reading life

A Curious Side Effect; Or, Audiobook-Induced Accent Acquisition

William Oliver

I’ve taken up audiobooks again. I left off listening to them a while ago, and even canceled my subscription to Audible, because I was getting behind. Few things annoy me more than wasting my money on things I don’t use. But then, a lack of podcast backlist, a pair of great audiobooks on a long road trip, and a new hobby have sent me back into the digital shelves of my library looking for new books to cram into my ears. This time around I’ve noticed a curious effect. I listened to Faithful Place, by Tana French, and am currently listening to Himself, by Jess Kidd—both narrated by Irish voices. After listening to hours of their accents, I’m terribly afraid that I’m going to start pronouncing things with an Irish accent and calling people gobshites. I could swear that I’ve listened to readers with accents before, but I’ve never heard my inner monologue put on a brogue. Ah feck.

Any other audiobook fans have this happen to them? If so, how do you make it stop before you start sounding like an eejit?

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reading life

Booknip & Bookbane, Part II

Back in May 2016, I wrote a post that rounded up the things that instantly attract me to or repel me from books. It’s time for an update—this time with links to books I’ve liked and reviewed.

My new booknips:

Artist unknown

…and my new book banes:

  • Dystopias in which the population of women has dropped to the point where humanity’s future may be in doubt. The mere thought of this premise terrifies me.
  • Any book described as containing “Joycean inventiveness.
  • Science fiction or fantasy that is wildly inventive at the beginning but have boring endings.
  • Books full of misery, abuse, and horrible things that have no payoff, where the characters don’t grow or learn, and where there’s no justice.
  • Stories that attempt to blend genres without fully embracing them, i.e. historical fiction that has a tiny bit of unexplored fantasy elements for flavor or literary fiction that has science fiction for no apparent reason.
In praise of... · opinions · reading life

In Praise of…Footnotes

I can’t remember when I first read Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman*, but I can remember that one of the things that made me fall deeply in love with the book was the comedic use of footnotes. I didn’t know such a thing was possible. Before Good Omens, my only encounters with footnotes were brief glimpses of academic texts with tiny print at the bottom of the page that I treated as entirely optional**. Later on, I discovered the joys of the footnoter phone in Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series and in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. I even found a book written entirely in footnotes that I absolutely adored: Ibid, by Mark Dunn.

I know that it can get irritating to have to constantly move your eyes up and down the page and remember where you were. It’s even worse on an ereader***. You have to hold two lines of text in your head to make sense of them. And, of course, there are times when what’s in the footnote doesn’t really add anything and/or goes on so long that you completely lose track of what you were reading.

But in spite of all of this, I love footnotes. I have to work hard not to read them before the main text. So, what is it about footnotes that I enjoy so much? I think Good Omens and my realization that footnotes could be funny had a lot to do with it. I love the way that a well-chosen footnote can puncture pomposity or add a hilarious aside to the main text. My love of metafiction also plays a role. Unlike other readers, who like to sink into a book to escape**** or who just don’t like being reminded that we are staring at dead, pulped trees with ink scribbles all over them, I revel in books with layers that make me think about how a story is constructed and what the narrative is trying to achieve*****. I love getting more than one story between a given set of book covers.

Endnotes, however, and this is my considered opinion, just suck. Who can be bothered to flip to the end of the book to get that extra, juicy bit of text?

Readers, what are your thoughts about footnotes and endnotes? Do you like them in fiction? Should they only be used in nonfiction and then only judiciously?

This footnote, from Nicolas Berdyaev’s The Divine and the Human, may be the greatest academic footnote ever written.

* Or, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.
** Which means I didn’t read it.
*** Oh god, it’s awful. Get on this, publishers!
**** I do this sometimes, too, but not as much as I used to before I graduated with a degree in English literature. It is hard to turn off the analysis, even 10 years later.
***** Similar to my love of unreliable narrators.

reading life

A Story-Telling Fail

When I visited Phoenix over Christmas, there was only one thing my four-year-old niece wanted to do when we got in the car to go somewhere. She wanted to tell stories. Those of us in the back seat all had to take turns. A lot of what we came up featured a little princess named B—– or a little prince named J—— and were far from what the Grimms or Perrault would come up with. But I was under pressure and most of the stories I know are not appropriate for anyone under the age of, say, 18. Once I’d related the stories of how I adopted a couple of my pets, I was out.

Arthur George Walker

There are so many great story-telling traditions around the world. My people, centuries ago, were skalds. And everyone has fairy tales and folklore in there heritage. There used to be people capable of memorizing thousands of lines of text. (There still are, but there used to be a lot more than the few there are now.) If nothing else, Disney is so prevalent that we can all half-remember one of those tales. We, at least in the West, rely so much on books that it’s too easy for little stories to slip through the grey matter unless you study to be a professional spinner of tales.

Even though I’ve never trained as I story-teller and I don’t usually spend time around kids any younger than college freshmen, I could’ve kicked myself because I couldn’t come up with something I remembered from my own childhood. But then, the only stories I can really remember my parents telling me were chapter books for older children. I can’t remember any further back. Any fairy tales I’ve read since I became an adult are definitely not child-friendly. I suspect that I am so bothered by this failure is because I a) value stories so highly personally and b) really hate the feeling of blanking when someone asks me for something I know that I know. It’s like those awful moments when someone asks for a good book to read and I forget every book I’ve ever read.

All I can really do is arm myself with little stories the next time I visit Princess B—– so that I don’t embarrass myself again. I need something pocket size that I can pull out when she orders that we all take turns telling stories in the back seat.

reading life

A Reader Resolves!

Last year, I decided to skip reading resolutions. The year before, I was going through chemotherapy and had enough on my plate without adding a self-imposed book challenge. But now, at the beginning of 2019, I feel like upping the stakes a little. So, this year, I resolve to:

Stewart Carmichael
  1. Read at least one work of non-fiction every month. This is partly a continuation of a streak of great nonfiction I’ve found in the last few months and also because I suddenly gotten very curious about history lately. I want to see where my curiosity takes me this year.
  2. Read at least six collections of short stories this year. I’ve given short shrift to short stories in the past. (Hee hee.) I seem to have an aversion to stories under a certain length. Either they’re so interesting and richly constructed that I want more or I find that they’re skimpy though experiments that are too unrealistic for me. That said, I don’t think I’ve given the format a fair shot since 99% of what I’ve ever read is novels. Also, I just finished reading a collection by Elizabeth McCracken that I loved and I want more.

Do any of you readers out there have bookish resolutions? I’d love to hear them!

opinions · reading life

Uncollected Thoughts on Eleven Years of the Kindle

It’s not a special anniversary, but LitHub recently posted in one of their daily news round ups that the kindle had launched in 2007. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. In my life, I don’t know that anything else has caused as much hysteria about reading and the state of readership as the kindle has, at least in my lifetime. 

Oszkár Glatz
  1. I wish people would stop giving readers crap for reading anything other than a printed book. I can understand the attractions of a print book, but I am bothered by the way print-only readers fetishize the codex. Perhaps it’s because being a librarian has desensitized me—I see far too many old, worn out, distinctly not rare books for that—but I have long felt that the content is more important than the container. (Unless, of course, we’re talking about beautifully bound books or books with a special provenance.) And, for pity’s sake, leave the audiobook readers alone. 
  2. Although the kindle has made it easier for me personally to get my hands on books that I can’t get from my local libraries or bookstores immediately, I really wish it was easier for libraries and library patrons to easily access ebooks. There are too many hurdles—so many that I steer students at my library away from them because it’s a pain in the ass.
  3. The kindle and other ereaders don’t make it easy enough (for me at least) to do deep reading of texts. I see so many students in literature classes squinting at their phones in an effort to find passages they needed to reference, even though their professor and I have told them that it’s better to use print for this kind of reading. 
  4. I don’t blame the convenience of the kindle for no. 3. We educators just need to make a better effort at teaching students how to do different kinds of reading. The kindle is great for reading for fun. For literary criticism and textual explication? Not so much.
  5. When it comes to my reading, I really like reading on a kindle. I read so much faster with an ebook than with a print book. I joked that I was wasting a lot of time turning the pages, but maybe those seconds really do add up. Not only that, but I really like being able to instantly look things up by touching the words. This more than anything has slightly ruined me for print books. I have to look things up the old-fashioned way when I read print books. ::dramatic sigh::
  6. I’m not sure if it’s the kindle or ebooks in general or something else, but I’ve noticed a lot more typos in books in the last couple of years. At least with a print book, I’d be able to have the satisfaction of writing in a correction.
  7. I worry that I won’t be able to access my kindle library if I take my iPad to anther country and I’m not eager to test this. If I ever do travel abroad, I plan to take a nice thick print book for back up. Perhaps being stranded in a foreign country without reading material might be enough to prompt me to finish War and Peace.

Is there anything that I’ve missed? I’d love to hear others’ thoughts about the kindle and ereading in general.

reading life

Tagging Myself In: 20 Bookish Questions

Since I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to teach myself Spanish (I blame Gaston Dorren), I’ve had less time to read and think of interesting things to post on Wednesdays. So, I’m stealing using Nose Stuck in a Book’s 20 Question Book Tag as the inspiration for this post.
A recent view of Mount TBR, including the last book I DNFed.
  1. How many books are too many books in a series?
    This depends entirely on the story and the writing. As long as the author is still finding new (plausible) territory and the story feels like it’s not wearing out or straining, then there’s still life in the series. As soon as the story feels tired or repetitive, it’s time for the author to move on.
  2. How do you feel about cliffhangers?
    Loathe them so much I wrote a post about it.
  3. Hardcopy or paperback?
    I don’t really have a preference, unless it’s a really big hardcover. If the book is heavy, I prefer ebook.
  4. Favorite Book?
    The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver; Lamb, by Christopher Moore; Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett; A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra
  5. Least Favorite Book?
    It’s a tie between The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Catcher in the Rye,  by J.D. Salinger. I’d throw in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce, but I never finished them.
  6. Love triangles, yes or no?
    Only if they all end up together. Which I don’t think ever happens. Love triangles just add unearned angst.
  7. The most recent book you just couldn’t finish?
    Behind the Scenes at the Museum, by Kate Atkinson – It just wasn’t interesting enough to hook me.
  8. A book you’re currently reading?
    European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, by Theodora Goss – Metafictional fun!
  9. Last book you recommended to someone?
    The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth, by Thomas Morris
  10. The oldest book you’ve read? (Publication date)
    The Epic of Gilgamesh c. 2100 BCE
  11. The newest book you’ve read? (Publication date)
    The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth – It comes out soon.
  12. Favorite author?
    Barbara Kingsolver, Neil Gaiman, Charles Dickens, Anthony Marra, Terry Pratchett, Margaret Atwood, N.K. Jemisin…so many others.
  13. Buying books or borrowing books?
    Both! I’m insatiable.
  14. A book you dislike that everyone else seems to love?
    The Catcher in the Rye – I just don’t see the appeal. Holden Caulfield is a pretentious little brat.
  15. Bookmarks or dog-ears?
    Dogears, but only in my own books. When I borrow books from other people or the library, I use a card from my Yellowstone National Park deck.
  16. A book you can always re-read?
    Good Omens – I’ve read it so many times and it still makes me laugh.
  17. Can you read while hearing music?
    Only scholarly reading, weirdly enough. When I’m reading for fun, I tend to stop noticing the music so I just don’t turn it on.
  18. One POV or multiple POVs?
    I’m good with either as long as they’re well written. I get annoyed at multiple POV books in which the characters all sound the same and/or the transitions are abrupt and make it hard to tell who is speaking.
  19. Do you read a book in one sitting or over multiple days?
    If it’s short, interesting, and I don’t have the go to work, I can read a book in one sitting. Otherwise, it takes a day or two.
  20. Who do you tag?
    If you like these questions, feel free to tag yourself in, too!