All posts by Francisca Goldsmith

Literary Nobel Laureates Aloud

Bob Dylan’s unwillingness to collect his Nobel Prize for Literature, in 2016, served as a popular reminder that this accolade (and there are others with similar rules) requires its recipient to speak up publicly when the award ceremony occurs. The Nobel Prize Organization provides snippets of some of the responding speeches. However, some great authors, as we know, are magnificent when writing and less so when speaking. A snippet serves these writers well because only the most compelling aspect of their speech need be archived.

How the Literary Laureate crafts the acceptance speech, and the content they choose to present varies, of course. Some apparently stay within the mode of shock and awe at the celebration of their work, while others use the global public square of the speech to make statements about events beyond the matter of literature and the winning of the grand prize at hand. John Steinbeck’s snippet, for example, gives us his embodied voice of a man who is expressing gratitude without the incisiveness of his writing voice. Austrian playwright and novelist Elfriede Jelinek, on the other hand, whose speech had to be recorded for presentation as she did not have the physical ability to attend, demonstrates the flow of her words as they are meant to be heard even when she places them in actors’ mouths.

And some provide highly literary and yet skillfully performed responses to the award that echo the award’s purpose and meaning: they give back—to all of us—in the spirit of adding to the world body of story and cultural history. Kazuo Ishiguro, the most recent Literature Nobel Laureate, exemplifies the third type, his 45-minute speech accessible to a wide variety of listeners, whether educated, academic, or even teenaged, while also adding to the literary body of the world a tiny gem of well-chosen, skillfully constructed images built entirely of the blending of words with voice. While a video with Ishiguro’s complete speech is available on the Nobel Prize Organization site, the words and the voice are the essentials here. Penguin Random House Audiobooks has it for sale as such; every library needs to make it accessible to its community.



Your Rights as an Expressive Student

While not strictly a webcomic, this week’s feature in our sequential art category is free, online, and important for today’s planned nationwide student activism. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has published a comic explaining the rights of teens to express themselves on civic matters. This can be downloaded or, better, shared virally online.

Be Heard! A Comic For Student Rights From CBLDF & NCAC


Light, Sound, and the Speed of the Mind

Reading philosophy, including its essential byway of political theory, requires a kind of patience that demands readers monitor their own capacity as much as the author’s path making. As an undergraduate, I learned that some philosophical texts were best consumed if I read them aloud, a discovery that certainly helped me in graduate school while horrifying some of my fellow students there.

Across most of adulthood, however, my reading of both classical and contemporary philosophy texts has been silently tracked with my eyes. Of course, the going is more slow than when my eyes track murder mysteries in print or even works about biology, behavioral psychology, or history. A rubric of good journalism is its transparency so reading the news happens, for me, at something akin to the speed of light.

However, recent audiobook publishing of mid- and late-twentieth century Western philosophy texts has given me the opportunity to discover—and this time with expert narrators in the driver’s seat—that ears, rather than eyes, are the preferred conduit for taking in sentences in which a variety of dependent clauses, and their order, require careful tracking. Discovering the variety of interpretative performance styles audiobook narrators are bringing to philosophical texts has also led to an eye-opening time. Some present the text in almost casual tones, pacing the reading as though they were chatting with the audience, or performing a literary novel in which word choice and phrasing counts but the emotional inflections do as well. Others assume a kind of lecture pacing, with halts as though they themselves are considering the passage just presented, or rushing ahead when the text doesn’t seem to serve a purpose other than as a bridge to their own next a-ha moment.

One very recent listen brought a variety of insights about differences in eye-reading and ear-reading, however. Hannah Arendt’s 1963 On Revolution is narrated by the Audio Publishers Association’s 2017 Best Female Narrator, Tavia Gilbert, whose voice work can be heard in a variety of genres from science fiction to thriller to romance, and audiobooks for very young listeners, reads this one at a speed that frightened me for all of the first two minutes—and then I realized that she had accurately tapped Arendt’s own speed of thought rather than her speaking pace (which, in her native German, can be heard here). Famous for her long sentences (which her friend author Mary McCarthy would prune ahead of final editing), Arendt required them in order to crystalize the prism of any one of her speculations, assertions, or analyses. And Gilbert, for her part, re-animates that speedy thought process by delivering aloud sentences that might take the eye-reader two or three goes to absorb.

This new spate of audiobook publishing is most welcome, as long as it hews to the high standard of interpreting the author’s expressive pace. Gilbert has set the mark.

Nor’easter Webcomics Reading

From Irma “Aimo” Ahmed and Allison Pang, this five-years-and-running fairytale-kissed webcomic offers some diversion for New Englanders about to head into our second Nor’easter of the week. Fox and Willow—with Fox being, well, a (perhaps enchanted) fox, and Willow, a harpist—the story unwinds from looting a graveyard through animal spirits readers will quickly recognize from folklore to the current arc which involves, yes, the prediction of a big snow coming….

Each page is generously sized and beautifully colored in a palette that suits the semi-Medieval setting. Readers unaccustomed to either webcomics or reading images wrapped with words on screen can spend the coming real life storm getting to know (and fall in love) with webcomics thanks to this beauty.

Women’s Voices

International Women’s Day is celebrated this week so if you’re seeking some good options for tuning in to women of whom you’ve heard named and read with your eyes, take the opportunity to hear them in their own voices.

Poet Gertrude Stein was recorded reading her 1922 poem Idem the Same: A Valentine for Sherwood Anderson,in 1935 and preserved by the University of Pennsylvania audio archives. Already noted by then as a woman who was not treading the patriarchal path her gender was assigned, Stein’s voice is expectedly strong and dramatic.

Eudora Welty can be heard reading her 1941 short story Why I Live at the PO in a a recording mounted on YouTube that should be slowed to .75 speed in order to sound natural. The story itself reflects both Welty’s acute observation powers regarding social dynamics between and among women as well as the short story craft at its best. Flannery O’Connor read her short story A Good Man Is Hard to Find at Vanderbilt University, in 1959, and hearing it in her drawl gives it authentic body as well as soul. Recorded half a dozen years after it was first published, and five years before the young author’s death, this mid-century dark comedy is a fitting memorial to its author as well as a window on a particular aspect of gender in the time and place it’s set.

Maya Angelou’s 1978 poem And Still I Rise can be heard in her voice, and with her introduction, on a recording published by one of her students on YouTube in 2007. Here a woman’s viewpoint and reading are presented as universal as well as particular. In 1991, Adrienne Rich turned our attention to nature as a necessity in a time of turmoil that threatens life as well as social parity. You can hear her read What Kind of Times Are These?” in 2000, recorded at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival.

The next step would be to find the woman who speaks of women now. You might ask the next woman you meet for a recommendation of the voice you need to hear next. Better, ask the next three women and follow up every lead they offer.






Little Vampires: Just what the Doctor Ordered for All Ages

Since 2009, Rebecca Hicks and her Lunasea Studios have been publishing a child-friendly, adult-welcome strip about twice a week. Little Vampires spills out in story arcs that keep a joke going just long enough to satisfy readers who need plotting while also providing a cast of characters that is small enough to keep individual characteristics clear and broad enough to include a healthy range of personalities.Jokes range from obstreperous grand pianos to the possibilities a fresh array of crayons offer to those with wild and colorful imaginations. Critters aren’t all vampires either: there is currently a green and squid-faced fellow and then there is the Old One who has glasses and ‘stache but no visible boundary lines pooling these attributes into a traditional face; more and less hairy humanoids who sometimes could be Sasquatch. Monsterdell, home to all these fine fellows, seems more delightful than frightening, more smarty than sentimental. In short, a little dab will do you and keep you feeling young enough to grin.

The Men behind the Words

In 1974, a book by Theodore Rosengarten was published and went on to the win the National Book Award for Contemporary Affairs (a category that later became “Nonfiction”). The work itself was an oral history of a man identified as Nate Shaw (Ned Cobb), a sharecropper in Alabama who stood up against sheriffs who had come to take away a fellow sharecropper’s property. In 2000, Sean Crisden read Rosengarten’s account of Shaw’s words and recollections in the audiobook format of All God’s Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw.

In both print and audio formats, the work has received wide critical praise, and the man underneath the writing and then the performance of the written—Nate Shaw/Ned Cobb—remains alive through these interventions of other men’s voices. In effect, the fact of Nate Shaw can become fixed because his unscripted speaking was heard, recorded in written text, and now heard again through the oral performance of an informed actor. Instead of these interventions diluting the immediate and personal accounting of Mr. Shaw, they serve to extend the reach, and the permanence, of his witnessing to history.

And that, it seems, stands as a powerful demonstration of the community needed to make any one person’s experiences alive for others: the speaker, the listener, and the recorder, all of whom make possible that there be an audience beyond the immediate and singularly small original one.

The Pit in Black and White

While producing full-color comics online can carry large loads of symbolic choices in shades and tints, the relentless black of India ink offers an equally evocative set of possibilities. In Banquet (2016-2018), Anne Szabla takes the latter route to fine success. The story of a toddler lost to the depths of Hell—via a hole in New Boston’s Boylston Street (hardly a difficult setup to imagine as unvarnished truth!)—deserves all the appearance of deepest dark an artist can construct and Szabla is equal to that task.

This webcomic isn’t a one-joke—or one nightmare—scenario, however. It’s a fully realized tale of nearly mythic proportion, featuring gods, warriors, and the kind of humor that allows readers to follow both the toddler’s experiences (he’s too young to recognize them as travails) and the very human attributes of the residents of this Bottomless Pit of Hell. Fans of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book can find a read-alike here. Here’s to the power of India ink in the age of pixels.

Listen to the Heirs

Emma Gonzalez gave a speech on Friday that provided direction and articulation to passions wrought in a forge of her elders’ moral lassitude. The capacity of teenaged youth to step up and out may swell from the same idealistic bravado as generals have relied upon to exploit adolescent troops from time immemorial. However, where generals outlaw independent thought—and punish outspoken dissent from state-supporting action—teenagers who lead with word and action have no interest in maintaining the power of the state as intrinsic and instead carry a banner of a higher purpose: the future that that state works to deny them, not as individuals, but as collective humanity.

The teenaged leaders of Parkland, Florida, join an honorable—and sometimes brilliantly successful—tradition of international youth whose moral mettle has used the power of crafted speech with elegantly planned action to change the direction of historic oppression and the threat of annihilation the generals’ generation holds over their heirs.

President Trump is scheduled to attend a “listening session” later this week regarding gun control. At this point, it’s difficult to imagine that that audience member has the capacity to listen, to hear, to consider any voice more fully than his own. However, teens have the drive and the capacity to lead through the power of speech, and the will to reach every open ear.

An Alternative History Webcomic Antidote to Alternative Fact Poisoning

Journalism, librarianship, and teaching all live and die by the sword of facts that inform and reasoned thought with which to shape new understanding. The power of metaphorical devices each of them may use trades on intentionally and openly skewing reality just enough to allow fresh perspective. Sometimes that twist allows for a deep and serious a-ha. And sometimes it’s simply good for a laugh, a laugh that relaxes rather than stupefying.

Thank you, Tina Pratt, for The Paul Reveres. So far our tale of the British (music) invasion, patriotism/anarchy, and characters recognizable from Newbery Medal fiction (Esther Forbes’ Johnny Tremain) as well as wandering into a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow epic from his North End silversmith shop, has unfurled across nine years of beautifully colored panels and cheeky sendups of American Revolutionary War tropes.

With our own era drowning in “alternative facts,” here’s an antidote to overdosing on cynicism: perhaps three panels a day until current reality sees a restoration of fact and reason as the roots of information.

Load Up the Links to Forthcoming Audiobook Kudos

This week, the finalists in each category of the Audie Awards (the “Oscars of audiobook publishing”) are announced. Less than a week later, ALA’s Reference & User Services Association’s CODES section releases its annual Listen List during ALA Midwinter, while the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) publishes its Notable Children’s Recordings list, the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) releases its Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults list, and those two ALA sections together announce the annual Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobook Production. So today would be a good time to get all your links updated to these various best audiobooks (and probably a good time to clear out your online storage of audiobook files of titles you’ve decided you don’t need to keep).

Here’s where to get each of these advisories for the aurally omnivorous:

The 2018 Audies finalist slates, in more than two dozen categories (some genre, some performance style, some performer gender), are revealed via social media all day Tuesday, 6 February, and then find a website home at

The Listen List, formally announced on Sunday, 11 February, will then be posted online at

 Announcement of the Odyssey Award (including any Honor titles in addition the winner) is part of the Youth Media Awards event slated for 8 am Monday, 12 February, in Denver. The event is live streamed and then the announced winner(s) are listed on the Odyssey Award homepage.

ALA press releases will carry the 2018 Notable Children’s Recordings and Amazing Audiobooks lists. Then each of them can be found on a stable web page, Notable Children’s Recordings at and Amazing Audiobooks at – current Each of these lists runs to over a dozen titles.

If ever you needed an idea of what audiobook to try next, this would be your month for abundant advice!

Listening as an Act of Recognizing Humanity

Wax cylinder recording materials – 1965

Since the invention of the most rudimentary of sound-capturing technology coincided with European descendent explorations of geography annexed through hostile acts of imperialism, the opportunity to hear dying languages remains with us. Taking time to listen to such recordings can serve as a respectful acknowledgment of past violences which stripped the world of certain human and spiritual potentials in service to domination by others.

The Doug Ellis Audio Collection provides nearly instant access online to stories, memories, and historic accounts recorded during the mid-20th century in Cree communities of Ontario. The sound quality is good and contextual remarks both in English-speaking voice and archive notes, along with good searching capability on the site, make this a starting point with almost no technical threshold. John Wynne’s account of “How Ghost River Got its Name” is itself one of interracial violence between First Peoples.

Like animal species, human linguistic diversity is open to both threat of endangerment and endangerment, or loss, itself. To be considered endangered, a language has fallen to such disuse by its native speakers that they no longer incorporate it fully into daily life, passing it between generations. Seeking archival recordings made when such languages were threatened—and thus the subject of non-native, native, or both teachers and record keepers—may provide guidance for the future: how can we maintain an awareness that every language is an expression of humanity that is both shared and privileged.

Coming of Age with Literary Webcomic Superpowers

Emma T. Capps has been recognized for her droll and beautifully colored print and webcomics since she was about junior high age. Now that she’s already published in a variety of kids magazines; earned stripes for being the youngest cartoonist Dark Horse Presents (#25, 2013) had collected their on-again-off-again anthology of new work and creators; and seen her webcomic The Chapel Chronicles into print, she’s continuing to concoct lovely work that is both sly and sweet—as well as a literary bonbon eater’s delight.

Welcome to The League of Fonts. The concept of a realm in which typefaces live, from their birth (creation as fonts) until each might fall into eternal disuse, is teased out with such wit that readers will get absorbed in contemplating the properties of identity bound up in those squiggles on the page and screen we typically (!) treat simply as means to an end rather than—as Capps show us—potential ends in themselves. It’s insightful, a fun view of design, but also a potent moral analog.

A word of warning: you may find yourself not only choosing your own fonts carefully after reading Capps, but also asking them if they’d like some tea.


Audiobooks for Building the Most Essential Communication Skill

Audiobooks have long been used in English-speaking countries to support new language acquisition for immigrant students. Their use in English language teaching in places outside these countries is beginning to take hold, now that digitally available audiobooks allow for more accessibility in secondary and university learning situations.

This month The Journal of Language Teaching and Research has published a new and compelling study of the benefits of “Using Audiobooks for Developing Listening Comprehension among Saudi EFL Preparatory Year Students” (Manal Mohamed Khodary Mohamed, Suez Canal University). The literature review noted in its opening paragraph speaks directly to the role of listening skills in communication success:

Listening is considered the most important language skill for achieving effective communication and good academic achievement among learners. It is a highly integrative skill because it is generally the first skill which learners develop (Oxford, 1993; Vandergrift, 1999). It has been emphasized as an essential component in the Second Language Acquisition (SLA) process (Vandergrift, 2003). It has a great role in the construction of language abilities of a Foreign Language (FL) learner (Rost, 2002). It has acknowledged a great importance in FL classrooms (Richards & Renandya, 2002; Rahimi, 2012). The role and importance of listening in SLA exceeds acquiring meaning from sounds because it does not only mean recognizing the sounds but it also involves detecting, conveying and comprehending the information and it allows comprehending the world and creating social relationships among humans (White, 2006). In spite of the importance of listening, it did not get concern in language teaching for many years (Richards & Renandya, 2002; Nation & Newton, 2009). It was the least understood and the most overlooked of the four skills (Nation & Newton, 2009; Wilson, 2008). Moreover, listening is the most difficult task for learners when they begin to learn a FL and it is the most challenging skill to be developed (Berne, 2004; Vandergrift, 2007).

In addition, then, to the experimental design, methodology of analyzing its results, and the reported results, this paper offers a concise introduction to the value of aural competency and how it can be developed through audiobook listening.

Tech Instruction via Webcomic Wisdom

Over at, The Joy of Tech is carrying along nearly into it’s third decade. Nitrozac and Snaggy, as this pair of Canadians sign themselves for their work here, publish fast-to-understand lessons in the form of half a dozen or fewer panels per take-away. These are insights and explanations that speak to experienced geeks and casual users of technology alike:

Published between four and 10 times monthly, The Joy of Tech, as one would expect, has an elegantly searchable archives. While reading individual posts is of course free, site registration for is encouraged, and Nitrozac and Snaggy have also set up a variety of ways to pay for what is very much an effort worthy of monetary support. With laudable transparency, the donations page spells out, too, exactly where the money goes as well as the various Patreon, non-Patreon, and even advertising routes available. As with all aspects of the webcomic, even this part of The Joy of Tech experience gives the reader a great précis to apply to other sites and situations when investigating their monetizing strategies.

This is a webcomic with a community and even the casual visit is likely to send the individual reader off to find someone else with whom to share it. In short, this is a webcomic that not only explains tech but also evokes why tech in truly humane terms.



In Celebration of a Compelling Speaker

On 19 July 1962 Martin Luther King Jr became the first African American to speak at the National Press Club. His post-lunch remarks were delivered days after he’d been convicted of participating in a peaceful protest against  segregation in his home state of Georgia.

The Press Club rediscovered tapes of the speech and made them available online in very recent years. They can be downloaded in MP3 format and a transcript s, of course, included.

Let’s Mansplain That (in Webcomics)

With women in the United States continuing to refuse to step away from both mic and spotlight as they talk back to a Western tradition of white male entitlements, the time is suited to tuning into webcomic “Manfeels Park.” The team of Morag & Erin use commentary (from men) found in current news account and even quoted from found dialog that sits there begging for satiric puns. The art harkens to the title’s Jane Austen roots stylistically and also manages to introduce current day settings for the kinds of occasions in which the particularly featured commentary fits.

This is one of dozens of webcomics archived by the Library of Congress. For their parts, Morag & Erin go the distance to provide source notes for each strip’s commentary. Once a fellow fan of puns, satire, and active counter attacking of mansplaining falls for this gem, there’s some back matter worthy of exploring as well in the Links section of their webcomic, including a not-too-long of other webcomic recommendations, some recommended blogs, and a couple of other projects the creators of Manfeels Park are undertaking online.

Build Listening Awareness with Challenges

Omnivorous readers with competitive bones in their bodies (if only to seek a personal best), and librarians and teachers seeking some self-managed professional development, look to reading challenges to stimulate self-accomplishment. Biblioblogs of all sorts publish them to ring in the new year, and the range on offer includes some better suited to relatively neophyte casual readers to those for word warriors. A benefit to many all along this spectrum is the sense of community joining a challenge can bring: who else has taken the challenge? How’s it working out for them? Is there someone among them who can offer support when the reading gets dull? Is there a well-matched super-reader to provide extra motivation for the high-achieving competitor?

A number of these challenges suggest participants take the occasional “challenge” of trying an audiobook. And there are a few audiobook-specific challenges on offer as well. The Caffeinated Reviewer has a well developed one that offers various intensity levels as well as the opportunity to find a listening buddy or buddies. This is a high quality, no-fee skill-building opportunity that can appeal to readers’ advisors, audiobook collection selectors and developers, language arts teachers, and families.

If joining a group doesn’t appeal, this audiobook listening challenge—and many others—can be undertaken independently. All you need is a good supply of audiobooks (library, OpenCulture, anything but piracy, please), listening advice and recommendations, and a will to listen more, and more deeply.

Introducing Sequential Art Online: Webcomics
Randall Munroe’s webcomic XKCD regularly offers unexpected nuggets of information management insight as well as real answers to seemingly unanswerable questions

With the new year, NSR pushes further into published online content, including a weekly visit to the world of webcomics. This expressive medium has been around for more than three decades. It’s a realm of stories, reports, and visual creativity, some the early forms of later publication in paper or e-resource format. Others have, some will, and, meanwhile, a lot do live long and happy lives in web only form on such graphics-friendly blogging platforms as Tumblr, and through software custom-designed specifically for creating and sharing comics content.

Webcomics give both amateur and professional cartoonists a means for sharing out new content, experimental techniques, and fan art or homages to comics artists. The web has also become a right-sized location to build a following via webcomics to gain monetary support through Kickstarter for eventual paper publication. We’re not going to be dropping into these projects much except to note subject matter themes arising that reflect more broadly on content innovations. Continue reading Introducing Sequential Art Online: Webcomics

End of the Year Listening

This week we take a half-step east of audiobooks per se to listen to recordings of live performances by a poet and a comedian. Both expressive forms are intended for auditory consumption and, in these selected cases, offer a shot of wry retrospective to go with current day events.

First up, Allen Ginsberg—Beat poet, comfortable performance artist, and more truthsayer than the provocateur he was accused of being—reads America. From atom bomb talk to TIME Magazine obsessing, this over-60-year-old invocation of the United States as hazard zone currently requires no historical explanation even to those a quarter of the poem’s age.

George Carlin’s “Filthy Words” routine, here as recorded in “Occupation Foole,” recorded in 1973, tracks the words involved in what became a First Amendment case arising when Carlin was arrested the previous year for speaking seven particular words aloud to an audience during his comedy performance. Last week’s news about a demand made of the Centers for Disease Control by Executive Office policy analysts included a different set of words, and yet the number of them—seven—puts a nearly biblical twist on US government suppression of vocabulary choices.

Among the delights of listening to such recordings is hearing the speaker’s actual delivery. This is a far cry from being left to read what a student wrote down as he heard Plato speak. We hear the places that matter to the speaker, even under the audience’s responding laughter. The leverage of direct access to intonation and pacing proves to be more than extra; in these two cases, the speakers’ good humor can give us some hope in light-heartedness itself.