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.