Engaging Methuen Readers

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How I Learned to Love the Classics

Audiobook, Tablet, Touch Screen, ReadOur paperback edition of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath is 436 pages of tiny print.  It’s on a regional school’s summer reading list and I am under no obligation to read it myself.   Yet, I am “reading” it, or more accurately listening to it for pleasure.  I had picked up the book before and put it back down.  There was no way I would actually read this dense novel, even though it was a Pulitzer-prize winning classic and nominated as one of America’s Best-Loved Novels in PBS’s “Great American Read“.  Then I had an idea.  I have gotten used to listening to audiobooks in my car during my commute to and from work, so why not just give “The Grapes of Wrath” a chance in audio format?

I am now on the 13th of 17 cd’s in the audio edition narrated by actor Dylan Baker – and I am enjoying it immensely!  Baker’s narration hits all the right notes: an authentic country vernacular spoken with dignity and lyrical cadence, using unique voices for different characters. Baker’s outstanding performance really gives meaning to Steinbeck’s words and thoughts.  To be honest, I think that if I had picked up the book and read it, I probably would have skimmed or skipped the more pastoral or sermonizing parts of the narrative which alternate with the Joad family’s desperate trek to California.  That would have been a shame, because I would have missed out on much of the haunting history of the uprooted farmers in their great migration West during the Dust Bowl years of the 1930’s.  Baker deftly handles these potentially preachy passages in a manner that both augments and blends into the Joads’ plight.

In truth, I may not have the same attention-span that I used to have.  Unfortunately,  I often can’t sit down and read for long periods of time without getting restless… or chomping on the bit for more plot right away!  Yet the audio book format prevents me from skipping ahead.  I stay with it for the whole ride, figuratively and literally, when I listen to an audiobook in the car.  Plus, I enjoy my commute more.  What used to be a boring ride has become a wonderful school for the classics.





To The Audiobooks I’ve Heard On My Ride To Work

Image result for libby overdrive logo

Time spent behind the wheel of my car is time not spent engaged in productive activity, such as learning to play the flute or weeding geraniums. Whether I would become a musician or gardener with the time I now spend driving every day is an open question. However, there is still an opportunity to become, if not well-read, then at least familiar with a broad range of literature. This is especially true when the drudgery of the automobile is paired with Libby, the free library audiobook app.

Libby is an access portal for OverDrive, which is probably the most popular e-book and e-audiobook lending platform currently in existence. OverDrive hit the market early and hit it hard, rolling with every technological upgrade and innovation and shift. Within five years, CD audiobooks gave way to MP3s downloaded through OverDrive’s media app and loaded onto iPods, which in turn gave way to downloaded and then streaming audiobooks that never left the efficient angular nest of the smartphone. And it was all free.

I lean heavily on Libby for my audiobook joy. One of the things I most appreciate about it is that my demands are usually not met. If I had my way, I’d read nothing but bizarro apocalypse science fiction, in the same way that if I had my way I’d eat nothing but sushi and chocolate covered potato chips. Research conducted by me indicates that a diet of extreme, gore-oriented science fiction is about as good for your mind and social skills as a diet of carbohydrates and raw fish is good for your physical longevity. Literary fiction uplifts and transforms. It fosters empathy, cognitive skills, conversational awareness. That’s why it’s good, for my sake, that OverDrive is a veritable desert of screamingly weird garbage. When a book is available – and that is an event worth jumping for – it is normally an example of either Literature or Education. Currently, I am listening to Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth, a collection of short stories that wrestles with identity and place and is definitely Literature. My last audiobook, A Thousand Naked Strangers by Kevin Hazzard, was Education, albeit satisfyingly gory and strange. The combination has populated my dreams with pregnant ambulances agonizing about their relationships with their fathers, so I assume that whatever is supposed to be making me a better person is working.

I hear these books out as I plow microscopic furrows in the asphalt to and from my place of employment, usually listening at double or triple speed. That’s how I know I was born into the right era: I can listen to an audiobook at thrice the speed of speech. (Or half, if I’m working my way though a children’s book in Spanish.) Without the magic of audiobooks, my available reading opportunities would be consumed and expelled with my car’s exhaust every day.

In a world where I could ride the train to work, I could be more productive. I could pair my audio commute with my latest crochet project, for example, rapidly reducing my holiday gift and personal reading lists simultaneously. But I don’t live in a world where eco-friendly travel infrastructure is considered a priority, alas. I live in a world where I sit rigidly in a confined space, watching an hour-long movie about all the ways that other cars can barely miss my front fender. And in that world, audiobooks are more than entertainment. They’re a heartbeat in a sensory deprivation chamber. They’re the lone bulb in my mental safe room.

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June is Audiobook Month

June is Audiobook Month, and for good reason.  Kids are getting out of school, and parents are planning family outings and trips to beloved summer destinations. College graduates are thinking of a last fling cross-country road trip before buckling down to internships and serious jobs. Commuters are gearing up for longer, slower driving on the roads, for you can be sure that once the temperature climbs higher, traffic thickens.

For all these reasons, it is glorious to have audio books, whether it be on CDs, Playaways, MP3s, or e-audio, to take you away to another world while you roll or inch your way through our nation’s roadways.

We have several avid audiobook listeners on staff, so I asked my colleagues to share some of their favorite titles and narrators:

Miss Shirley (Children’s Services):  “As a lover of audiobooks, I find the narrator chosen can have an enormous impact on my enjoyment of the story.  Jim Dale, who verbally creates the Harry Potter characters in the J K Rowling series, stands at the top of my list.  I feel as if I can “see” the scenes he creates with my ears!”

Sarah (Readers’ Services):  “I was a big fan of Roy Dotrice performing The Game of Thrones books (at least the first two – I haven’t gotten farther than that yet).  He did a wonderful job with all the many different character’s voices.  Also, Lin-Manuel Miranda is amazing on the audiobook for Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.  And that was way before my Hamilton obsession began!”

Tatjana (Reference): “I love listening to the narrator Simon Vance because he has such a lovely, clear British accent (In Euphoria by Lily King, for one) but he can also take on many other distinct voices and accents as he did in the audio rendition of Kim, the classic by Rudyard Kipling.”

Kathleen (Reference): “David Sedaris is the best–especially Me Talk Pretty One Day.”

Sue (Children’s Services):  “I like when a book is told from the view point of several people and in an audio format there are different people voicing the characters.  The last book I listened to that was read this way is The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock. ”

Kirsten (Reference): “My favorite reader is Davina Porter.  She makes the Outlander series come alive by imbuing the characters with their own inflections in her Scottish accent.  I don’t know how she does it , keep all the characters straight and then she’ll even throw in an American accent to keep it real.  Love all her narrations and will even look for her specifically when browsing for audible books.  Can’t wait to start a new one soon, great for long vacation road trips!!”

Who’s YOUR  favorite narrator?  And what will YOU listen to this summer?