Listen Up: Audiobook Week 2012

June is Audiobook month, and today begins Audiobook Week 2012 (June 25-29), thanks to Devourer of Books for hosting. This is my first time participating.

Audiobooks are not new to me, albeit I’ve not been a regular listener. But 2012 is the year I rediscover the pleasure and benefits of them, and become a ‘chain user’. Mainly, it’s a time-saver for me. I listen to CD recordings of books while driving. That’s a great way to finish a book. Yes, after much pondering, I say ‘finish’ instead of ‘read’. The difference I’ve written in a previous post Dances With Words.

Yes, books on CD’s still, because there’s a large collection at our local public library., well, here’s a little story.

Have you ever been given a gift and then see it taken away as you open it? This is exactly my experience on this year’s Mother’s Day. My son gave me Colin Firth’s reading of Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair through Sweet… both the giver and the gift. We unwrapped the gift together, trying to download the recording, but was told its copyrights did not apply to Canada. So, we can’t listen to it above the 49th parallel. So much for free trade and open borders.

Anyway, I’m resigned to continue listening the old fashioned way… CD’s, while patiently waiting for Colin Firth’s reading to be transferred onto them.

The following are the audiobooks I’ve finished so far this year:

Reviews coming up. Happy listening everyone!


Dances with Words

After listening to an audiobook, do you consider having read the book?

Why or why not?

I’ve been mulling over this question for some time now. I love reading, but I’m a slow reader. It’s always faster to listen to a book read to me than reading it myself. So you see the appeal there. And I can make good use of my time while driving.

But I always feel there’s a difference between listening and reading. All along, I don’t equate having listened to an audiobook with having read the printed pages. I’m beginning to find the word ‘finish’ most apt, since it can apply to both. Saying ‘I have finished a book’ can mean either.

Oral tradition of storytelling has long been around in human history, a way to preserve tales and legends that had not found a written form. But for those that do have a life in words, or, ‘texts’ in our eAge, why do I still hesitate to consider listening to them the same as reading the print version?

At long last, I think I’m beginning to get a hold of what could be the difference… and this may sound so common sense to you. But, it’s an Eureka moment for me.

Here it is: Reading a book is a first-hand encounter. I’m the sole interpreter of the text. Like partners in a dance, as a reader I respond and move with every single word in my own way.

The Dance of Life by Edvard Munch (1900)

With audiobooks, I’m listening to a voice that has already interpreted the written codes. Every audio recording is a performance. And I mean it in a good sense. The reading I’m listening to has passed through an interpretive filter. That voice must have first read the words, internalized, and then delivered them with what the voice thought was the appropriate diction, pitch, accent, tempo, emotion…

When I’m reading a book, I’m dancing with the words as partners. When I’m listening to an audiobook, I’m watching a dance performance. I enjoy both. But the experiences are different… and there’s only one first-hand encounter that’s unique to me: my own.  But sometimes, I need to see how others dance too in order to appreciate the story or the characters more. We just may need dancing lessons every now and then.

I must give kudos to two audiobooks I finished recently. In both of them, the voice reading the text confirms how fascinating dances with words can be.

On Beauty by Zadie Smith, read by Peter Francis James:

I’m amazed how one reader can give life to characters of various cultural background in such a vivid manner. On Beauty explores in a nuanced and comical way, relationships and conflicts within a family, as well as between races, generations, and genders. It was shortlisted for a Booker (2005) and was the Orange Prize winner in 2006. Now imagine the myriad of characters.

The book describes two families intertwined in a cacophony of cultural dissonance, the fathers being academic rivals. In the Belsey family we have father Howard who is a white Englishman, his African American wife Kiki, their three youthful offspring who have grown up in America influenced by different subcultural vernaculars. Melting pot is a wrong term to describe them. It’s more like you’ve thrown classical, jazz, hip-hop, rap, all into the wok and stir fry.

Howard’s academic rival is Monty Kipps, who has brought his family from England to stay in America shortly as a visiting scholar teaching at the same college as Howard. The Kipps family members are all British citizens with Trinidadian heritage. Their two college age children have grown up in England.

The talented actor Peter Francis James has given a worthy portrayal of such a cultural mix of characters without turning them into caricatures, but has rendered them convincing and real. Zadie Smith’s nuanced dialogues and humor are well executed. It is a close encounter of dissonance in language, accents, values, and racial influences. What a dance performance this is. I have not read the book, but when I do read it, I’m sure I will not appreciate it as much if I haven’t heard the voices jumping up and down in my mind.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, read by Tim Jerome

Gilead was the 2005 Pulitzer Prize fiction winner. I read the book a few years back. Listening to the audio CD’s recently has not only brought back memory of my previous enjoyment, but insights that I’d missed my first time reading the book. All thanks to the calm, soothing, and gentle voice of Tim Jerome, portraying spot-on the ageing John Ames, Congregationalist minister of Gilead, Iowa.

Throughout the book, there’s only one character speaking, that of John Ames leaving a legacy to his very young son, telling him stories of his own grandfather and father, a family tradition of ministers. Jerome’s audio rendition of the book works in me like a devotional. His voice embodies grace and forgiveness. Listening to him can only augment my own reading experience, a performance to emulate for the dance of life.


What are some of your experiences of reading vs. listening to books? Which are your favorite audiobooks?


Susan Boyle’s Dream

So Susan Boyle’s dream has come true.  I’m glad I’ve participated in the process.  I’ve contributed to this whole massive dream fulfillment, albeit just a drop in the bucket… bought her CD today.  (No, I did not get this product free… there you go FTC)

The fact that Susan Boyle did not win British Got Talent didn’t affect the sales of her debut Album.  Even before its release in late November, she has broken the pre-sales record on Amazon.  Immediately after its release, her Album has broken the first week sales record for a debut album in the UK (410,000), beating U2 and Michael Jackson. In Australia (85,000), highest first week sales record, gone platinum right away.  In the US, sales reached 701,000 for just the week of Thanksgiving, surpassing the record set by Eminem in May this year for one week sales, by a gap of almost 100,000.  Needless to say, it tops the sales list in Canada as well.

So why did I bother to add another drop in the bucket?  Simple, I just wanted to show my support.  I know, the cynics would say it’s Simon Cowell, her producer, who is the one grinning from ear to ear.  Okay, if it takes Simon to realize her dream, so be it.

I’d like to see the 48 year-old unemployed single woman, church volunteer and obscure Scottish village dweller, who has been living and caring for her mother until her passing at 91, fulfill her singing dream.  In a previous post, I have written about the possible fallout of Susan Boyle’s 15-minute fame, the sensational YouTube appearance, and her later makeover.  But I’m glad it has turned out amazingly well for her.

Now to those who want her not to change but remain an uncouth, rural woman, I’d say, let her be. Although there’s nothing wrong being just that, uncouth and rural.  However, Susan Boyle can be whoever she wants to be,  get whatever hairdo she likes, buy new clothes if she wants, and smile or not smile for the paparazzi ….

I trust her dream is a genuine one, and she deserves to be noticed because of her humble root and high aspiration with its matching talent.  With more professional instructions and training, her skills could be augmented still some more.  Greater versatility means a wider repertoire, maximizing her potential.  From the few selections here on her CD, I feel that her voice can perform convincingly from Broadway show tunes to soft, quiet folk… blues and even jazz.

Just because of that, I’m a bit disappointed in the selections and some of the arrangements on this CD.  Except for her ‘I Dreamed A Dream’, ‘Cry Me a River’, ‘Who I was born to be’ and ‘Proud’, the other titles are somewhat limiting and have not given her enough range to showcase her wonderful voice.  The arrangements are all slow, with piano and/or guitar accompaniment.  At times her voice is solitary, at times blended with nice background chorus and beautiful strings.  Easy, gratifying listening overall… but I think the producers can take greater risks with her strong higher range, and the soulful, slightly raspy voice.

Here’s the track listing:

1.  Wild Horses (A nice rendition of The Rolling Stones classic.  Hear her sing this song on YouTube.

2.  I Dreamed A Dream (As if she’s the first one singing it!)

3.  Cry Me A River (A song she’d recorded in  1999 for a charity.  Shows she can do blues and maybe even jazz)

4.  How Great Thou Art (Somewhat weak arrangement, with just the four-line chorus)

5.  You’ll See (‘About determination, independence, and the ability to show them what your are made of’)

6.  Daydream Believer (A slow, even meditative rendition of The Monkees hit, my fave as a teenager.)

7.  Up To The Mountain (‘Sometimes I just lay me down Lord, no more can I do. But then I go on again, because you ask me to’… reminiscence of a spiritual. )

8.  Amazing Grace (So many have recorded this and it still feels fresh.)

9.  Who I Was Born To Be (The song says: ‘And though I may not know the answers, I can finally say I’m free. And if the questions lead me here, then I am who I was born to be.’… and then she writes: ‘Mom must have picked this for me.’)

10.  Proud (‘My dilemma was finding my own identity – a conflict… with myself.’)

11.  The End Of The World (A touch of nostalgia.)

12.  Silent Night (For Christmas … and anytime.)

What I’ve appreciated is that in the booklet, she writes a short personal note at the end of each song.  And on the last page, after thanking all who need to be thanked, she wrote these words:

I would like to dedicate this Album to my beloved Mother, to whom I made a promise to ‘be someone’.

X  God Bless

I’ve made a right choice with that drop in the bucket.


JunoFest: Celebrating Classical at the Junos

Junos 2008 Venue Calgary Pengrowth Saddledome

What do Toronto classical composer Brian Current, Montreal cellist Matt Haimovitz, or violinist James Ehnes have in common with Anne Murray, Avril Lavigne, Feist, Jann Arden, Paul Brandt, or Michael Bublé?

They are all Canadian musicians sharing the limelight in this year’s Juno Awards coming up April 6.

The Canadian Music Awards extravaganza is to be held this Sunday April 6 in Calgary’s Pengrowth Saddledome.  Click here for the official website of the 2008 Juno Awards.

Before the grand event, there is going to be a celebration of classical music.  A first ever JunoFest will be held in Calgary’s Grand Theatre this Saturday.  The event celebrating classical music is organized by CBC Radio 2, the Canadian Music Centre Prairie Region, the 2008 Juno Awards Host Committee, and the Honens International Piano Competition.  It will feature works and performance by nominees in the classical music categories of this year’s Juno Awards.

Click here to read the April 2 Calgary Herald article on JunoFest.

Items on the JunoFest program include work by Toronto composer Brian Current (nominee for Classical Composition of the Year), performance by Montreal cellist Matt Haimovitz (nominee for Classical Album of the Year), and the renowned violinist James Ehnes (nominee for two Album of the Year).

Cellist and McGill faculty member Matt Haimovitz’s work may be most effective in dispelling the myth of Classical music being elitist and passé.  His work embraces both the classical and modern day popular genres, as well as the multicultural roots of folk music.  From his own repertoire, he has an eight-cello rendition of Jimi Hendrix’ war protest song Machine Gun, and from his multicultural, fusion CD “Goulash”, Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir in a four-cellos arrangement.

As we go further into this so-called postmodern era, we’re going to see the increasing blurring of the line between “classical” and “contemporary”.  And why not, we’re already enjoying a proliferation of fusion food.

This is another reason CBC Radio 2 should all the more venture into this brave new world.  Instead of cutting classical music programs, instill fresh and creative ideas to present the exciting development of “classical music” in the 21st century, and act as a bridge to draw closer the cultural and musical chasm.  Just look into the myriad of modern day film scores, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Kite Runner, Atonement, just to name a few, you’ll be surprised how much you enjoy ‘fusion’ music.  You may not recognize the classical music theory on which the compositions are based, but you’ll be enthralled just the same.

Calgary’s Pengrowth Saddledome Photo Source: aol travel

Last Minute Gift Ideas

Music CD’s, easy to pick up, easy to wrap, and light-weight enough to carry when you’re in the midst of Christmas shopping frenzy.  But what I’m recommending here are not your current top releases of the season, like Josh Groban’s Noel, selling 2.1 million copies so far this Christmas.  (UPDATE: Josh Groban’s Noel has just climbed to the no. 1 spot as the best selling CD of 2007 in the US, close to 2.8 million copies sold.)  Nonetheless, the following selections are equally enjoyable, and will likely make a pleasant surprise for your recipient.  

I’d give them all  ~ ~ ~ Ripples out of 4.   Actually, any CD from these artists is worthy of giving, although the following titles are my favorites.

CARLY SIMON — Into White

A collection of some familiar tunes, in Carly Simon style, making the new arrangements sound soulful and at times…even better.  Simon’s signature deep alto voice makes titles as simple as Oh! Susanna sound like a folksy classic.  Other numbers include the Beatles’ Blackbird, and familiar tunes like You Are My Sunshine, Scarborough Fair, Over The Rainbow, all offering a much more serene and moving rendition.  I particularly enjoy Devoted To You medly with All I Have To Do Is Dream…oh the wonderful Everly Brothers, re-interpreted by Carly Simon. You Can Close Your Eyes is particularly poignant, with Ben and Sally Taylor, Simon’s children with ex-husband James Taylor. The album also includes two new tunes, Simon’s own Love Of My Life and Ben Taylor and David Saw’s I’ll Just Remember You, which, in Simon’s own words, “…the most beautiful and simple song I’ve ever heard.”  All in all, this CD is one true gem, serenity in audio mode.



EVA CASSIDY — Songbird

Like so many artists before her, such as Van Gogh and Jane Austen, to name a few, Eva Cassidy received her honor and recognition posthumously.  1996 marked her untimely death from melanoma.  Since then, Cassidy’s Songbird album received Gold in 2000 and Platinum in 2001.  Her soulful soprano voice transcends the genres of folk, jazz, and country into a sublimation of a unique vocal style.  Fields of Gold starts off this album.  Just for this song, it’s worthwhile to get the CD.  I find Cassidy’s rendition much more soulful and poignant than the original Sting version.  Other songs include Autumn Leaves, Songbird (in Love Actually, 2003), Time Is A Healer, I Know You By Heart.  Yes, there’s also her own interpretation of the classic Over The Rainbow, bringing into it her signature fine vocal and acousitic guitar playing.  A valuable collection.


JOHN COLTRANE — Coltrane for Lovers

If you’re a jazz lover, this is a must-have (you probably own it already).  If you’re not a jazz lover, this is a must-have.  It’ll introduce you to what jazz can do to your whole psyche.  A compilation of Coltrane’s tenor sax playing some soulful and quiet romantic tunes.  You don’t need to be a jazz lover to be attracted to these soothing and sensitive renditions.  I find it particularly relaxing listening to this CD while driving alone at night…quite a listening, and driving experience.  Selections include numbers with Duke Ellington on the paino, and Jimmy Garrison on bass.  A most enjoyable title for any lover, music or romance.