This is Audible

If you have ever purchased an audiobook from Audible you know that every book starts with a familiar voice saying, “This is audible.” (Rather like the “You’ve got mail” from the heyday of AOL. Someone whose voice became familiar to millions and who probably got paid very little for recording the phrase.) That Audible voice was present in the early days of the company and it is still very much present today in the Amazon-owned era.

AudibleI wrote a couple of weeks ago about my audiobook dilemma. I liked the fact that I could download audiobooks from the library at no cost, but I disliked the fact that most new titles were unavailable, being already checked out by others, and that I was under time pressure to finish the book. I said that I didn’t have a problem in principle with the Audible monthly fee, but I didn’t want to put yet another monthly subscription on my credit card.

Here’s was I did. I was already aware that I was in overwhelm mode with my streaming video options, so I decided that was a good place to cut back, allowing me in good conscience to take on the Audible subscription.

My first impression: I am delighted. When I was an Audible subscriber many years ago the selection was somewhat limited. I had a credit that I had to use each month or lose (they later began to allow credit rollovers), but there wasn’t necessarily a book available that month which I wanted. These days almost every new book that comes out has an audio version, as well as print and ebook editions. Amazon makes it easy because when you search for a book the entry displays all the various formats that are available. I am not by any means going to give up reading print books in Kindle format, but many books do lend themselves to the audio format. While I will continue to read my Kindle books in the evening, I have audiobooks which I can listen to while walking, driving, doing yard work, or simply doing daily mundane tasks. It’s nice to be able to listen to an audiobook while emptying the dishwasher.

There’s another benefit that having an Audible subscription provides. I get my one credit each month, but if I come to the end of a book before I come to the end of the month the cost of that second audiobook is considerably less for Audible members than it is for non-members.

I think the value of the subscription is going to be well worth the cost.

The Origins of Creativity

Origins of Creativity coverThe Origins of Creativity
Edward O. Wilson
narrated by Jonathan Hogan
Recorded Books, 2017
Audiobook $17.95, Kindle edition $8.98
audiobook borrowed from the Santa Clara County Library System

This was enjoyable listening. Edward O. Wilson is a distinguished Harvard scientist who first made his name in the field of entomology (the study of insects – as opposed to etymology, the study of word origins). In particular, he is one of the foremost experts in the world on ants.

This book goes far beyond the ant world, however. His thesis is that we can do a lot to salvage culture and society by the coming together of science and the humanities. In this discussion, he describes storytelling in hunter-gatherer societies, the social conventions of insects, the evolution of the genus homo, and archetypes in movies. Wilson also discusses religion, though not always in a favorable light. At the same time, he has some positive things to say about religion and even admits to a couple of moving religious experiences in his own life.

The narration by Jonathan Hogan is excellent. His inflection, cadence, and pace make this a very enjoyable book to listen to. I did at times think that maybe I should be reading the print version; there were times when I wanted to flip back a few pages, something that is easier to do in print than with audio.

Overall, however, this was a delightful and educational listening experience.

Love, Loss, and What We Ate

Love, Loss, and What We Ate coverLove, Loss, and What We Ate: A Memoir
Padma Lakshmi
narrated by the author
HarperAudio, 2016
Audiobook $28.95, Kindle edition $9.99
audiobook borrowed from the Santa Clara County Library System

I have been getting my audiobooks from the Santa Clara County Library System. As a result I find myself borrowing books that I might otherwise not listen to as the newer, popular books are usually checked out. That was definitely the case with Love, Loss, and What We Ate.

I wasn’t familiar with Padma Lakshmi before listening to her memoir. I am a foodie, as you well know, but if you have been reading this blog for a while you know that I also hate competition cooking shows. Lakshmi is best known as a judge on Top Chef, which airs on the Bravo network. It turns out, however, that she has done a lot more than that.

Lakshmi’s mother is an immigrant from India who put herself through nursing school and then devoted herself to the profession. Padma found herself somewhat at loose ends after college and more or less stumbled into a career in modeling. That led to some acting gigs which led to an anchor role on the Italian equivalent of the Today show. Lakshmi writes with honesty about many aspects of her life, including her short-lived and tempestuous marriage to author Salmon Rushdie and a long-term relationship with one of the pioneers of the leveraged buyout, many decades her senior.

She also writes about her own personal health. She describes her battle with endometriosis in excruciating detail which made me, as a male, uncomfortable. But I am sure that part of her motivation in writing the book was to make her own struggles public as a means of raising awareness and helping other women with the same disease, which seems to be frequently misdiagnosed. In fact, she helped found the Endometriosis Foundation of America. And in the larger picture, that was a small, even if somewhat lengthy, part of the book.

I listened to an NPR piece on audiobook production a number of years ago. The segment included David Sedaris, who records the audio versions of his own books, explaining how one should not try to take on the voices of others when reading dialog, but rather continue on in one’s own voice. As much as it was a delight to hear Lakshmi tell her own story, I wish she had followed David’s advice. The Indian accent she used for her female relatives sounded affected at best. Her attempt at taking on the accent of her Turkish gynecologist sounded, well, just strange.

Nonetheless, the book was for the most part enjoyable. While I grew weary hearing at times of Lakshmi’s jet setting ways, she still has led an interesting life that lends itself to pleasant listening.

audiobooks and the best way to get them

My history of listening to audiobooks goes way back. I was an Audible member many years ago, back when Audible was a separate entity and not inextricably integrated into the Amazon infrastructure as it is today. I enjoyed listening to audiobooks on my walks, but when I found The Great Courses I liked their thirty-minute lecture format and the conversational tone of most of the lecturers. I ultimately cancelled my Audible plan.

AudibleAs much as I love The Great Courses, I have run through pretty much all of the courses in which I am interested that are suitable for an audio-only format (and a few for which I should have purchased the video version) and in fact have listened to a number of courses more than once.

So these days I have switched back to audiobooks, but have been getting them from the Santa Clara County Library System. I am reluctant to pay Amazon the $14.95 a month they want for Audible. I am not opposed to the fee in principle, but I have enough monthly subscriptions as it is; I don’t really need another one.

Still, there are limitations to using the library. I find myself borrowing books that I might otherwise not listen to as the newer, popular books are usually checked out. This can be good, in that I very much enjoyed The Olive Tree and Padma Lakshmi’s Love, Loss, and What We Ate, neither of which I would have been likely to listen to otherwise. On the other hand I hate being restricted in that way.

There are other disadvantages to the library as well. Library books must be turned in within a specified time frame. The point for me in having an audiobook (or a Great Courses lecture series) is to have something to listen to when I am out on my walks or when I am doing yard work. Since I have a time limit on audiobooks from the library, I find myself listening to them at other times as well. That’s not entirely bad, I suppose, but I do feel somewhat pressured.

So the answer? As the (misquoted) Jack Benny phrase goes, I’m thinking, I’m thinking.

The Olive Tree

The Olive Tree coverThe Olive Tree
Carol Drinkwater
narrated by the author
Whole Story Audiobooks, 2009
Audiobook $22.95, Kindle edition $2.99
audiobook borrowed from the Santa Clara County Library System

I have pretty much exhausted the lecture series from The Great Courses in which I am interested and I have listened to some of them twice or more. Until the good folks there come up with a new course that excites me I thought I would shift to audiobooks for a while.

This title was a delight. Drinkwater is a British actress who took up olive farming in France with her husband. She was concerned about climate change, environmental degradation, and the random, haphazard use of pesticides. She was also interested in the history of olive tree cultivation by humans and how far back it went. This set her off on a journey.

And what a journey it was. She visited Spain, Algeria, Morocco, Sicily, and Italy. She traveled alone in spite of the risks and made contact with friends of friends or colleagues of colleagues (or even more tenuous connections) in those places who had experience in olive cultivation. She asked a lot of questions, she learned a lot, and through it all managed to make it home safely.

The fact that the author narrated the audiobook made it all the more delightful, though I have to say that I breathed a sigh of relief when she described making her way out of North Africa, a place where a woman traveling along is looked on with suspicion, at best.

If you are interested in travel narratives or the story of olive farming you are likely to enjoy this book.

The Source of Self-Regard

Source of Self-Regard coverThe Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations
Toni Morrison
Knopf (February 12, 2019), 369 pages
Kindle edition $14.99, Amazon hardcover $18.87

I haven’t read Toni Morrison before, and I’m not sure that this book was the right place to begin. I suspect that to really appreciate her skills as a writer I should have started with one of her novels.

Nonetheless, this is an important book, reflecting as it does Morrison’s thinking over the past couple of decades. Many of the pieces are speeches, including commencement addresses and her Nobel prize lecture. The book gives us Morrison’s perspectives on race, class, society, and art. Morrison has a lot to tell us.

She makes clear that the work of artists, including writers, must be protected.

quoteThose writers plying their craft near to or far from the throne of raw power, of military power, of empire building and countinghouses, writers who construct meaning in the face of chaos must be nurtured, protected. And it is right that such protection be initiated by other writers. And it is imperative not only to save the besieged writers but to save ourselves.

Some of her essays have the sound of having been written since the 2016 election, but were apparently actually written in the early 2000s. How much we value and appreciate that interlude of the Obama years!

The occasion and date of each piece is not included with the respective speech or essay, but rather all are grouped together at the end of the book. This was somewhat annoying, but perhaps the editor is telling us that what Morrison has to say is important regardless of context.

Toni Morrison is one of the important voices in the arts and society today. We need to listen to her.

reading Kindle books, keeping my paper books

bookshelfEver since the advent of the e-reader there has been a lot of discussion, sometimes coming close to religious fervor, about e-books vs. paper books. I owned two different early Kindle devices and now read almost all of my books on the Kindle app on my iPad. Terry reads paper books. Yet I love my library of physical books and have no intention of getting rid of them.

A friend of mine, who once upon a time blogged under the pseudonym Boston Pobble, wrote that both/and is a perfectly acceptable mode of behavior. More recently, in the “By the Book” interview in the New York Times Book Review, Janet Malcolm stated:

quoteWhy have a large library and not use it? Why keep books, if you are not going to read them more than once? For the décor? The answer isn’t entirely no. A book-lined room looks nice. I like walking into my living room and seeing the walls of books with faded spines that have accreted over many decades.

There you are. Who am I to argue with Janet Malcolm?