Category Archives: General Interest

SYNC Season 9: A Summer of Free Audiobooks

This Thursday (26 April) at 7 am EDT, AudiobookSYNC’s 9th season officially opens. Sponsored by AudioFile Magazine, in conjunction with OverDrive, and contributions from 14 audiobook publishers, SYNC provides its participants with two free audiobook downloads per week across its 13-week run. The audiobooks have been selected for their high appeal to teen listeners, both for school-related summer reading and for entertainment.

Since SYNC’s inception, many public libraries, teachers, and school librarians have become enthusiastic promoters of the annual event. The downloads are for individual use only and cannot be added to library collections. However, since they can be downloaded on any device and by anyone 13+, they provide an excellent programming mechanism: alternative format for assigned reading, discussion group material which all group members can access simultaneously and at no cost, theater arts exposure, and more.

With rights varying across national borders, only US downloaders (including those on military bases anywhere in the world) have access to all 26 titles. Canada, this year, has access to 25 of these, while 19 of the 26 are, indeed, available to anyone anywhere. Each week’s pair of titles is connected by theme, performance style, or subject matter. And each pair is available for only one week. When the new pair arrives on the SYNC site on the subsequent Thursday at 7 am EDT, the former pair is no longer available for free download.

The SYNC site is filled with all sorts of helpful information, including the calendar of pairings, promotional posters, technical advice, and listen-alike for each title. You can follow SYNC–and get involved in sharing ideas and responses to listening with other SYNC participants–on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Tell a teen, tell a teen librarian, tell a teacher, or just go ahead and listen yourself.

When Audio Leads

On the heels of the London Book Fair’s attention to audiobooks this year, a story in yesterday’s Entertainment section of BBC News goes more deeply into the medium as its own literary form. Four salient points need attention by librarians, vendors, teachers, and readers regarding how audio-format reading addresses more than just an option for busy consumers:

  1. Audiobook production, as a predetermined publication end, can give authors an opportunity to explore and expose specific narrative styles. Poet and novelist Sophie Hannah points up her desire to make specific use of dialog, when her writing is to be recorded in audio. Knowing that the ultimate publication of a story will be for the ear, rather than the eye, can lead to choices of words and phrasings with specifically auditory power and character and relationship building might take an alternate course, through dialog, than when such developmental passages are intended to be presented as text.
  2. Creating literature for audio sharing takes the role of storyteller back to the roots of literature itself. Attending to how a narrative sounds aloud echoes the role played by epic poets in making the narrative’s sound compelling enough to follow, remember, and revisit.
  3. Reading with one’s ears requires mental attention, just as reading with one’s eyes does. To use audiobooks as background noise defeats the whole purpose of playing them.
  4. And, in a point worth considerable examination and corresponding pilot project study, author and former teacher
    Joanne Harris

    Joanne Harris suggests that audiobooks may offer specific appeal to boys who have been trained that reading is a passive activity.

While the business end of the BBC article is interesting, in that there seems to be increasing harmony between styles of audiobook recording and listening in the UK and the US, these four points go much further than marketing. Each one offers insights for consideration in library programming, classrooms, and practice by both authors and narrators.

 

A Poem’s Proof of Aural Power

WEST MOUNTAIN EPILOGUE A READING BY JAY PARINI FROM HIS NEW AND COLLECTED POEMS: 1975-2015 by Jay Parini | Read by Jay Parini Beacon Press | Unabridged Selections, Beacon Press

Thanks to both document digitization and audio recording, we can engage both eyes and ears in extending the life of the oldest English language poem extant. The British Library’s digitization of an early manuscript copy of Beowulf (which, of course, is an epic predating its inscription) is cataloged to include its physical properties as well as presented in full color(s) on screen. As a thousand-year-old document, it looks admirable and the description of its fiber content also provides suggestions of both scent and touch sensations.

Arthur Bahr, MIT Old English assistant professor, reads the first 12 lines in Beowulf’s original here. As this was recorded on video, with the camera directed at Bahr, the disconnect between the aural and visual presentation of a t-shirted and most definitely 21st century man serves to demonstrate how the power of listening alone can allow the reader to be more deeply absorbed than when they are confronted by sight as well as sound. Humans, at the norm, depend on eyesight as our primary means of information gathering. However, when we deploy our eyes while trying to listen, we are, indeed, less likely to hear all that we can when we stop looking.

ELECTRIC ARCHES by Eve L. Ewing | Read by Eve L. Ewing Haymarket Books | Unabridged, Haymarket Books

While many Westerners accompany any listening they do with visual stimulus (either from the same source, as in video, or through multitasking), the true power of what we can hear–and feel and think based on hearing alone–can be revealed when we don’t look. Pull up some poetry  and spend an hour listening with your eyes closed. The link immediately above offers reviews of possibilities ranging from classic to contemporary, collections of verse and novels in verse. Whatever you choose, let your ears have your full attention.

Happy National Poetry Month in Webcomics

Every Wednesday you can catch a new episode in Nonsense Poetry Comics posted by Sean Monett on Twitter @FlowerPower. On Tumblr each week’s update (often unrhymed) offers incisiveness lines with images that pack the major content points.

Since April is National Poetry Month in the US, what better way to discover webcomics? While wit is always apparent, images sometimes appear in black and white, sometimes in gorgeously hued tones. Some weeks bring multi-panel strips while others are single panel cartoons. Here’s a good place to find variety in comics communication styles as well as a moment of reflection with a smile.

Sound Learning Easier to Search

The Audio Publishers Association’s literacy promotion initiative, Sound Learning APA, has had its online presence altered just enough to make a big difference for users seeking audio literacy, and multimodal literacy content. The site includes research on listening and literacy, classroom-appropriate sample activities, and—now more evident than previously—lists of high quality titles sorted by listener interest age.

The lists are complete with annotations, sound clips, and covers. The newest list, Early Childhood audiobook suggestions, includes an essay on the pre-literacy skills audiobooks support and the list itself is subdivided for easy use by preschool teachers: there are titles by theme (e.g., music and rhyme, food, dinosaurs) each followed with activities using them with a group of under-five’s. As with the grade-level lists and the list for those who are ready for adult books, this one is deep as well as broad, with more than half a dozen thematic groups, each offering about four different titles. The range of publishers is also broad, appropriate to the site’s providers which is the audiobook trade group’s association.

Comics Cultural Laureate

As International Women’s Month rockets toward a close for 2018, kit’s a good time to give a shoutout to the Netherlands’ current Comic Artist Laureate. Stateside, the status of laureate seems to be a designation reserved for arts that have been awarded a kind of protected status: protected from hoi polloi and popular acclaim. Happily, European countries realize that celebrating cartoonists is important, too.

Margreet de Heer draws with whimsical delight that is both infectious and informative. Her books available in America include histories of religion and philosophy, each of which do the heavy lifting of big ideas with accessible observations as well as sweetly engaging imagery. Like these two volumes, her webcomic is about discoveries as well: Discoveries in Comics themselves. In addition to being a crackerjack artist, she’s an observer in awe of both ideas and daily life and that awe is infectious.

You might start by enjoying the emotional—and emotional rollercoaster—of her account regarding her appointment as Comic Artist Laureate of the Netherlands. There is no good reason to stop there, however: after all, laureate status indicates that the person has something worthy of notice by everyone. Move on to read her thoughtful comic on #MeToo. Her wordless account of the process of making comics is one fellow artists will find comforting, s knowing company needs.

There are also pieces about the family cat, political questions, and the research processes she uses when writing nonfiction comics. There are movie reviews, moments of fantasy, and autobiographical moments. Pick up your screen, settle in, and enjoy a good long visit with a laureate.

 

The Observant Voice

‘If I’m a storyteller it’s because I listen’ –John Berger [Interview with Kate Kellaway for the Guardian, 30 October 2016]

Critic, author, and aesthetic theoretician John Berger wrote significantly about the primacy and impact of visual experience in The Ways of Seeing close to 50 years ago, before educated access to the world of ideas moved to us through images as much as through words. This text continues to provide readers with better understanding of how the act of seeing affects the viewer as well as them.

Years later (2011), Berger read aloud his essay on imprisonment with its opening statement on our attachment to hearing words. (The essay was published in Guernica Magazine, informs15 July 2011). Hearing him read it aloud in 2018 seems remarkable: his observations on walls built of material and erected on the bases of class, cultural, and political means resonate now with a prescience that would be frightening were Berger not already recognized as brilliant and capable of extrapolating from the local observation to the human condition with more skill than either personal or cultural prejudice.

Available for free listening through the Open Culture portal, here are 33 minutes for all to hear now. Berger’s somewhat idiosyncratic pronunciations do not intrude on the experience of hearing him directly and his pacing supports comprehensive listening, every phrase and statement given its full weight aloud and time to resonate within the hearing.

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

 

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.

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.

Book of the week: No Big Thing (Wm. Stage)

In an effort to draw attention to quality self-published literature and in agreement with BlueInk Review, NSR highlights reviews published on BIR’s site each week, including a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction. This week’s pick:

No Big Thing

In a checkered life, Wm. Stage has been a tree trimmer, ambulance driver, public health officer, process server and newspaper columnist. He has taught feature writing at the Defense Information School, Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana; and photojournalism at Saint Louis University School for Professional Studies. Presently his commentaries may be heard occasionally on KWMU-FM, the NPR affiliate in St. Louis.

BlueInk Review was founded by Patti Thorn, former books editor of the Rocky Mountain News, and Patricia Moosbrugger, literary agent and subsidiary rights specialist. It offers serious, unbiased reviews of self-published books. Reviews are penned largely by writers drawn from major mainstream publications, such as The New York Times and Washington Post, and editors of respected traditional publishing houses. Select reviews appear in Booklist magazine.

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 theaudies.com.

The Listen List, formally announced on Sunday, 11 February, will then be posted online at https://www.rusaupdate.org/awards/the-listen-list/

 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 http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/notalists/ncr and Amazing Audiobooks at http://www.ala.org/yalsa/amazing-audiobooks – 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!

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.

 

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.