My father became an avid “listener” of books at the end of his life as his eyesight gave out. The player and an endless supply of books on tape (in his category of choice) came to him free of charge thanks to an association for the blind in California. It was a lifesaver! My father liked to boast, “I’m a slow reader, but a fast listener.”
I’ve become an avid “listener” of books now as well. I listen to them while exercising, driving in the car, doing chores, and as I’m falling to sleep (see below).
Where to buy audiobooks
I mainly buy my books from Audible.com and listen to them on the Audible app on my iPhone. One nice thing about Audible.com is that you can return a book if you don’t like it, so I’ve become more experimental in my choices. (To return, go to the help menu on their website. It’s easy.) I’ve recently discovered AudioBooks.com and its app, and like it very much, as well.
Falling to sleep to an audiobook
I’ve become fond of listening to an audiobook while falling asleep. (I use a Bluetooth eyemask.) To listen to a book before sleeping, set the app to turn off after a period of time. I usually choose 30 minutes. Ideally, I will fall asleep before it clicks off. Often, the next day, I will backtrack back to a point I remember.
For falling to sleep, it’s important to choose a book that isn’t too dramatic and that has a soothing narration. For me, it’s best to choose books I’m already familiar with.
The most popular audiobook of the year?
No surprise here: it was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale.
My personal top ten audiobooks
All these are great books, but listening to an audiobook edition adds another dimension of pleasure to the experience. Some I end up buying in print as well because I want to savour the book on a sentence-by-sentence level. I also like being able to share a book I adore with friends.
I listened to dozens of audiobooks this year, and it was difficult to cull it down to only 10. Here they are, not in any particular order:
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, narrated by the author.
This is my current fave to listen to while falling asleep and the first from AudioBooks.com I’ve ordered. I’ve read the book once in print and once as a Kindle e-book, so it doesn’t matter if I gap out now and then. Macdonald has a wonderful voice.
All Things Consoled; a daughter’s memoir by Elizabeth Hay, narrated by the author.
I adore this memoir about Hay dealing with her ageing parents, and her voice is low and soothing. It’s a good one to fall to sleep to, but you might want to listen to it twice, in order to catch every word. Hay is a wonderful writer.
Becoming, by Michelle Obama, narrated by the author.
Frank, honest and inspiring. This is a good falling-asleep book, but you’ll want to repeat chapters you missed.
The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar, narrated by Juliet Stevenson,
I love most any book narrated by the actor Juliet Stevenson; her voice is golden! This is a knock-out historical novel (with just a little fantasy). It’s one of the ones I ended up ordering in print, as well, because I loved it so much.
Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty, narrated by Juliet Stevenson.
This mystery novel of sexual obsession is unusual for Juliet Stevenson — and me. Not recommended for sleeping, however!
Calypso by David Sedaris, narrated by the author.
I’m a Sedaris fan, and I think Calypso is his best yet. He’s a charming reader.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, narrated by Cathleen McCarron.
Room With a View by E. M. Forster, narrated by Juliet Stevenson.
I listened to this twice and plan to listen to it again. It’s a beautiful novel and an excellent audio edition for falling asleep.
Note: there are a number of audio editions of this classic. Be sure to choose the one narrated by Juliet Stevenson.
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, narrated by Juliet Steveson.
Another Juliet Stevenson recommendation! Henry James is certainly the last author whose work I would describe as compelling or gripping, but this novel is both. I could finally understand why it’s considered a masterpiece.
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, narrated by the author.
I adored this memoir about the science life — and learned a lot into the bargain. Eccentric, moving, extremely well-written. The author is an excellent narrator.
Happy listening! What were your favourite audiobooks this year?
I’ve been on the road, first launching and promoting The Game of Hope in Toronto, then a long drive home to unpack, regroup, and repack before heading to Montreal for the wonderful first (of many, we hope) Montreal YA fest.
It has been fantastic. At the Penguin launch in Toronto, an older woman leaned in to whisper confidentially, “You’re my favorite writer.” Such confessions are sweet. At an interview following (I don’t yet feel I should mention names), the interviewer told me that she loved The Game of Hope and went on to read every one of my other novels. That made me speechless.
That isn’t to say that everyone loves The Game of Hope — there have been some readers who do not — but overall, I’ve been very, very pleased.
The Game of Hope cards
At the Penguin launch, I had each person who lined up to have their free book signed draw a card from a deck of fortune-telling cards of “The Game of Hope” (to keep as a bookmark), and read its meaning in a tiny guide. The expressions of recognition were wonderful to see: one young woman would be getting married, another would get a promotion. Both were quite pleased. Readers love it! Of course I did not include cards that might have a negative connotation in the deck.
It was a special treat to have my step-granddaughter, 11-year-old Ellie and her mother Cara present. Ellie is reading The Game of Hope and offered shyly to a group, “And it’s really good!”
The Montreal YA Fest: such a blast!
My experience at the Montreal YA Fest was amazing, but in an entirely different way. I only sold one book (!), but I met over twenty wonderful YA authors. I’m accustomed to writers of adult fiction; let me tell you, writers of YA fiction are a different breed altogether. They are loud and rambunctious, delightful! I couldn’t buy their books at the festival unfortunately — recent back problems have forced me to be very careful about luggage weight — but as soon as I got home I put in the orders, and they are starting to arrive in waves.
Two wonderful YA novels
Already I’ve read one absolutely wonderful YA novel: 32 Questions that Changed My Mind About You by Vicki Grant. Don’t you just love a novel that compels you to stay up way too late? That makes you teary and full-hearted? This was such a one. Witty and real, I adored it.
Now I’m reading E. K. Johnstons’s novel That Inevitable Victorian Thing, a futuristic novel set in the past. (Figure that one out.) I.e. Victorian corsets with technological sensors that ease up as needed. It’s delightful, and when I’m not reading it, I’m thinking about it and can’t wait to get back to it.
The wild and wonderful YA world
In general, this immersion into the wider world of YA has been like an explosion of creative imagination for me; in a YA novel, anything is possible.
The YA Fest was extremely well-organized, with many panels for participants to choose from, great food to eat, a fun photo booth (which I’m sorry I missed out on), as well as a button-making table. Here are mine:
How cool is that? I especially love the dismayed look on the face of Little Bo Peep. Moi.
The photo at the top is from A Novel Spot bookstore in Entobicoke, Ontario. Don’t you just love it? Indie bookstores are so great. The mystery woman is Katie Middleton, the bookstore’s owner. Her hair matches perfectly!
The image above is Fireworks for the Entry of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria: The Lion, in “Reception de Louis XIII,” Lyons, 1623.
Happy New 2017!
I like the feel of this year already. I’ve weaned myself — to some extent — from toxic international news and immersed myself in finishing the eighth draft of Moonsick, my YA novel about Josephine’s daughter Hortense. (Yikes! Due this month.)
The funny side of revision
This is what revision sometimes feels like …
A New Yorker cartoon.
I’m also getting ready to send out a newsletter. Sign up here if you haven’t done so already. I will post links to it when it’s ready, but one advantage of signing up is that a subscriber wins one of my books with each newsletter.
A great audible edition of Middlemarch
When I’m not revising, or enjoying one of the many wonderful restaurants here in San Miguel de Allende with my husband, or puzzling over my latest watercolour, I’m listening to an absolutely outstanding audible edition of Middlemarch by George Eliot. This classic novel was destined to be forever on my Novels I’m Embarrassed to Admit I’ve Never Read List — in part because I just couldn’t cope with the pace and prose — but the narration by Juliet Stevenson really makes it come alive. Highly recommended!
Again, Happy New Year! You readers are the absolute best.
What audible recordings are your favourite? I’m always looking for recommendations.
I’ve been recently inspired by Twyla Tharp’s book THE CREATIVE HABIT: LEARN IT AND USE IT FOR LIFE.
Here are some quotes:
Some people find … the moment before creativity begins … so painful that they simply cannot deal with it. They get up and walk away from the computer, the canvas, the keyboard; they take a nap or go shopping or fix lunch or do chores around the house. They procrastinate. In its most extreme form, this terror totally paralyzes people.
After so many years, I’ve learned that being creative is a full-time job with its own daily patterns. That’s why writers, for example, like to establish routines for themselves. The most productive ones get started early in the morning, when the world is quiet, the phones aren’t ringing, and their minds are rested, alert, and not yet polluted by other people’s words. They might set a goal for themselves—write fifteen hundred words, or stay at their desk until noon—but the real secret is that they do this every day. In other words, they are disciplined. Over time, as the daily routines become second nature, discipline morphs into habit.
I know this works, I know this is true: I preach it, yet I don’t always succeed in doing it. Today is an example. I frittered away the morning hours answering emails that I told myself were urgent … but, frankly, anything can wait a few hours.
So: it was just an excuse.
The routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt of inspiration, maybe more. And this routine is available to everyone. Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits.
Yes, I’m shouting these words! At myself as much as to all of you.
Here are some more delicious quotes:
In order to be creative you have to know how to prepare to be creative …
there’s a process that generates creativity—and you can learn it. And you can make it habitual.
It takes skill to bring something you’ve imagined into the world: to use words to create believable lives, to select the colors and textures of paint to represent a haystack at sunset, to combine ingredients to make a flavorful dish. No one is born with that skill. It is developed through exercise, through repetition, through a blend of learning and reflection that’s both painstaking and rewarding. And it takes time.
If art is the bridge between what you see in your mind and what the world sees, then skill is how you build that bridge.
That’s the reason for the exercises. They will help you develop skill. Some might seem simple. Do them anyway—you can never spend enough time on the basics.
Everything is raw material. Everything is relevant. Everything is usable. Everything feeds into … creativity. Without the time and effort invested in getting ready to create, you can be hit by the thunderbolt and it’ll just leave you stunned.
It’s vital to establish some rituals—automatic but decisive patterns of behaviour—at the beginning of the creative process, when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up, or going the wrong way.
blog post for more quotes and an example of one of the creativity exercises Tharp gives in this book. Always carry a pencil is one. :-)
Who is Twyla Tharp?
Among many other things, Twyla Tharp
is an artist, choreographer, and creator of the smash-hit Broadway show, Movin’ Out.
She has created 130 dances for her company, the Joffrey Ballet, the New York City Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, London’s Royal Ballet, and American Ballet Theatre. She is 74 now, and far from slowing down: Choreographer Twyla Tharp brings two bold new works to Kennedy Centre
— an interview in The Washington Post
. My hero!
A few great links to share
• Masters of the Everyday: Dutch Artists in the Age of Vermeer. Be sure to click through the individual paintings and read the explanations. It’s wonderful how you can zoom in for a close look. I especially liked “The listening Housewife.” For a review of this exhibit, read this post.
• Why Your Critics Aren’t The Ones Who Count, an inspiring— and funny—Ted-type talk by Brené Brown.
What I’m up to
I’m having a hard time with the revision of Moonsick. I keep stirring the pot, but it’s slow to thicken. This beautiful photo of “Man in a fog” by Harman Wardani feels perfectly expressive of my state of mind.
Reading Tharp’s book, I realized that I have a ritual that triggers creativity: I record the day’s writing goals in a notebook and — bam! — I’m off to the races.
You may have noticed that my website is being revised (so that it will be visible on all devices). It’s still in the construction phase, so please bear with us.
The world news continues to be both distracting and extremely distressing. This cartoon, which I posted to FaceBook, has been getting a lot of “likes,” so I gather most everyone feels the same:
Have a good week … . Stay sane!
Hilary Clinton’s HARD CHOICES was a game-changer for me. It’s going on my “Best of the Year” list.
Many dismiss this book as campaign positioning. I see it as far more. I think it’s a valuable historical document, a very detailed account of what one term as US Secretary of State entails. I also think it’s Clinton’s “for the record” legacy.
I came away extremely impressed with what she accomplished—or tried to accomplish—and impressed, as well, with the role of the US in attempting to keep world peace. The world is a tinder box of explosives; the job of the US Secretary of State is critical!
Hilary’s “Smart Power” approach—diplomacy being the most important part of the equation—strikes me as sound. She makes very strong arguments for environmental protection and equality for women worldwide being key to both US security and economic development. She is a tireless advocate of Democracy. She’s a little more of a Hawk than I like, but that’s easy for someone not in the thick of it to think. Her humanitarian values are front and centre.
I came away from reading Hard Choices wanting to campaign for Hilary for President. I’m no longer a U.S. Citizen, but the U.S., like it or not, has an enormous effect on the well-being of the world—my world—and whoever is running that country will have a profound effect on my life and the lives of those I hold dear.
I highly recommend this book as an overview of the extremely serious problems in the world today. (It would be a worthy task for any book club to take on. The discussions would be heated, without a doubt!)
I’m both heartened and alarmed after reading this book: heartened because of the worthy work being done, and alarmed at how how fragile things are. A party less inclined to effective diplomacy and one that does not recognize key dangers (one that denies global warming, for example!) could spell disaster for our world—my world.
I rarely speak out on political issues. Some of my wonderful readers and very good friends are not in agreement with my views, I know, and would be inclined to dismiss anything written by Hilary Clinton. I urge you to read her book, and then let’s discuss.
Note: I listened to the Audible edition—all 27 hours of it!— and I highly recommend it, with a few cautions. The lion’s share of this very long and detailed book is narrated by Hilary, and she does a fantastic job. I didn’t care for the other narrator, Kathleen Chalfant; she puts too much emotion into her voice, which, for me, is distracting. Fortunately, she only narrates the short opening and closing sections, which are not the meat of the book.