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Audio Book Magic

19 Sep

Unwelcome Change

I grew up with paper books, flipping pages and reading words. The thought of having someone read TO me has been distasteful for a long time. What if I wanted to go back and re-read a particular section? What if I wanted to skim through some boring bits to get to the good stuff? What would I DO while listening? I imagined myself sitting on the couch, hands held awkwardly as I tried to figure out what the hell to do with them.

I love the ACT of reading. I don’t view an audiobook as a shortcut – a great way to avoid having to squint at words and flip pages. Instead, it seems a hindrance to the way I typically enjoy a book. Some OTHER person injecting themselves into my reading time and inflecting the story with THEIR interpretation just feels … awkward. An uninvited guest at a dinner table, so to speak.

However, I don’t have as much time for reading these days as I used to. Ah, the golden days of high school, when responsibilities were pretty much insignificant and days stretched before me without things like work and bills and cooking and cleaning to gobble up my free time.

Audio Books of Yore

Friends told me how much they loved audio books. How they allowed for books to be consumed while doing other tasks (such as commuting or cleaning or cooking or even working in a quiet enough environment).

I tried a few only to immediately dislike swapping tapes or cds every hour or so. The cds would be scratched or the tapes not rewound.

I discarded the notion and simply savored my reading time where I could steal it.

Recently, though, I tried again and found that swapping cds was a small price to pay for an audiobook’s company on a long car drive.

Audio Books of Now

Then a librarian showed me their new mp3 player audio books – just plug in your own earbuds and the tiny device could be plunked down in your pocket for the duration. No cds, no tapes, no extra equipment required.

With their help, I finally read Hunger Games.

Five hours in, I finally abandoned my distrust of audio books.

Now, halfway through Poison Study on my little ipod shuffle (thank you, Audible.com!) I feel compelled to evangelize.

Audio books will never, ever replace the feel of READING. My eyes ache to seek the words the narrator is speaking, and I’m not sure I’ll ever quite get over the feeling that something is MISSING as I have a book read to me.

On the other hand, I’m READING again. Maybe not “reading” – but I am consuming stories. I am enfolded into the world of books without having to desperately carve out a few uninterrupted hours to devour a book.

There’s a magic in that. I love books, and being so far from them for so long has weighed on me.

Give Them A Chance

If you’ve discounted audio books as I did, but miss READING, please give them another chance. Libraries are free, and I know the mp3 audio book format is growing in popularity.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve left my heroine in a tree with pursuers below her. I think I can see her safe to the ground by the time I’m done shopping for groceries.

 

 

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Dog-eared Old Friends

11 Sep

I’d say most of us here love books. Probably have one or two (or three or four) bookshelves lined with adventures and stories and knowledge cultivated through the years.

What books have stayed with you? Which ones did you love as a child? Which ones kept you smiling through high school, and which ones do you STILL get a little nostalgic when you see the title standing there in your bookshelves, waiting patiently for you to read it again?

I’d like to restrict the list to titles you found before high school, if possible.

Tami’s List

Beauty, by Robin McKinley. A retelling of Beauty and the Beast, this was the book that made me fall in love with writing. [ Amazon Link ]

Lad, a Dog by Albert Payson Terhune. This is the story of Lad, a standard collie, and the trials and tribulations that took he and his family through wars, dog shows, thieves, and puppies. [ Amazon Link ]

Beautiful Joe by Marshall Saunders. Based on a true story of a dog cruelly mutilated as a puppy and raised by a family that loves him, this was the first book on animal cruelty that I truly understood. [ Amazon Link ]

Watership Down by Richard Adams. This one came later in my list than the others, but follows a group of rabbits as they try to rebuild their warren in the face of humanity, but also more dangerous rabbits. This is still my favorite book ever. [ Amazon Link ]

On the Borders Closings

22 Jul

Last week, Borders’ last-ditch efforts to remain open fell through, and on Thursday, the bankruptcy judge overseeing the case approved the Borders Group’s plan to liquidate.  Which means, sadly, that the majority of the 399 remaining stores will close, and close to 11,000 bookstore employees will lose their jobs.  A handful of stores might get picked up by Books-a-Million, but Borders as we knew it will be gone by September.

I’ve stated before:  any loss of a bookstore is tragic.  While I haven’t seen people jumping with glee about the Borders news, anyone who does is an asshat.  Analyzing what went wrong is fine — I’m guessing the rise and fall of Borders will be a college course someday.  But if you meet anyone who thinks it’s awesome that they’re gone, find a heavy book and hit them with it for me.

With the liquidation sales beginning, I find myself torn when talking about it with others.  I can understand the desire to go to a closing store and show some support while (bonus!) getting books for cheap.  I also wonder if that might not be money better spent at a new venue.  At the next-closest local bookstore, or in some other locally owned and operated establishment — a bakery or a print shop or a store filled with knick-knacks.  If we don’t support them now, they might not stick around.

If you’re losing your local Borders, my condolences to you.  Every store is its own unique community, and what you found there might not be easily replicated at the bookstore the next town over.  Still, I urge you to keep your sales flowing into bricks-and-mortar stores.  If you’re not sure what’s nearby, the search function at IndieBound is excellent.  Should the next-closest store be impossibly far away, a gentle reminder that most indies support online ordering these days.  Sure, you can’t put toothpaste and a Three-Wolf Moon tee shirt on the same order, but you’re supporting a small business.

And, if the loss of Borders is driving you to make the switch from dead-tree books to e-books, remember that you can purchase Google ebooks through your friendly indie bookstore, too, and download them onto any device except the Kindle.  I’m happy to point you at bookstores who sell Google ebooks, if you’re curious.

Do you have a Borders near you?  How does the closing affect you and your future book-buying?

The Games We Play

18 Jul

Qwirkle

Recently, a very good friend introduced me to the game of Qwirkle, and I’ve used it no less than three times when hanging out with family and friends to get us doing something OTHER than fidgeting at each other or (lawd help us) watching tv.

Qwirkle is like a cross between dominoes and scrabble. You choose six tiles per hand, and play the tiles for the largest score by matching either color or shape with the existing tiles on the board.

It’s fun, easy to learn, and luck-based enough that really skilled players only have a strong advantage if they want to play a super-defensive (see also, “Ugly”) game.

This is our new go-to game for hanging out.

Killer Bunnies

Killer Bunnies is a card game that involves a lot of reading, so it’s less appropriate for casual gaming with all ages than Qwirkle is.

It’s worth the time spent reading the cards and interpreting the rules, though. The game itself is a series of strategic plays to keep your own bunnies alive while simultaneously killing the bunnies of your opponents using weaponry ranging from a whisk, green jello with evil pineapple chunks, and thermo-nuclear warheads. Somewhere in the chaos, players snatch up carrots as quickly as they can.

The winner isn’t the player with the most carrots, though. The winner is the player with the WINNING carrot, and there’s no way to know which carrot that is until after the game is over.

Quirky, fun, and hilarious, this game takes more time to set up and teach to friends, but it is hours and hours of gleeful, cackling mahem once it’s begun.

(We nix the food and water cards when we play as part of our House Rules. Everyone seems to enjoy the game better if we pretend they don’t exist)

The “If” Book

When we’re looking for more conversation than gaming, we turn to The If Book.

The book is nothing more than pages and pages of questions that all begin with the word “If … ?”

If you could have a one hour dinner with any person now dead, famous or otherwise, who would it be and what would you talk about?

If you could shapeshift into any animal, what animal would you choose?

If you were on death row and could have only one more meal before you died, what would it be?

We take turns passing the book around, opening it to a random page, dropping our finger, and reading aloud the question it lands upon. Everyone answers, and we learn a lot more about both ourselves and the other people we’re playing with.

This is a quieter, more contemplative kind of game, but it reaps its own rewards.

Your Favorite Games

What about you? What are  your favorite, go-to games for spending time with friends and family?

What do you play that’s easy to learn? What do you play that’s worth the effort of learning the rules? What do you play when you just want to relax and be non-competitive?

I’d LOVE to hear from you!

Hounded, Hexed and Hammered

17 Jul

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Druids kick ass; or at least, they do in the Iron Druid chronicles by Kevin Hearne. Atticus O’Sullivan is our intrepid hero, a 2100 year old Druid living in modern Arizona. He fights Faeries, ancient Gods, and the occasional Demon, bringing up the question of whether or not Angels have assholes.

“If Basasael ate my dumb Druid ass, would the Morrigan be able to bring me back fully functional, resurrected from – what? Angel poop? That raised another question, at once metaphysical and profane: Do angels, fallen or otherwise, have assholes?”
-Hexed by Kevin Hearne

Atticus is occasionally assisted by his Irish Wolfhound Oberon (he loves sausage). Ever wondered what dogs think about? Atticus can communicate telepathically with his dog, who sometimes thinks about being Genghis Khan and having his own harem of standard poodle ladies. The dialogue between the two is both adorable and funny, and they like to go hunting together, especially when Atticus uses his druid powers to turn into a hound.

Atticus runs a new age style bookstore by day, and plays the part of a dumb 20-something kid when he’s not out slaying paranormal baddies. He has lawyers to help him out of legal trouble; they just happen to be werewolves and a vampire. Lawyers really can be bloodsucking. Of course, Oberon doesn’t approve of the citrus scented air freshener in Hal Hauk’s car. What self respecting werewolf lawyer doesn’t have a sausage scented air freshener?

For fans of Urban Fantasy, this is a series you don’t want to miss. Hearne keeps up fast paced action, and has a brilliant sense of humor. I blame him for the odd looks I’ve received for laughing out loud on public transportation. Hounded, Hexed, and Hammered are currently available, and the fourth book in the series, Tricked, is scheduled for an April 2012 release date. I won’t be waiting to pick it up!

Summer Reads

8 Jul

Looking for a few good books to read this summer? Here’s some damn good books I’ve read this year:

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemisin
I read through this in about two days. Not because it was short, mind you, but because it had an incredible narrative style and a plot that grabbed me by the shoulders and didn’t let me go. Amazing book for a first-time author, don’t pass it up!

Looking For Alaska by John Green
This is a YA book, but could easily belong on any adult’s shelf. John Green has a brilliant grasp on what teenagers are like (from what I can remember of my teenage years, back in the stone age). The story was beautiful, and (warning) it made me cry. If you like Looking for Alaska, do read Paper Towns, also by John Green.

Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick
Is there honor among thieves? Hulick crafts a fascinating world of thieves guilds, swordsmanship, and magic. As someone who practices martial arts and weapons combat, I loved the fight scenes, really well done.

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
Bacigalupi explores what can happen when bio-technology forces humanity both towards extinction and further evolution. This novel had some amazing concepts in it, and is a brilliant debut novel in exploratory sci-fi.

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
Moist von Lipwig is by far my favorite character in discworld. Pratchett frequently makes me laugh out loud, and this book was no exception. Moist is a clever and warm-hearted crook, and if you like Going Postal, go check out Making Money!

Storm Front by Jim Butcher
As I mentioned in a previous post, the Dresden Files is one of the best series I’ve been introduced to this year. My life would be so much duller now without Harry Dresden in it.

Feed by Mira Grant
I honestly felt frustrated with this book for quite awhile (yeah I get it that Georgia has retinal KA, SHEESH), but it turned out to be one of the best books I’ve read all year. Click the link above to get all the goodness on this book from Falconesse.

What are the best things you’ve read so far this year? I have a stack of to-read books nearly as tall as me, and I’m always happy to add more!

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

2 Jun

No post this week about healthcare; one more of those to go, though, before I stand up and have a political soapbox moment about it. I bet you’re looking forward to that.

In the meanwhile, I’m existing for a week in the wilds of Northern Wisconsin while my husband and his family fish, and I do not, because I do not fish. This means considerably less internet access–I can only log on here in the resort’s lodge, which gets old after a bit. Naturally, this has its up side and its down side; the down side being that I am unable to do large swaths of what I normally consider my recreational activities as well as considerable chunks of the studying I desperately need to do for my A+ certifications.

The up side is that, without the internet addiction to feed 24/7, I’m free to delve back into the addiction of my younger days: reading. It is with great joy each year that I wander into the library in search of the delicious fruit that I shall savor on my week of seclusion. Last year, I devoured the entire unabridged Count of Monte Cristo with a day to spare. It was wonderful.

So what am I reading this year, apart from my giant textbook? Well, I’ve traveled from 1800s France to the future, mostly. In the car up, I finally finished Sourcery by Terry Pratchett, a book that I started a year and a half ago and lost under the bed when I was halfway through. I felt it was important to finally bloody well finish it before I started on my new projects, and it gave a nice, pleasant sort of fantasy start to what is not at all a pleasant fantasy menu.

The trip’s reading begins properly with Feed by Mira Grant. This is a book about which falconesse has drooled and moaned a good bit, and I thought it prudent to follow her wise zombie literature advice. Now that I’ve finished it, I can safely confirm that her enthusiasm was well merited. This book, like the shambling zombie who appears in the first few pages, did not grab me properly until it had spent three quarters of its girth lulling me into a false sense of security regarding its predictability. Once it had me by the sweater, though, it did not let go, and I was unable to get free, until, sobbing and mindless, I finished the last page. That includes the teaser first chapter of the second book, which the bookstore in town blessedly had in stock since it came out THIS WEEK, and I am currently about four chapters in. EEEE.

After that, I moved on to The Stars My Destination by Alfred Besker. This one is a book (say it with me) that I heard about on NPR. It was originally published in 1956, but remains relevant to this day as an inspiration to active sci-fi writers. In a nice throwback to last year, it steals much of the frame of the plot of Count of Monte Cristo, but with vast gulfs of difference. It took me a long time to get into this book, perhaps partly because I did read the Count last year. I adored Edmond Dantes for his sharp wit, his bright mind, his subtlety and guile. Gully Foyle, the protagonist of Stars, has none of these. What Dantes gets through charm and trickery, Foyle gets through brute force. I hated him and wondered at the praise for the book until the second to the last chapter. Those last pages made the whole thing worthwhile, and I understand now why Neil Gaiman wrote so adoringly of it in the introduction. Read it, for the love of all things scifi, read it.

Finally, I’ve got a book of short stories, primarily by H.P. Lovecraft. I was inspired to this length when, after years of encountering reference after reference to the old god mythos, I finally consumed a story that actually made it disturbing and frightening: Ruby Quest. (If you’ve never enjoyed that story, I recommend it: you can find a flash version of it that someone put together here if you play with the allowed ratings–it’s gory at parts.) Anyway, I decided it was darn well time that I figured out what the heck was up with Lovecraft proper, so I’m going to flip through those stories and see if I can sleep at night afterward.

And if I still have time after that? Well, I never did actually read the chapter on printers, so it’s probably time I did so.