Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Act like an adult

Guests on the ABC's The Book Club have been known to give audio books a spray. I remember particularly Lawrence Mooney's contribution, which made me hopping mad at the time.

Will Self launched into this familiar territory in the September show claiming that listening to an audio book is an anathema to literature, which is by definition words on a page. The popularity of audio books is a sign that adults don't want to grow up and act like adults.

It's very simple. Eyes to get words good. Ears to get words bad. People who listen to audio books need to grow up and/or grow a brain. (If you're visually impaired? I guess you just have to accept that you can never really access literature.)

The exception to this is if you've come along to a public event where Will Self has been invited to read aloud from his own works, like in this video. That's okay. In that case, he's following in the grand literary tradition of Dickens or something.

OR maybe he looks down on everyone in the audience for being so infantile as to listen to words and then to further demonstrate their stupidity at the end by clapping. (Toddlers clap, if you're over 18 you need to snap out of it.)

AND he doesn't like adult colouring in books either. He thinks they're another sign of immaturity. As if! Check this out! I did it last night while listening to a podcast.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

How to Get a Love Life (first you need to get a hot boss with good taste in jumpers)

I've just finished listening to How to Get a Love Life by Rosie Blake.

This is the second audio book I've listened to where the female protagonist, a secretary, who is searching for love, ends up with her boss. The last one was The Chocolate Lovers Club, which I pretty much hated.

I didn't hate How to Get a Love Life, perhaps because the boss, James, seemed like a fairly nice bloke. However, the concept of boss-as-ultimate-love-interest is one that I find it hard to go along with. I accept that there are times when a relationship between employee and employer springs up and it's quite lovely and based on equality and mutual respect. However, in general the power dynamics make it a less than ideal set up for love, and it sits uncomfortably with me, meaning that I can't get swept away in the unresolved sexual tension.

In my own private life, I've never been remotely interested in any of my bosses, not even Bernard, Head of Cheese, who was masterful in the deli, so the scenario is not one I can relate to.

Also if you were planning on listening to this book to get some tips on how to get a love life the take home message is: Be a hot secretary but don't realise how hot you are, go on a few disastrous dates while waiting for your boss, who dresses extremely well, to fall in love with you even if he apparently has a super hot model bitch girlfriend.

I think that will work for everyone, yes?

Friday, July 31, 2015

Art and Audio

Unsurprisingly, I love an audio guide. I recently went on a holiday and got a hell of a lot more out of a visit to Château de Valencay due to an innovative audio guide ostensibly narrated by the château's 19th century owner Talleyrand. He led a colourful life by which I mean he had sex with a lot of different people. Hearing about this certainly made looking at his clocks and occasional tables more interesting.

The place where I find audio guides most helpful is in art galleries. 

I haven't always been a huge fan of art. I remember visiting my the National Gallery of Victoria with my sister when I was about 18. The highlight of the trip was when we stopped in front of this picture of a distressed ewe standing over her sick or dead lamb while being encircled by black crows who aren't offering to do CPR or get the defibrillator. The picture's called 'Anguish' and it's not very nice. We looked at it for a few moments, then my sister said, 'This is baaaaaaad'.

I found found that very funny. Ten minutes later I loudly declared 'I'm bored now'.

Ten years later I finally managed some art appreciation. I visited the National Gallery in Washington DC and got an audio guide. I found myself standing in front of Vermeer's painting Woman Holding a Balance. As I listened to the audio guide's description of the painting it helped me to see it and I got why it's considered a great painting. I wasn't bored!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Wars of the Roses

I've just finished listening to The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir ready by Maggie Mash. I don't know that much about English history apart from being able to name the wives of King Henry VIII, thanks again to Alison Weir's very good book on the subject. I also once listened to an historical fiction novel about King James' gardener and may have learned something, or possibly not, it's hard to tell with historical fiction.

I very much enjoyed The Wars of the Roses, although I became very confused about who was related to who and who they hated. This is where audio books present challenges over book reading, because is is much harder to flip back and check a detail. So I ended up Googling 'Lancastrian family tree' a lot. Also, I'm not sure I'll be able to remember many of the details in a month's time.

My friend suggested that I listen to The Rex Factor, a podcast reviewing all the kings and queens of England. It's been going since 2010 so I am very late to board this train. The show rates the monarchs based on a range of criteria such as battleyness and scandal. Then they decide if they have 'that certain something, that lasting legacy, the star quality...the Rex Factor'. I've never seen The X-Factor (I'm sure it's lovely) but I don't need to, The Rex Factor is clearly a better concept.

I told my friend the podcasts sounded good and said I might listen to the Lancastrian episodes to help get my head around the Wars of the Roses. My friend was firm. She said, 'No. Start at the start.'

So I did, going right back to Alfred the Great and the Saxons. And I'm loving it. The podcasts are a good mix of information and amusing, offhand ignorance. Also, they repeat useful details like, 'He was the one who had the threesome with the mother and daughter', which are invaluable aids to memory and learning.

I'm up to King Henry III, which means I have a good long way to go and they'll be keeping me company for awhile. Whether I've learned anything in the long-run remains to be seen.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Still Listening

I've had a few years away from this blog, but no time at all away from story tapes. Looking back over my previous entries I realised some things have changed since I last wrote.

Cassettes are over
I know they were fairly damn over in 2011 as well, but the Yarra Libraries were kind enough to keep some on hand until 2012 when they finally chucked them all out (I managed to snaffle a few). Cassettes do have some advantages. When you press stop on a cassette it stays in exactly the same spot until you go back to it. You can't listen to a cassette on a device with a screen, so there's no chance of getting sucked into other screeny activities. And, although it's a heart wrenching moment, when a cassette ribbon gets chewed up by the machine, it is quite satisfying winding them back up with a pen.

Anyway, audio books will always be story tapes to me, even when I'm downloading them into my ear-chip implants. It's too late to change.

The line between an audio book and a podcast can be blurry
Many podcasts, including some of my favourites, consist of people sitting around having a chat, and laughing too hard at each other's jokes. But shows like This American Life often tell shorter, scripted stories. To me, it feels a lot like listening to an audio book.

However, I don't feel the need to create hard and fast definitions anyway. 'Listening to voices talking without pictures' is about as narrowly as I'd be prepared to define it.

There's no shame in it any more
For many years whenever I admitted (and it felt like an admission) to listening to story tapes I was met with either blank stares or snorts and condescending comments. I would end up feeling defensive and saying, 'I do read books as well.'

These days I'm having lots of supportive conversations with other audio book listeners from all kinds of backgrounds.

I first realised things had changed when I was in the green room (actually it was a school library, but it still felt glamorous) at a writer's festival last year. Someone said, 'Who actually listens to audio books?' I inwardly sighed and prepared myself to for a solo defence of the format, but before I could start three other people piped up, 'I do.'

I'm not sure why this change has happened. I suspect podcasts and the availability of services like audible have helped, but I'm no expert.

To be fair, it hasn't all been smooth sailing. In 2013 I was disappointed by Lawrence Mooney's audio book shaming comments on the ABC's Book Club, but things are definitely improving.

So, I'm looking forward to writing about what I've been hearing again.