Tuesday, September 26, 2017

What Makes a Good AudioBook Experience? Discussion Post

The other day I downloaded a new audiobook from my library for my ride home. I hit "play" and some music started.  Then the voice came on to tell me the title, author, narrator, etc.  With the music still playing.  "Okay," I thought, "I guess they want to get the listener into a specific mood first."

The narrator started the story.

The music kept playing.

I still held out hopes that it would fade away, but although it did get quieter, two minutes into the story, there was still background music.

I returned the audiobook to my library and drove home alternating between NPR and alternative rock on the radio.  Now I'm set up to start listening to Secondhand Time, a nonfiction oral history about the end of the Soviet era.  I suspect there will be no cutesy background music.

I've had some great success with audiobooks since I started listening to them during my commute two years ago.  At first I piggybacked onto my husband's mostly unused Audible account, but at this point, our library has such a great set-up going through Overdrive that we don't need to pay to listen to books anymore.  Audio was a new format for me, but I've been at it long enough now to have some undeniable truths strong opinions figured out.

Obviously, do not play music in the background while you read me the story.  I'm in the car, dammit, I don't need any MORE distractions from the book.  It's just annoying and unhelpful and--No. Don't.  Stop.

While they hire voice actors to read, I occasionally get a reader who sounds an awful lot like a computer instead.  I noticed it a lot in a book I tried to listen to recently, in which the author seemed to avoid all contractions.  I wouldn't have noticed if I were reading it myself (probably), but with this stiff voice, all the "She did not" and "They are late" constructions started sounding weirder and weirder.  Get expressive readers, please.  Trevor Noah narrating his own book is the gold standard, but there are tons of other good readers out there.

I find 1.25 speed to be ideal.  Regular speed makes me want to claw my eyeballs out, because it takes    so     long     to get anywhere with the story.  However, any faster and it sounds like the Chipmunks are narrating, which is just as bad.  

Oddly, I find that audiobooks works best for fairly dense nonfiction and for super light fiction.  I think the nonfiction audio gives me more time to think and absorb information than my usual reading rate does, but a few times when I've tried listening to fiction, I've gotten lost and frustrated by not being able to flip back quickly to check a detail that would clarify things.  On the other hand, I recently listened to a YA rom/com and it was smooth sailing all the way.  

When I read a book, I like to read it all in one go, or as close to that as possible,  I like closure on my stories, and I want the cohesive narrative that comes from not pausing so long that I forget what happened.  (This is also why I prefer to start series after all the books are out.) But with an audiobook, I can handle longer breaks as well as a more drawn-out reading process. 

Listening while you drive creates a phenomenon in which I now associate certain points in my commute with certain events in my books.  This field is where I was when the shooting actually started in ColumbineThat exit is where I was when the asshole noble finally got his comeuppance in Pillars of the Earth.  

Unlike many others, I don't listen to audiobooks while doing chores.  My family is too likely to interrupt me, which is super frustrating because I have to get my phone on and hit "pause" so I can listen to them without losing the storyline, at which point they've gotten the hint and end up saying, "Oh, sorry, never mind."  There may be households in which this is not an issue.  Mine is not one of them.

I am not this adorably delighted to be interrupted when listening to my Sony Walkman.

However, as I mentioned, I listen while commuting, and that is a dream.  Mornings I never mind my drive, but by evening I'm tired, traffic is worse, and I just want to get home.  Radio in the afternoon makes me headachy and cranky.  But listening to a book is a treat, and works almost as well as teleportation to get me home without stress.

What about you?  Do you listen to audiobooks?  What are your preferences around them?  Tell us!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Flotsam and Jetsam

I had a bunch of small things to write about, so I decided to tie them all together into an unwieldy and confusing blog post.  You're welcome!

Here's my school ID picture for the year:

The photographer wasn't sure if it would be allowed, since my face is covered, so he took a regular one as well.  I have them both on my lanyard, but this one's in front.  I think I am SO DAMN FUNNY!

I wanted to celebrate banned books week in my classroom this year, so I started rounding up books from my classroom library that have made top-ten-most-challenged lists since 2000.  I wrapped each one up and labeled it with some of the reasons it was challenged, the on the flip side, wrote some descriptions that explain why the book is in my library all the same.  I ended up, purely by chance, with 25 books, which means we can unwrap one in each of my five classes all five days next week.

This, for example, is The Hunger Games.

 And this is George.  

I wrapped them all up before I quite had my plan fully thought out, and a week before the official Banned Book Week.  This has totally paid off, as kids have been asking me all week what the books are for, what Banned Book Week is, if they are going to be allowed to read those books, which books they are, etc.  There's gonna be some drama when we unwrap!


Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon is celebrating ten years this fall, and they've started a #30DaysOfReadathon hashtag to build excitement for it.

I am excited to know there's (now fewer than) only 30 days until the next one!

I told my husband I'd like to go to the beach for one, either by myself or with reader-friends, and he said, "If we're going to pay for a beach house, wouldn't it make more sense for me and the kids to go down and enjoy the beach and leave you at home to read in peace?"  He kind of has a point.


I just read three Mindy McGinnis books in three days.  She is INTENSE.  Lots of murder.  Lots of oh-hell-no-there-will-be-no-rape-today scenes.  I am always in awe of an author who can toss off a post-apocalyptic book, a historical fiction book, and a contemporary without ever missing a beat.  Can't wait to see what she does next.

I have booked my plane ticket and hotel room for NCTE in November.  Super excited to meet other passionate English teachers, fangirl over authors, and dip my toe into presenting to my peers.


Highlight of my week: I'm checking in with students as they do their reading.  "How's the book?" I ask a kid who is reading Matt de la Peña's The Living.  "It's good," he replies, with conviction.  There's a pause, then he adds, "I've never actually liked a book before."

That's my news for now!  Hope you are all doing well as we transition into fall.  

Monday, September 18, 2017

TTT: Hopes for Fall Reading

The delightful bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish host this weekly list challenge.  If you want to quadruple the size of your TBR AND find a bunch of great booAk blogs to follow head on over and check them out!

The topic this week is Top Ten Books On My Fall TBR List.

Here is what came to mind immediately--upcoming or fairly newish releases, starting, appropriately enough...

Release by Patrick Ness.  I was so bummed when the date I thought it would be out turned out to be the UK date.  Now it's actually coming out in the US, and I have more empathy for how the rest of the world feels waiting for US books to come out locally.

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera.  I totally impulse-bought this for myself the other night, and am debating letting a student read it first.  But what if they spoil it?  

One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake is also coming out--today?  tomorrow?  Very soon.  I am feeling SO SMUG about having not read book one until just recently, although the wait for book 3 will be tough.  

I'm excited to re-read Refugee by Alan Gratz with my students.

I really want to spend some time reading Passionate Readers, by one of my teacher-heroes, Pernille Ripp.

As soon as one of my students finishes Posted by John David Anderson, I'm hoping to get a chance at it.  My daughter's class is doing it as a read-aloud, and I'd like to be able to chat about it with her. 

I also want to read Laurn Wolk's Beyond the Bright Sea and Spencer Quinn's Woof, two books she's really liked lately.  I love that she is introducing me to some books.

Speaking of reading with my kid, we're looking forward to the fall release of the illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, although we won't actually read them until after she gets it from me for Christmas.

And a year after I chose it to read next, I STILL haven't cracked the covers on A Gentleman in Moscow, so I really hope I get to it this fall.  

Middle grade, fantasy, professional reading, literary fiction--I'm looking forward to an eclectic fall!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Best of Summer Reading 2017

It's 7:45 on a Saturday morning and I'm on my second cup of coffee.  (The first was decaf.)  I was so tired last night that I fell asleep on the couch around 9:00, and I'm not sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing that as a result, I was up by 6:30 today.

I feel like I should have some sort of big elaborate explanation for why I haven't been posted, but, well, I've been busy and lazy and just haven't.  But I miss it, so I'm going to try to get my crap together and do better.

That being said--I wanted to tell you about some of the best (and a little of the worst) things I read in my #BookADay summer.

Ratings are weird.  I rate books right after I finish reading them.  But as time passes, I often find myself thinking more about some books I gave 4 stars to than about some books I gave 5 stars to.  Or I'll look at my five star books, and for many think, "Oh yeah, that book was AWESOME!" but for some think, "Hm, what was that about again?"  So I'm going to start by listing the books I gave 5 stars to this summer, then go back and tell you which ones actually stand out to me as being the ones I love.

June 13: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie *****
June 28: The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz *****
July 1:  The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon *****
July 2:  The Crossover by Kwame Alexander  ***All The Stars***
July 5: Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin *****
July 8: A List of Cages by Robin Roe *****
July 12: A Greyhound, A Groundhog by Emily Jenkins *****
July 16: You Don't Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir by Sherman Alexie *****
July 17: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah ***All The Stars***
July 23: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz *****
July 24: Glow: Animals with Their Own Nightlights by W. H. Beck *****
July 28: Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty *****
August 12: A Conjuring of Light by V. E. Schwab *****
August 16: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake *****
August 26: Refugee by Alan Gratz *****
August 28: Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan *****

Of those, I'd say I really love The Crossover (which was a re-read), Most Dangerous, Born a Crime, Three Dark Crowns, Refugee, and Tales from Outer Suburbia. And I also have fond thoughts of books I initially rated lower than five stars: Burn, Baby Burn, House Arrest, Stranger in the Woods, Bayou, This Side of Home, and My Life in Dog Years. And, of course, my re-read of most of the Attolia series, including the new book.

Okay, so that's a whole lotta runners-up. I'm horrible at choosing just one of anything, but I'm going to narrow it down as much as I can for you.

BEST AUDIO BOOK OF THE SUMMER (and possibly of all time):
Trevor Noah reading his memoir, Born a Crime.

This memoir is, like, Mary Karr and Frank McCourt level. I knew the guy was smart, and funny, but this goes beyond either of those things. Fascinating, heart-breaking, galvanizing, this is no celebrity memoir. It's an examination of a very particular time and place (South Africa as apartheid stumbled to an end), a tribute to Noah's wildly courageous, fiercely independent, and deeply religious mother, and an insightful examination of what it means to be biracial and bicultural. PLUS it's hilarious.

Refugee by Alan Gratz

I was maybe two pages in when I knew I wanted to read this with my students this year. And the more I read, the happier I was with that decision. There's so much meat to it. There's the "No seriously, Nazis are always the bad guys" message. There's a beautiful moment when we come to understand how damaging "I'm just doing my job" can be--as well as understanding how impossible the situation may be in which one falls back on that line. There's the way he ties together 1930s Germany, 1990s Cuba, and contemporary Syria in a way that illuminates the way history repeats itself, and the lessons from the past we can apply to the present. There's also a shark attack. #SoMuchWin.

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Anna Dressed in Blood was just okay for me. It definitely didn't put Blake on my "authors to watch for" list by any means. But Nicole at Feed Your Fiction Addiction kept raving about this one. Still, I was lukewarm enough about it going in that I accidentally read The Crown Game instead, thinking THAT was the "crown book" she kept mentioning. And that one was, again, just okay, so I was all, "Um, Nicole? Really?" But I finally figured it out, and YAY! Fantasy is my first love, and when you create a fantasy world that is dangerous and beautiful and complicated (but not TOO politics-driven), you make me happy. Plus three great female protagonists, all of whom I'm rooting for, but all of whom are in life-or-death competition with each other? Way to keep me coming back for book two.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

#BookADay Summer Report #1

I did it.

I read (an average of) a book every day for 12 weeks.  I started a week and a half before school go out, and wrapped up over Labor Day weekend, a week and a half after I went back to work.  I resorted to plowing through three graphic novels and a book of poetry right at the end, but I DID IT.*

*I think so, anyway.  When putting this together I found a couple of duplicate titles, and I'm not sure if I double-counted them, or wrote the wrong title down.  

Here are some gorgeous stats.  Feast your eyes!

Clearly I read a majority of books for younger people, but I'm going to say that I'm still pretty sure that 15 adult books is more than the typical American reads in a year, let alone a summer.  So there.

Of the non-picture books, here's a formatting breakdown:

A hefty amount of graphic novels, a handful of other styles, and then a solid majority of, well, novels.  Yes, I read a lot of graphic novels in part to keep on top of the whole one-a-day thing, but as a result, I found some interesting series and stand-alones I wouldn't have tried otherwise.  I just wandered the YA Graphic Novels section of my library and pulled out anything that wasn't superheroes or manga.

The always fun look at genre is next!

The only surprises here are that I only read one "real" mystery, and that I actually read quite a bit of nonfiction.  Otherwise, yes, fantasy and realistic fiction are my long-time favorites, with historical fiction, memoir, and mystery being three of my other preferred genres.

Here's an embarrassing one:

That's under a quarter, isn't it?  I really need to put my money where my mouth is on this one.  I'll save us all some time and add that most of these white authors are American women.  Nothing like reading in one's own comfort zone.  Pfft.  

I had five re-reads: The Crossover, The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, and Resistance.  I read The Crossover with a teacher summer book club, and the others I read before reading on with the series.  Speaking of series, I finished the two I just mentioned, as well as the Half Bad series, the Savage Song duology, and Schwab's ADSOM trilogy.

Coming up soon in parts 2 and 3: a brief review of the best and worst of the bunch and a sage (humor me) reflection on the experience overall.

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Results are In! Movie Survey Findings

A while back, my daughter put together a survey using Google Docs, and you lovely people helped her out by responding to it.  She now has enough data to share with you.  Take it away, Daughter!

Thanks for taking my quiz.  Two movies are tied for most popular: The Princess Bride and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Almost half of the movies were based off of books.  I'm not really surprised.  The most popular movies are based off books.  You don't take your own quiz, but I would have chosen Deathly Hallows too.

The top three categories are romance, fantasy, and comedy.  The three with the least clicks are action, based on a true story, and Disney. Nobody chose horror and mystery.  

Thanks again for taking the quiz. Bye-bye! Go read Falconer's Library.