willing to share their knowledge and passions with others.

However perhaps you or someone you know is at a really low point. I have always found reading a good way to find solace and help – to read that others are struggling with similar things is comforting, and learning new ways and ideas to help has at times been a lifesaver. If reading feels too hard then our audio material may be worth a try. Listening takes far less concentration and there is the added bonus of a friendly voice.

Our website has links to various organisations that work in the area of mental health that can offer support when needed, and here are some new titles on mental health that have just arrived on our shelves.

Cover of The Mood Repair Toolkit Cover of Change Your Life With CBT Cover of Overcoming Shock Cover of The Noonday Demon Cover of When Depression Hurts Your Relationship

The spawn of OverDrive!

OverDrive our popular eBook and downloadable eAudiobook platform has reproduced! No longer do kids and teens have to trawl through bodice rippers and murder mysteries, instead they can go straight to a collection aimed purely at their level and interests. Each has their own attributes:

OverDrive for kidsOverDrive for Kids: Lots of princesses, ponies and pinkness, snot, trucks, and noise.

OverDrive for TeensOverDrive for Teens: The highs and lows of body image, relationships and the occasional supernatural romantic conflict, adventure, death, and grunting.

The wonderful thing about eBooks and eAudiobooks for kids and teens is that there are no fines. Digital files are unchewable and are impossible to lose under the couch or under the landfill that makes up a teenager’s bedroom. They are also somewhat more interactive than print so keep kids and teens reading while maintaining a semblance of “street” credibility.

Have a look today and see what you think. You can get back to the main OverDrive collection by hitting the Home button to the top left of the screen.

Boys, books and black eyes!

Cover of I hate to readLittle boys are different to little girls. Nowhere was this made more obvious to me than when I visited my two and a half year old nephew Oscar, who had a shiny black eye. Apparently he threw himself off the couch before his Mum could catch him and clobbered the side of a coffee table. It didn’t seem to worry him any, but he didn’t see the stares we were getting from strangers!

Now you can put it all down to biology or social conditioning but little boys seem to have no idea that gravity does actually apply to them. They take sitting still as a sign of defeat! Now it would be wrong to generalise. I personally bit the head off my sisters Barbie and had a farm set. My parents thought I would be a vet or a serial killer. So not all girls like pink and not all boys are trouble. Regardless of where they fall on the spectrum we all want them reading. So how do we get  boys to read?  Here are a few ideas if you think reading in a more interactive way would help…..

  • TumbleBook Library: Online books that are animated, can be narrated by the author or read aloud. Aimed at the under 12 year olds.
  • TumbleBook Cloud: Online books that include graphic novels and audio books. Aimed at those between 12-17!
  • OverDrive: Downloadable eBooks and audiobooks aimed at toddlers up. From picture books to gruesome adventures all at the touch of a button.

The other lesser known joy in using these products is that they are impossible to chew and will give you no overdue fines! Have a play and see if it works!

Waxing lyrical about Poetry and Short Story Reference Center

Poetry and Short Story reference centreIf your knowledge of poetry amounts to dirty limericks written on toilet walls and you are still in recovery from the behemoth book that was The Luminaries then we have the electronic resource for you! Poetry and Short Story Reference Centre contains thousands of classic and contemporary poems, as well as short stories, biographies and authoritative essays on such topics as poetic forms, movements, and techniques.

It practically comes with a guarantee that once you start using it you will come over all wordy and enigmatic like Byron! Don’t know who Byron is? To the square for a public flogging I say.

 Poetry & Short Story Reference Centre provides:

  • Over 700,000 full-text poems, both classic, contemporary and international;
  • More than 51,000 full-text short stories;
  • Over 10,000 dramatic works;
  • More than 2,300 audio recordings of poets reading their own works and the works of other poets;
  • High-quality videos provided by the Academy of American Poets;
  • Over 450 explications of both classic and contemporary poems.

Expand your mind for pleasure or education with this resource that is available from home or in any community library. All you need is your library card number and password/PIN.