Literacy Happens When….

Dated Fiction Meets Ironic Narration

Back in the mid-1960s, a magazine writer who had some working experience in law enforcement, some living experience in the nudist movement, and some floor experience in martial arts, began publishing a series of police procedural mysteries. The popularity of
author John Ball’s character Virgil Tibbs mushroomed with the excellent film adaption, in 1967, of the his first novel in the cycle (published 1965), In the Heat of the Night. Other film sequels followed and even a short-lived television show. As for Ball, he kept writing new cases for Tibbs (not the ones that appeared on screen adaptions of the main character after that first one), including six more novels and four short stories.

Ball was a white man from New York State via the Midwest; Tibbs was a black man transplanted to Pasadena, California, from the Old South. Several of the later novels in the cycle include both Asian and Asian American characters, cases related to locations in Asia, and storylines that rely on aspects of culture in Japan, Katmandu, and Singapore. An important character in the fourth novel in the series is a young woman of mixed Japanese and African American descent: she’s never met her father, who was stationed as an American soldier in her mother’s occupied postwar country. The second novel in the series is set in a nudist camp and, except for Tibbs, the main characters are white, a potentially fraught situation for investigator and suspects in mid-1960’s US, even in its California location. Ball’s storytelling addresses race, racism, racialism, and Tibbs’ own reflections on all of these matters directly, just as he does with gender. This made for provocative reading half a century ago. How does it all stand up to 21st century reception? Continue reading Literacy Happens When….

When Kids Listen Again and Again

Anyone who has shared books with a child aged between two and four has probably experienced the “read it again” syndrome. You just read it aloud—three times in one go  yesterday—and now it’s being thrust at you for another round, which will be followed immediately by a plea to read it another time right now, please. Of course, this kind of instant repeat wish didn’t spring to human evolution with the invention of the printing press or popular literacy; narrative “bathing” comes with maturing language acquisition whether it’s tell-me-that-story-again, recite-that-poem, or read it again.

Verbal repetition when a child is relatively new to language, is both exciting and soothing.[1]  Every repetition of the same text aloud provides the joy of recognition spiced with the curiously pleasant realization that some tiny, previously unheard nuance now strikes consciousness as well as the ear. Lindsay Patterson wrote last month of research conducted regarding podcasts for kids that opened up new insights on the attraction of repetitive listening by young children.[2] The sample surveyed giving rise to this preliminary research was small and details about it, so far, don’t include socioeconomic, gender, or ethnic demographic reference points. However, having a starting point is better than having none to push forward exploration of the power of listening to the development of children’s capacity to internalize information provided through language. Continue reading When Kids Listen Again and Again

Own Voices

We Need Diverse Books (#WNDB) has gained energy and publisher awareness since its launch in 2014. The proportion of published kids’ books continues to skew below parity for those by and about people of color, varied gender and sexual identities, and specific disabilities, with the latter two broad spectra receiving less census taking and data analysis to date in the publishing world. However, inclusivity has become a publishing value, with more people now noticing that skew and more publishers and publishing gatekeepers are actively working to correct it. The efforts have been concentrated on print titles. While both titles for kids and visually read books desperately need this attention and change in publishing traditions, adult readership and readers who use their ears need increased and sustained inclusivity in publishing as well. Among these are reviewers, whose critical pronouncements on audio materials needs to include articulate and culturally competent attention to authentic inclusivity.

An essential element of moving publishing resources toward inclusiveness, again largely in the kids print market, is awareness of own voices, which has been building broader social media consciousness with the #OwnVoices hashtag. This effort draws attention to the need for justice in publishing: narratives from and about marginalized experiences and characters from authentic sources should be sought and supported. Those who live beyond and beside the empowered culture’s contours are the ones whose voices need to be heard. Inclusivity is necessary to all of us if we are to inhabit a cultural home that has windows, mirrors, and doors. Continue reading Own Voices

Show a teen how to build a summer listening library

This Thursday heralds opening day for the 8th season of AudiobookSYNC Audiobooks for Teens. Here’s an opportunity to acquire 32 audiobooks for free and to keep for personal use (not for library collections). All comers are granted each week’s pair of free audiobooks, while the program selections target middle and high school aged teens. Last year, the program provided more than 170,000 free audiobook downloads of 30 titles.

What it is: AudiobookSYNC aims to highlight listening as a means to reading both high teen-interest titles and titles either assigned for summer reading or likely to require student attention for curriculum support. The audiobook review magazine AudioFile, hosts the annual program, uses the OverDrive app and computer software for distribution, and acquires its titles through donations from more than a dozen audiobook publishers, including the big guys like Penguin Random House and Recorded Books, and smaller houses like L.A. Theatre Works, Ideal Audiobooks, and Naxos AudioBooks. Continue reading Show a teen how to build a summer listening library

Time travel with the ancient aural art

Among the literary arts, poetry almost always needs oral performance to bring even the solitary reader close to the text. In efforts to record poetry, too its authors almost always are the best choices for performing their own works. This week, take a poetry break and learn about lives and dreams from the mouths of the poets giving their literary art immediacy, whether you are generations away or remember seeing their lines in print.

Amiri Baraka read at the Maryland Institute College of Art’s Decker Library, 14 September 1992, an occasion and performance preserved in its entirety. The MICA Archives include more than 100 readings and lectures by poets and artists. Many of the recordings here were made at local performances in Decker Library, including this 1973 reading by Allen Ginsberg. Listening to Baraka and Ginsberg across a quarter- and nearly a half-century offers something more compelling than nostalgia: these poets committed vestiges of their immediate social and political contexts to sounds that resonate with listeners in the here and now.

Recording of William Carlos Williams are preserved at the University of Pennsylvania’s PennSound Center. These tiny, literally seconds-long audios offer him reading his “The Red Wheelbarrow,” on three different occasions, spanning 1942 to 1952. One poet, one poem, and three different pacings give listeners the opportunity to appreciate how each time we express ourselves, the expression is just a bit different, perhaps easier—or more difficult—for the listener to access. PennSound also contains a treasure trove of Adrienne Rich reading her works on a great number of occasions, including this 1988 poem, “Divisions of Labor,” that speaks of matters that continue to be trenchant nearly 30 years on. Also available at PennSound, Francisco X. Alarcón’s “Letter to America”, published first in 1991, is indeed an anthem for today, both in word and performance. Continue reading Time travel with the ancient aural art

Speeding kills

Ten days ago Quartz published a piece associating America’s “unhealthy obsession with productivity with the rise in audiobook publishing and market popularity. The article puts forward relatively ancient survey data, claiming that the 2006 Audio Publishers Association’s consumer survey is the latest. It’s not and a very quick search of the same site the author used to locate this report leads to 2012 survey results, posted in 2013, and a n online search that takes all of one minute longer leads directly to the Edison Research audiobook consumer research report of 2016.

That not-minor quibble aside, the Quartz writer goes on to characterize audiobook readers as “book lovers in a hurry” and notes the availability of proprietary technologies that “speed listen,” altering the audiobook’s playback by eliminating intentional pauses in the performance’s recording and even tripling the speed of the cadences chosen by narrators and directors. At this point, the writer is no longer really discussing audiobook listening; instead, the subject is the avoidance of listening, and, thereby, the avoidance of actually falling into the audiobook. Continue reading Speeding kills

The power of free choice in literacy acquisition–kids’ edition

With the explosion of digital audiobook publishing, dedicated listeners now exercise a wide range of free choices for their literate ears: diverse genres, classics, backlist sleepers, hot-off-the-press new titles. There are other choices they can make now, too: performances by single narrators, full cast performances, audiobooks enhanced with musical beds or realistic sound effects, short-form works and those that require more than 40 hours of submersion. The choices literate listeners make are shaped by both wide-ranging experiences with various options and awareness of which of these holds the most satisfaction in their personal consumption. These two shaping mechanisms function iteratively to further develop listening taste. And every choice made regarding listening taste deepens the listener’s skills and comes courtesy of the freedom to choose.

Varieties of tea
Range Beverage Choice Tea Exotic

In contrast to all these benefits of free choice, children new to literate listening come up against forces of external power over their potential to gain independent skills. For school children in marginally progressive classrooms, this typically takes the form of adult insistence that a child listening to an audiobook must have a print paper or ebook copy in hand. Many American schools, still subscribing to the benighted Accelerated Reading cult, keep any kind of literacy freedom bound to prescribed levelling codes and a schedule of completion over immersion time. Continue reading The power of free choice in literacy acquisition–kids’ edition

Renewing literacy through sustained listening

Putting aside (although hardly forgetting) concerns with truly universal access to audiobooks for this post, let’s consider how listening can build engaged literacy. As the Walrus article ALA made sure to circulate broadly last week argues, literacy is as much endangered by lack of interest on the parts of those with the skills as other human epochs have experienced its fragility through lack of the skills themselves.

True literacy, when it comes to experiencing the world- and empathy-expanding powers of lengthy, carefully crafted narratives (that is, books) requires the reader to maintain connection with what the author has to say and how the author says it to a vanishing point between the book and its reader. Having the skills to decode letters, words, phrases, and passages is akin to amassing the bricks, mortar, glass, and roof shingles needed to build a house: unless you can stick with the efforts to reconstruct this pile of ingredients by following the author-supplied blueprint, you’re left with a lot full of debris or a haphazard stack that offers no fit dwelling place. On the other hand, once you’ve followed the blueprint, you then have a staging point (a house) from which you can go forth with the experience of building and dwelling in it. Continue reading Renewing literacy through sustained listening

Access to literacy connection: Material technology still needed

With the exception of oral storytelling, every way we share literature, published information, and literacy experiences requires some kind of material tool. From clay tablets to paperbacks, cinema screens to computer screens, live theater stages to the mobiles on which apps can reach audio files, we need to control an object of technology (or technologies) in order to get narrative access. Each newly rising literacy experience technology bridge has been met by naysayers, unwilling to give up the old—tried and true, in their estimation—material access point for something newer, less cumbersome and, often, more difficult for the naysayer accustomed to another sort of technology, to use at the start.

The reality, of course, is that everything we do as individuals is more difficult when we first try it, from dressing ourselves to negotiating a journey beyond our home. And we learn to achieve some level of technical competency because others before us have achieved competency that, through repeated use has attained popular assimilation: our general culture accepts clothing and travel outside as normative reliances on material objects. The same has become true for literacy throughout many world cultures. Literacy’s spread, in fact, depended on material things—manuscripts that preserved words and concepts developed by earlier authors and then printed books that made the transmission of scripted literature available to copious duplication (and thus wider distribution). Culturally, although of course never universally as individuals, we have achieved literacy, using yesterday’s tools. Continue reading Access to literacy connection: Material technology still needed

Audiobook Review—The Big Break: The Greatest American WWII POW Escape Story Never Told (Stephen Dando-Collins)

The Big Break: The Greatest American WWII POW Escape Story Never Told

By Stephen Dando-Collins; Read by Paul Woodson

Recorded Books, 2017; 8.25 hours

World War II prisoner-of-war escapes immediately conjure Hollywood images of captured but undefeated allied soldiers outsmarting their evil Hun overlords. Close, but now picture the prisoners half starved; unbathed with scruffy beards, long matted hair; and dirty, ragged clothes. Quite a different impression.

Paul Brickhill chronicled that war’s most famous POW break in his 1950 volume, The Great Escape, later morphed into the all-star 1963 film. Here, military historian Stephen Dando-Collins chronicles the even greater escape of American officers from German prison camp Oflag 64 in Schubin, Poland, a year before, which proved a development and testing ground for many of the methods for the clandestine digging and hiding of dirt, and shoring and ventilating tunnels employed by the multinational servicemen staging The Great Escape.

Dando-Collins follows a linear course beginning with an intricate escape plan via tunnel leading from one of the camp’s latrines—there’s no more powerful testament to the POW’s desperation than crawling through their own waste inch by putrid inch to construct a tunnel to freedom. It was impossible to clean clothes daily in a camp where bathing was luxury enough, leaving the tunnelers reeking of human excrement day and night. Continue reading Audiobook Review—The Big Break: The Greatest American WWII POW Escape Story Never Told (Stephen Dando-Collins)

Access to digital literacy increases potential for civic inclusion

Earlier this month, the UK government published a policy paper on “Digital Skills and Inclusion: Giving everyone access to the digital skills they need” that, in keeping with the authors’ purpose, focused on digital skill relevance to employability. Reading it from the perspective of a Stateside librarian committed to building and supporting means for transliteracy development, I see potential application to the need to educate both sides of the digital divide regarding the relevance of critical listening to critical thinking, the availability of resources to build critical listening skills, and, through access to digital audio, the tools to create listening capacity that opens channels of both understanding and empathy for civic participation to become more fully realized.

Transliteracy acknowledges that our human capacity to learn from and share informational and literary content cannot be limited to visual reading of text. Journalism has long left behind the limitation of print to transmit information through still and moving photography, spoken word broadcasts and podcasts, and interactive (social) platforms. Transliteracy describes the “ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks.” The end sought through the means of transliteracy exercise, however, is to build the inclusive social and civic connections described in the UK paper on Digital Skills and Inclusion (cited above).

Attentive listening is no more a passive condition than is purposeful sight reading. We gain copious details by listening to content that escape us when seeing a text-based presentation, especially if we are either (1) a sight reader lacking fluency and thus stopped by confusion about punctuation or sentences with multiple dependent and independent clauses; or (2) an overly confident and actually lazy sight reader eager to achieve the finish line and prone to glossing past complex passages on the way to doing so.  A written passage may take several paragraphs to create, through text alone, those images and speeches and thoughts and explanations needed to present a single, momentary instant or insight. (Sequential art[ii], of course, can achieve this more efficiently). Visual performance arts, in addition to the copious acting skills of those on screen or stage, make use of scenery and costuming to impart information beyond the physical actions and words exchanged. Continue reading Access to digital literacy increases potential for civic inclusion

The Freedom to Read–and Listen

Our culture seems to grow increasingly attentive to monitoring youthful family members’ personal lives—baby monitors set to eavesdrop on the napping 4-year-old who has no incipient medical issues to warrant vigilance; scheduling every free chunk of time with organized activities to eliminate those precious moments of freedom and independent pursuits; parental insistence in maintaining control over teens’ school assignments. Library ethics acknowledge parental rights to monitor their own children’s access to information; parents who choose to exercise that right should be informed about the diminishing effects this has on human development as children (hopefully) mature into their own individuals.

We do have the freedom regardless of  age to expose ourselves to information and literary experiences. We do not–and should not–have to accept everything we read, hear, or may be assigned to consider. We all do, however, have the right to give our own permission to what we ourselves care to consider through reading and through listening. It is through that exposure that we learn for ourselves what to accept, or reject, in the way of ideas. Continue reading The Freedom to Read–and Listen

Just Listen


Almost all of us know a kid whom we recognize as an inveterate reader, and some of us were that kid or grew up to be litaholics as adults. When you think of such a person, regardless of age, is your image limited to that someone who reads silently, eyes focused on text strewn pages?

A variety of expert groups now are on board with audiobooks both as “acceptable” for supporting literacy attainment efforts.  That has placed them in a kind of literacy medicine cabinet, where the format is simply means to an end that must be in a different format, the silently consumed text on paper page.

Listening well can help us understand concepts and feelings—and thus our world and the others in it, as well as ourselves—that escape our notice when we listen poorly or apply only our own interpretation to a printed page’s text. Audiobooks aren’t a booster chair to get kids to the table of text literacy; they are a rich means of offering the opportunity to build a skill just as valuable and necessary as that: the skill of feeling at home in a world where others are just as real as we are. Continue reading Just Listen

Why audiobook listening expands, rather than derails, our access to literature


Reading by Ear: Who’s the Model Reader?

We seem to be in the throes of a season of debate about whether audiobook listening can be equated with reading print. Several readers who enjoy listening couple that statement with another that notes they feel “ashamed” or “guilty” for taking pleasure in such literary participation. Print readers who advertise how they are “against” audiobooks note that they themselves read print books with no other accompanying activity while only listen when otherwise engaged; that they don’t attend to detailed passages when they are “only” hearing them. There are even the overly self-confident naysayers who forthrightly declare that those other people who suggest listening to books is participating in literary culture are either pranking themselves or spreading a vile cancer upon the literary landscape. Continue reading Why audiobook listening expands, rather than derails, our access to literature

Audiobook Highlight: The Short Reign of Pippin IV by John Steinbeck

Audiobooks are ebooks. Listening is learning. In an effort to raise awareness among readers and all who work with books about the versatility of digital literacy, NSR occasionally publishes audiobook reviews of titles of exceptional quality to draw attention to the subtle (but consistent) ways in which formats are blurring in digital environments.
This week’s pick is John Steinbeck’s The Short Reign of Pippin IV. In the words of NSR reviewer, “with current headlines, this political screwball comedy will be much appreciated.”

Z04217_image_148x230[1]Title: The Short Reign of Pippin IV
Author: John Steinbeck
Narrator: Jefferson Mays
Publisher: Recorded Books
Release Date: 2016

Duration: 4 hours

Reviewed for NSR by Michael Rogers (Babylon, New York)


John Steinbeck often tackles the affairs of the common man and the political climate that impacts him, but usually in a serious tone (The Grapes of Wrath isn’t exactly a barrel of laughs). This 1957 novel also incorporates those themes, but Steinbeck shows a different side of himself by presenting them in a wicked satire so biting that Jonathan Swift would be envious. Continue reading Audiobook Highlight: The Short Reign of Pippin IV by John Steinbeck

Audiobook of the Week: Bobby Kennedy (The Making of a Liberal Icon)

Audiobooks are ebooks. Listening is learning. In an effort to raise awareness among readers and all who work with books about the versatility of digital literacy, NSR occasionally publishes audiobook reviews of titles of exceptional quality to draw attention to the subtle (but consistent) ways in which formats are blurring in digital environments. Enjoy this week’s pick.

9780735208087[1]Title: Bobby Kennedy 
Subtitle: The Making of a Liberal Icon
Author: Larry Tye
Narrator: Marc Cashman
Publisher: Books on Tape
Release Date: 2016

Duration: 20 hours


Reviewed for NSR by Michael Rogers (Babylon, New York)

Almost half a century after his June 5, 1968 murder, Bobby Kennedy still lingers in his brother’s shadow. As Tye ably shows, however, if not for an assassin’s bullet, Bobby likely would be the Kennedy son lauded as the great president. The public remains so ensconced in the “Camelot” myth surrounding JFK/Jackie that Bobby’s more impressive résumé has been ignored. If Bobby lived to be president, the 1960s might not be remembered for the turmoil that roiled the nation. The Civil Rights horrors still making terrible headlines might have been put to rest, and U.S. involvement in Vietnam perhaps would have halted sooner.

But how did this billionaire’s son born into unfathomable privilege who began his political career as a commie-buster for tail-gunner Joe McCarthy morph into the patron saint of liberalism? His journey is a remarkable story of perseverance, tragedy, and personal growth.

He was the runt of the Kennedy litter and deemed “girlish” by mother Rose, a label that made Bobby push himself harder. Bobby was still a small boy when first-born son Joe Jr. died in World War II, causing his father’s determination to have a son in the White House shift to Jack, a sickly, bookish intellectual, who grudgingly accepted the yoke, while Bobby simply was expected to play the lead role in supporting his brother’s political endeavors. No one did it better! Bobby became the campaign manager, personal confidant, and trouble-shooter from hell! He perceived his role as all-encompassing: from sealing envelopes, to knocking on doors, to leaking disparaging information about Jack’s opponent to the press (Tye credits Bobby with introducing the smear campaign). Bobby’s detractor’s labeled him “ruthless” because of his laser-focused determination to win at any cost, no matter how hard, how much it cost, how long it took—or who got hurt.

Whereas Jack, who several times had flirted with death from illness and his noted military service, joyfully embraced the perks of being a rich man’s son with all the splendors of wine, women, and song (especially the women), Bobby was nose to the grindstone, believing that success was achieved through hard work, although he, too, enjoyed his share of un/married affairs and repeatedly utilized his father’s connections to his advantage. After successfully managing Jack’s Massachusetts’s senate campaign, Bobby went to work for his dad’s crony Joe McCarthy. Bobby’s innate hatred of communism fueled his fervor for rooting out reds in the U.S., but clashes with henchman Roy Cohn made his time with the Wisconsin senator short while teaching him the invaluable lesson of covering his ass by doing his homework himself without cutting corners—Bobby always dotted his I’s and crossed his T’s; habits that served him well.

Tye shows that Bobby was stubborn, unforgiving (Joe Sr. observed that, “when Bobby hated you, you stayed hated”), and entered politics with a trunk full of biases but learned quickly to keep an open mind and change his opinion based on knowledge acquired first-hand. In principle he was vehemently anti-Communist but travelled throughout Russia to learn for himself what life under Soviet rule was like by going among the people, an act repeated in Japan and other locales. Unlike many in power, Bobby was interested in the thoughts of the young and visited colleges to meet students wherever he went.

Bobby liked to fight—he claimed it cleansed him—and never backed down from trading punches (literally and figuratively) with bigger, tougher opponents from college football bruisers to teamsters czar Jimmy Hoffa. His iron determination and ability to withhold judgment until researching the issues made Bobby a champion of causes unlike any other. When hearing that Americans were living in astounding poverty and squalor in the south, he investigated, visiting black families in dirt-floor shacks with only molasses for every meal. He knew the wealthy and privileged turned a blind eye to the sufferings of others less fortunate, so he forced himself to look and to act.

Tye details how Jack’s death emotionally destroyed Bobby—he lost his brother, confidant, and best friend. The blazing fire of his will was reduced to smoldering ash that took years of stoking to reignite. JFK’s death also halted Bobby’s influence with the White House—Lyndon Johnson kept him as attorney general but hated him (the feeling was mutual).

Bobby never fully overcame Jack’s death, but learned to move forward with a determination of keeping his brother’s legacy alive through his own actions. Clinching the NY senate seat was his path back to Washington (although LBJ already had passed many of the Civil Rights, education, and anti-poverty legislation Jack started).

As Tye amply illustrates, Bobby was a doer; promises meant nothing unless fulfilled. He worked hard, played hard, and was equally loved and hated by his political peers and the populace he served. The narrative, which incorporates much new information, is well balanced; Bobby’s achievements are praised while his many faults are equally well cataloged. It’s a detailed, even-handed portrait of Bobby as a hard-charging, no bullshit politician and a loving and dedicated husband and father. Narrator Marc Cashman reads in a documentary-style tone that is a perfect match for the material.

In the current, seemingly insane political climate gripping America, Tye’s account couldn’t be more timely, and is a strong addition to biography, history, and political science collections.

Special thank you to Michael Rogers, former Media Editor and audiobook reviewer at Library Journal, for contributing this and other reviews to NSR. Publishers/producers interested in getting their (newly released) audiobooks reviewed on NSR should contact Michael directly at

NSR Audiobook Review: Charcoal Joe (An Easy Rawlins Mystery) by Walter Mosley

cover_9780735208742Title: Charcoal Joe: An Easy Rawlins Mystery

Author: Walter Mosley

Narrator: Michael Boatman

Publisher/Producer: Books on Tape, 2016

Duration: 10 hours

Reviewed for NSR by Michael Rogers (Babylon, New York)

This 14th outing in Mosley’s award-winning Easy Rawlins series finds the48-year-old L.A. private investigator as firmly wedged between a rock and a hard place as a man can get and still draw breath. He’s not crushed—yet—but space is getting real tight!

With his WRENS-L Detective Agency—formed with partners Saul Lynx and Tinsford “Whisper” Natly—gaining momentum, Easy is hired by his sociopathic friend Raymond “Mouse” Alexander on behalf of gangster Rufus Tyler, a.k.a. Charcoal Joe, to prove a young African American physicist innocent of a double murder. The cops caught Dr. Seymour Brathwaite standing over the dead bodies of known criminal Peter Boughman and a hitman named Ducky in a beach bungalow, but the scientist claims to have stumbled upon the crime while searching for his housekeeper mother and was about to notify the police when they appeared with guns drawn.

Brathwaite is as unlikely a killer as possible, but he’s a black man poised over two white corpses and that’s good enough for the police. Nursing a broken heart, Easy prying an innocent youth from the LAPD’s iron grip provides the perfect distraction, but nothing in a PI’s day is ever what it seems. Seymour’s problem is the proverbial tip of the iceberg—Easy very quickly finds himself among several very bad men and equally dangerous but physically alluring women. Along with the usual cast of characters populating the Easy mysteries (Mouse, Mama Joe, Jackson Blue, Feather, Bonnie, etc.,), readers are treated to the huge bonus of Fearless Jones (star of his own Mosley series) lending much-needed muscle.

Despite being well dressed and more articulate than most men of any color, Easy strikes deep-rooted fear in most white women and ire in white men (especially cops), but 1968 society is taking baby steps towards racial tolerance, and the PI does his bit to further the black cause, although, as he notes, the hammer is always poised to drop.

Narrator Michael Boatman has a strong voice, but his reading is a bit flat in the book’s opening (it evens out as the story progresses). His pacing also is a tad slow—Mosley unfurls the story in short, quick-moving chapters, so the reading should be equally energetic. However, if the listener is driving or performing another activity requiring constant attention, the slower pace might be perfect, so ear of the beholder.

A new Easy mystery is always a pleasure, and series’ fans will have a fine time catching up with old friends.

NSR now publishes reviews of audiobooks. The reason is simple: we believe audiobooks are ebooks, and that listening is learning. Read more about it here.

Special thank you to Michael Rogers, former Media Editor and audiobook reviewer at Library Journal, for contributing this and other reviews to NSR. Publishers/producers interested in getting their (newly released) audiobooks reviewed on NSR should contact Michael directly at


NSR Audiobook Review: Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick

Subtitle: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution
Narrator: Scott Brick
Publisher: Books on Tape
Release Date: 2016

Duration: 13.5 hours

Reviewed for NSR by Michael Rogers (Babylon, New York)

More than 200 years after our nation’s founding, Benedict Arnold remains the leading boogie man of U.S. history. But what spurred a patriot who sacrificed his personal wealth and suffered the most dire hardships of war, including the near loss of a leg to a British musket ball, into becoming the Judas of the American Revolution? In short, a huge, easily bruised ego; a taste for life’s finest without the financial means to procure it; and a sexpot wife with a mercenary heart beating within her substantial bosom. Continuing the history begun in his 2013 Bunker Hill, Philbrick (Mayflower, In the Heart of the Sea) further dispels the notion that American colonists were united in shucking the British yoke to form a nation of equals. The class system was in full vigor throughout the colonies, with those at the top quite content to keep all others languishing on the bottom. For most of society’s elite, the war was fine as long as someone else fought it (and suffered, starved, and died), and they sure as hell weren’t going to finance it! Even within the military Arnold wasn’t alone in endeavoring to boost his own career and social standing (and bank account) at the expensive of other officers.

Philbrick contends that Arnold enjoyed taking risks and possessed a battlefield genius for swiftly analyzing both forces’ strengths/weaknesses and emerging victorious, making him a superior field officer to Washington. A fierce warrior, Arnold fought alongside his adoring troops (he had two horses shot out from under him) while fellow generals commanded from the safety of the rear. Continue reading NSR Audiobook Review: Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick

Are you a ‘reader’ when listening to an audiobook? Yes, of course.

audiobooksThere is really no need to recite numerous reports that have come out recently correlating audiobooks with reading success of children and young adults. There is also no need to convince librarians and publishers that listening is learning and that listening is synonymous with literacy. Those who have been on the frontlines know the benefits of audiobooks and listening to the spoken word.

However, many people outside the library and publishing industry still believe that listening to audiobooks is a form of cheating and not really the same thing as reading.  This is puzzling. All one needs to do to dispel this belief is think back in time and consider how people passed on knowledge to each other for generations. Did they all have the privilege to access urban libraries for books? Or money to buy books on their own? Did they even have a bookstore or library anywhere in the vicinity of where the lived? How did they learn exactly? Continue reading Are you a ‘reader’ when listening to an audiobook? Yes, of course.

Audiobooks: An effective tool for improving literacy

audiobooks and literacyA study has just been released that confirms the positive impact of audiobooks in literacy development. But do we even need to conduct more studies to prove that listening is, in fact, learning? Haven’t people been listening to stories for centuries, and long before they could pass them around to each other on paper? And aren’t we also using our imagination when ‘listening’ to a story in order to conjure up mental images of what is being told to us? Audiobooks have always been popular, and for good reasons: some people (including children) prefer to listen rather than read, and many believe one can learn just as much from listening.

The really interesting aspect of this is the connection of audiobooks and ebooks. Since audiobooks are often thought of as “digital content,” let us not forget that many ebooks nowadays come with an audio component built in, which means they can be read or listened to (or both). Which also means: ebooks and audiobooks are quickly blending into one type of “format,” making it harder to distinguish between the two. Making it rather obvious that in the not-so-distant future, we will not need to.

Read the study here.