Listening to read

This blog post is from Louise, a library assistant at Morley library.

As Leeds Libraries moved across to Borrowbox for Ebooks and Audiobooks, I downloaded the app onto my iPhone to get a feel for it, to have a good look about it so that I could better understand how it works. The app took moments to appear on my home screen and after a short search for my library card, I was in. Have you used it yet? I’ve been really impressed with the service so far, it’s clear to look at, easy to use and it’s sparked a new direction for my reading.

Perhaps like me you’ve never listened to Audiobooks before? Been told they were just for old people or children? You might be surprised at how varied the genres are, from romance, to comedy, thriller, drama, plenty of non-fiction too, biography and languages. I planned to listen to at least one to see how it worked and was very pleased to find it was even better than I had expected.

Some audiobooks I’ve listened to recently:

Breakfast at TiffanysBreakfast At Tiffany’s- Truman Capote, read by Michael C Hall

I’ve see the film, and had the paperback on my shelf for as long as I can remember but for some reason I’ve never got around to reading it. At 2hrs 49 in duration it won’t take over your life but will certainly make an impact on your heart. Michael C Hall, you may know, is the actor who plays Dexter in the TV thriller of the same name. It turns out (and something that borrowers often tell us) that the reader is pretty crucial to whether you will click with an audiobook or not. For this reason the preview option listed next to every audiobook is fantastic, giving you a small sample so that should the reader do something annoying with his intonation, rolling his rrrrrrrrrr’s or similar, you can try another. No fear of not enjoying Michael’s rendering of this classic, I found out later that this edition was especially recorded by Audible for release on Valentine’s Day in 2014.
I had thought that listening would be less of an experience than reading, more of a passive than an active pursuit. But a good writer engages so fully with your senses that the language itself finds its way to you. You might see it as an extra layering or texture in the story. I am so glad to have read this, I hope you’ll try it too.

Alias GraceAlias Grace- Margaret Atwood , read by Sarah Gadon

Not long after reeling from the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale I am on a bit of a Margaret Atwood kick, and really enjoying discovering more of her writing. Alias Grace is a a slow burning work of historical fiction, based on, true events of the 1843 murders of Canadians Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery. Grace Marks a young, well-mannered serving maid was convicted of their murders along with James McDermott the Stable hand. In the fashionable society of the time Grace Marks became a thing of fascination, infamous for her title of Murderess.
“Murderess is a strong word to have attached to you. It has a smell to it, that word – musky and oppressive, like dead flowers in a vase. Sometimes at night I whisper it over to myself: Murderess, Murderess. It rustles, like a taffeta skirt across the floor.”
Although incarcerated, Grace is hired out as a domestic servant for the governor of the penitentiary and becomes a regular feature of the Governor’s wife’s circle, an object to be lamented and discussed. A committee of Methodist ladies and gentlemen, believing her innocent are working steadily to have her released. They hire a young Psychiatrist, Doctor Simon Jordan to interview Grace, to study her story and to try to find out what happened that fateful day. You know with Atwood that you are getting a feisty heroine who is more than she seems. Can’t recommend this enough to fans of Handmaids tale.

Harry Potter PhilosophersHarry Potter and the Philosophers Stone- JK Rowling, read by Stephen Fry

So I’m in that age group that neither grew up with these books, nor was caught up in the Potter hysteria when they were released. But I do have children who have read and loved these books time and time again. I thought it was high time I gave it a go. I had to wait a little while to listen to this as its perennially popular, but it was as easy as clicking reserve and waiting for an email to arrive. I can hand on heart say I would never have picked up a copy of this book, it’s enormous, and there are too many other great things always to be read but I SO enjoyed listening to it that I intend to listen to the whole series in time. Stephen Fry is just perfect as reader and it’s such a treat to curl up in a chair and listen to him. This would be fantastic to listen together with friends or family, a great story to share.

Carnegies MaidCarnegie’s Maid- Marie Benedict, read by Alana Kerr Collins

Another Historical fiction, that plots the life of a serving maid Clara Kelley to the Pittsburgh family home of industry tycoon and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. I was drawn to this as the library I work in was one of those opened as a beneficiary of funds from Carnegie. Clara Kelley is sent to America from her poverty stricken home in Ireland as her farming families’ last hope. After a dreadful voyage in the belly of a ship, during which many of her fellow passengers are wiped out with illness or weakness from starvation, in a moment of luck she is offered a position shortly after stepping onto the dock. I found the description of this time period fascinating, in the 1860’s industry was booming, Clara having left green land finds the new world is dark and soot laden. Besides proving a detailed account of the life of a servant at that time, the customs and rituals there is a great insight into the friction between the new money of the industrialists and America’s oldest families. Andrew Carnegie is a fascinating character, an immigrant himself, determined, self-taught, and hard working, a man who drew a line and began to give and make better where he could. This is a fictionalised account of what may have softened his character later in life and extremely enjoyable.

Little WomenLittle Women- Louisa May Alcott, BBC Radio 4, full cast dramatisation

I chose this a pick me up during some very rainy afternoons travelling between branches. As a dramatisation you get a cast rather than the one reader, and a variety of sound effects and music in places. This is a wonderful, warm listen, and will have you crying on the bus. Just over two hours long it’s easy to finish in one sitting if you choose, and the story is so full of energy and feeling from start to finish. Re reading an old favourite is so comforting, I quite fancy looking up the film again.

Some things I’ve learned from listening along:
1. Don’t let anyone tell you that listening is ‘not as good as’ reading or doesn’t count.
2. The reader is everything, listen to a sample and check you can listen with ease.
3. Try something that you would find challenging or wouldn’t usually read, you’ll be surprised how listening can make the concepts clearer.
4. Listening is perfect for all those times when you’d like to be reading but can’t, in the car, on a noisy bus, washing up, walking to and from work or school, doing the housework, late at night when your eyes are too tired to read. See it as fitting in more reading time in addition to your books.
5. With BorrowBox and a Leeds library card all this is free. I researched a well known providers audio service and found that for a fee I could have one audio book, (ONE!) a month. Enjoy the variety and try something new.

TattooistSome Audiobooks I’m waiting to read next are : The Tattooist of Auschwitz and Anna Karenina.

If you’re having any difficulty using this service from your device or need your pin number please contact your local library, we’d love to help you get started on all this great content.

Literary Challenges

Louise – Senior Librarian Manager – Local & Family History

Lou WutheringWhen I found the BBC list of 100 books you should read before you die I must admit to feeling quite smug.  Here I am a graduate with an English degree, 17 years’ experience of working in libraries and reading as a favourite pass time, surely I can score highly on this list.  However it was not to be, I was brought back down to earth with a score barely in the twenties, and while my English course had covered some of the lists authors, they were not the right books to allow me to tick them off the list.  And so began my literary challenge, my aim to complete at least two thirds of the list, why not the full thing? Because I know there are some on it I have no interest in reading and I fully believe that life is too short to read a book that doesn’t grip you.  I started with Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and found to my surprise it was not at all the story I thought it would be, thanks to overly romanticised TV adaptations and one Kate Bush song I really thought this was an epic romantic tale, instead I found a book full a characters I really couldn’t like, spoiled, abused, abusive and cruel these were lives to be endured not rooted for, but it did grip me, and so I look forward to continuing on and finding more from this list of classic and contemporary books to keep me invested.

lou AnimalSo far I’ve discovered that ‘Animal Farm’ is as relevant to today’s political landscape as the time it was written, that the minor characters of Dickens ‘Great Expectations’ are as fascinating as the main ones (I mean you Mr Wemmick), and that Roald Dahl is as enjoyable now as he was when I was young.  So far this challenge has allowed me to focus my reading, and I’ve read more in the last 6 months than in the year leading up to it adding another 12 to my running total. I’ve begun to read outside my comfort zone, enjoying books I never thought I’d been interested in.  The challenge has also reinvigorated my reading and I’m spending less time in front of the TV and internet and more time curled up with a book, it also sparked conversations with colleagues who I found out have a number of literary challenges of their own.

Antony – Deputy Manager – Local & Family History

My reading challenge – started ten-years ago, and still ongoing – is to read one book for each entry in the Dewey sequence (e.g. 172, 389, 505, etc). That’s a lot of books – and I’ve only managed around forty in that time. That’s OK, though, because the challenge was really only designed as a way to focus my reading when I had nothing specific in mind to pick-up next: confronted with the myriad of possible options presented in any public library, all equally valid and thus impossible to choose between, I needed a system that would help me work my way through that maze – and so the Dewey Sequence challenge was born. A secondary purpose: the challenge would oblige me to read books that I wouldn’t normally choose (so no ticking off as complete just because I knew I’d previously read a book for that sequence number).

What have been the most and least interesting books? Well, I don’t really want to single anything out as being dull, because I firmly believe that no amount of learning about the world is ever wasted (another motivation for the challenge) – but I do have to admit that titles such as Teach Yourself: Windows Vista (005) and  Skywriting: The Best of Air Jamaica’s In-Flight Magazine (052) were, let’s say, a bit niche (albeit that reading the latter did mean I’ll never forget the name of Jamaica’s first Premier, Norman Manley).

Lou NaturalAs for the best reads – Roger Clarke’s A Natural History of Ghosts: 500 Years of Hunting For Proof (133) stands out in a relatively crowded field, just above books such as Phillip Blom’s Encyclopédie : the Triumph of Reason in an Unreasonable Age (034), Phillip Knightley’s The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist, and Myth-Maker from the Crimea to Vietnam (070), and Melissa Katsoulis’ Telling Tales: A History of Literary Hoaxes (098). Most recently I’ve read Niall Ferguson’s The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die (300), which in some ways perfectly sums up the challenge: I’m not sure I completely agree with every argument made in the book – but I’ve at least opened myself up to the kinds of perspectives that I wouldn’t usually be confronted with; a core purpose, surely, for any public library service.

Helen – Librarian – Local & Family History

I set myself a literary challenge many years ago and I am still slowly working my way through it. In my youth I was a big fan of the band The Divine Comedy. If you’re not familiar with the name then you may remember the theme tune to Father Ted as well as the (fictional) Eurovision entry ‘My Lovely Horse’ – both written and performed by the band. In 1994 the Divine Comedy released their third album Promenade and track 3 features an unusual song entitled The Booklovers. The song itself is little more than a list of authors followed by a greeting or reference to a piece of their work. For example, we hear singer and songwriter, Neil Hannon, recite ‘Graham Greene’ followed by the words ‘Call me ‘pinky’, lovely’ (a reference to Greene’s Brighton Rock)’.  The song clocks in at nearly 6 minutes long and over 70 authors are mentioned in total.

Lou MobyLong ago I decided that I would read something by each of these authors. Luckily the list is of fairly well known writers so getting hold of works by each has not been a problem so far, especially working in a library… I’ve managed to read 33 of  the authors so far, possibly more, but if I cannot recall the storyline of a particular work then I’ve discounted it and will have to read it again sometime for it to properly ‘count’. Through this song I’ve discovered many of the classics of literature including Melville’s Moby Dick, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and one of my all-time favourites Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

Ross – Librarian Manager – Local & Family History

I’ve set myself a reading challenge based on the traditional Japanese parlour game of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, usually translated as ‘A Gathering of One Hundred Supernatural Tales’. The game became popular in the 17th Century and often an entire village would play. After sunset, villagers would gather in a darkened house and light a hundred candles. Each would then relate a strange or supernatural tale, finishing by blowing out one of the flames. The game would continue long into the night, and it would be up to those present whether or not they dared extinguish the last remaining candle. (As well as being a frightening prospect in itself, doing so was also believed to summon a demon!) In my version of the game, I plan to read a hundred ghost stories, blogging about each as I go. I’ll try anything from Victorian classics to modern creepypasta, but I definitely intend to include some works by the Japanese author Ryunosuke Akutagawa, who’s written some brilliantly spooky-sounding short stories but is better-known for Rashomon. I probably won’t get going until December (that being perfect ghost story season) but, if you want to follow my progress, you can do so at: 100flickeringflames.blogspot.co.uk

Sally – Deputy Manager – Local & Family History

Lou HarryTo coincide with our latest exhibition Harry Potter: A History of Magic I set my self the challenge to read the Harry Potter book series. To everyone’s dismay I have never given the books a proper chance, and even more embarrassingly I was the perfect age to read them when they came out, being ten years old when The Philosopher’s Stone was released – somehow they managed to pass me by and I never got past the second book…

Whilst still not quite finished, I’m ploughing through with a new found, and growing appreciation for the series.  I’ve been lucky enough to visit the Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition in London whilst working on our own here in Leeds Libraries along with watching live panel discussions on the books and their effect on the world – working with and understanding our special collections which are on display in our exhibition has enabled me to put clear links between legendary literature and the hard work and real magic Jk Rowling put into the series. I’m excited to finish and become a fully-fledged fan!

So those are our literary challenges, I think a common theme appears to be that these challenges will take time, in some case decades to complete and while reading off list is fine in some ways it’s nice to have something to come back to.  Do you have a literary challenge of your own?  If so please let us know in the comments box below.

‘Must Reads’ for A-Level Students

This blog comes from Lauren, a student who was with us recently for work experience.

A-Levels are hard. On top of the abundance of essays, exams and coursework deadlines, there is also the expectation that one is well read. This can sometimes feel like a heavy weight to hold on your shoulders. However, reading for pleasure is easy if reading is made pleasurable. This short list of modern classics is aimed to enrich you with intellectual ideas that will hopefully compliment your studies and entertain all those looking for a good read throughout the summer.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Lauren A ThousandCalling all fans of The Kite Runner! Khaled Hosseini’s second novel provides the perfect counterpart to his debut, again focusing in on the social and ethnic rivalries within a modern war-torn country. The story follows two Afghan women, Laila and Mariam, whose lives are thrust together by conflict, loss and fate. The two soon form an unbreakable bond likening to that of sisters, enduring the hardship of Taliban rule together as a team. There is something undeniable about Hosseini’s narrative style throughout his work which makes even the most unbearable of events readable and I could honestly not put this book down. Although utterly heart-breaking, the political relevance of this novel helps further an understanding into the context surrounding fiction set in contemporary Afghanistan, providing invaluable insight into the complexities of modern Afghan society; this is especially useful to those studying The Kite Runner at A-Level. A Thousand Splendid Suns is a novel perhaps even more profound than The Kite Runner, one that will stay with you forever and a definite must read for all.

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Lauren PerksThis brilliant book is a coming of age tale based around the challenges of the teenage years. Written as an epistolary entirely in the format of letters, the novella is set in early 1990s America and explores the themes of mental health, first love and self-discovery through the perspective of protagonist, Charlie, a socially awkward introvert. When faced with the world of first dates, mix tapes, school dances and adulthood, Charlie initially hates high school, but the story follows him on his journey of self-acceptance as he embraces his status as a ‘wallflower’ whilst himself through the help of fun-loving best friends Patrick and Sam. The film adaptation is equally as wonderful; the soundtrack features many of my all-time favourite songs, including music from The Smiths and David Bowie. This novel is beautifully written and deceivingly deep. I think it is important that young people take on board the messages within it and are encouraged to be brave, daring and sometimes a little wild.
“There comes a time when you have to see what life looks like from the dancefloor”

1984 by George Orwell

1984Written in 1949, Orwell creates a nightmarish dystopian future whereby everyone and everything is watched over by ‘Big Brother’ and controlled by its tyranny (clearly channel 4 were particularly inspired by this). This novel has had a profound effect and 1984 has now become shorthand for totalitarianism. It encapsulates the power of mass media and its ability to manipulate public opinion, the truth and even history. Great for writing about in exams and an even better conversation starter, this political thriller is truly unforgettable. Arguably one of the most thought provoking texts in modern literature, 1984 is an undeniable ‘must read’.

Matilda by Roald Dahl

Lauren MatildaRoald Dahl is one of the unconditional loves in my life. His body of work is legendary and I could go on all day about how he inspired me throughout childhood etc etc… and I really don’t think we should forget this as ‘adult learners’. It’s important to take some time away from academic reading and indulge in some of Dahl’s delightfulness from time to time. Regress back to childhood with this wonderful piece of fiction about a six year old girl that we all secretly wish we could be. I certainly wish I was storming through double multiplication problems and blitz-reading Dickens! And I’m seventeen! The horrid Ms Trunchbull is contrasted wonderfully with the lovely Miss Honey and it is impossible not to become overly emotionally invested in Matilda’s crazy life. I encourage everyone to pour some excitement back into their lives with this magical classic.