Friday, December 28, 2007

C average

Recorded Books has a tendency to use the same narrators again and again (sometimes this is not a good idea), so some of the voices I heard while listening to Gordon Korman's Schooled were quite recognizable: Andy Paris (Jeremy Fink), Nick Lee (Invisible), Nick Landrum (Alabama Moon [How embarrassing is this? I just noticed that the author (!!!) had posted a comment to this post ... do you think it's too late to reply?) played roles in this story of middle school gone particularly rancid. Capricorn Anderson has been living on a commune in Northern California all his life, when his grandmother (and only other commune resident) falls and breaks her hip (leg?). Cap is visited by a social worker who plans on putting him in foster care during his grandmother's convalescence, but it turns out that she was once a resident of Garland as well, so she takes pity on him and invites him to stay with her. He is enrolled at Claverage (the school's sign is soon vandalized to C average) Middle School as an 8th grader, and because he is soooo very different from these suburban California teens, many forms of harassment are perpetrated.

It's all very amusing in a Gordon Korman way, but the slight story is weighed down by an extremely obvious and ponderous message of acceptance. (Do all middle school horror stories have to have this message?) Fortunately the book has a multiple narrator format: each chapter is narrated by a different character: Cap, the school's alpha male, a wannabe alpha female, the social worker, the social worker's daughter, the dweeb who is relieved at Cap's appearance because he is no longer low man, etc. So, the varying perspectives -- and, in listening, the differing voices -- help to maintain interest. Some books lend themselves to audio and this is a good match.

It was nice to hear Nick Landrum not play an isolated country boy, and I didn't hear any gasps from Andy Paris, so it's good to know that these two good narrators can branch out and improve. However, I didn't find the novel all that compelling, so I'm not sure how I'm going to vote on this one.

Barely surviving

I read Nancy Werlin's The Rules of Survival about 18 months ago, and found it overly dramatic and agonizing in the way that teen "problem" fiction can be. Three kids with a crazy, abusive mother are forced to find their own way (without other adults) to safety. In this novel, the older children, Matt and Callie, meet a man named Murdoch who -- although they have to do some convincing -- agrees to help them. Mom eventually goes completely off her rocker, though, and son (and narrator) Matt must ride to the rescue solo. For me, it was just too, too tragic.

However, it turns out to be a pretty good audiobook. And I think this is for two reasons: It's first person and in the form of a long letter from Matt to his baby sister, Emmy; and the voice in my head is not my voice, but someone else's (Daniel Passer) who portrays Matt with quiet conviction and a little bit of despair at the way he and his sisters have been abandoned by adults who should help them. He reads with an edge of panic when he sees his mother spiral out of control, and with great affection for the sister who is hearing the story. The melodrama and obvious artificiality of the story is sublimated by this committed reader.

Of all the books I had to "re-read" for Selected Audiobooks, this was the one I least wished to get re-acquainted with. And, like practically all the others (or has it indeed been all of them?), this visit was completely OK, and even eye-opening. How can you not love audiobooks?

Not!

OK, so there were only 89 tracks per disk. In a few years, perhaps, they'll get down to the "normal" number: 20-something. So my main complaint about Cross Your Heart ... was that there simply wasn't much of a story. The four sophomore roommates learn that the east wing of the Gallagher Academy has been declared off limits, and they overhear something about Blackthorn. They agitate for a few chapters about this (without ever using their highly vaunted spy skills to do some research -- can you say Google?), and then learn that they are being joined by a half dozen males from the Blackthorn spy school for boys. Much hilarity -- not! -- occurs when the girls start reacting to the presence of the boys. In the way of heroines of novels everywhere, Cammy finds herself thrown the way of a particular student named Zach. Much disgust and internal confusion -- not! -- over this situation. Cammy has to get dressed to the nines for a party at the school (which does, of course, make her awkward and uncomfortable -- not!), and finally the spy story kicks in. This is during the last disk. I won't spoil the "surprise." A very slight effort all around -- and quite frankly, the girls here aren't all that interesting. I still say the covers are the best part of these books. (My New Year's resolution for this blog -- book covers!)

The reading was OK. As I said in the earlier post, I'm not enamored of her delivery style, but she is skilled at creating different characters, so keeping track in the story wasn't difficult at all. She can portray men with naturalness and confidence and I appreciate that. But when I heard her read Zach, he seemed quite adult and overly seductive -- which made for a bit of an ick when listening to Cammy and Zach's interaction. It changed the feel of the story from a light teen romance to something a little creepier.

I'm going to go back and see what I said last year about the first novel. It was nominated, but we didn't add it to our list. I'm curious to see if I had similar thoughts to these.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Spy girls

I'm about to take a week plus off work so I can wrap up the Selected Audiobooks listening, and I wish I had waited until then to start Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy. Brilliance Audio publishes its books on CDs with 99 tracks -- grrr -- which is just heck to deal with if you aren't listening to the CD straight through. So, I'm stopped somewhere in the middle of the first disk around Track 60-something ... I hope my CD player (which appears to be circling the drain) can remember where I stopped.

This is number two in a series about girls at the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women. Looking like your normal exclusive prep school, it's really a training ground for spies. Cammy Morgan is a sophomore: Her mother is a retired spy and current headmistress at Gallagher, her father died while on a mission. The first book, I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You, came out last year, and I think the cover sells it. It was original, slyly funny and had just the right touch of inept teen romance. I'm sure we're in for more of the same here.

My problem here is the narrator, Renee Raudman. She's got both an odd speech pattern -- sing-songy in a most unusual way -- and a somewhat annoying shh sound to her s's -- almost like a drunk's lisp. I didn't like it last year, when I listened to book 1, and I'm not so happy after about 40 minutes this go round. On the other hand, I swear she wasn't reading this way when I listened to Valiant, which I really liked. So, why has she interpreted Cammy this way?

Extra-curricular listening

When you listen to children's books, they go so much faster -- as many are considerably shorter than the teen titles. I finished The Thieves of Ostia in my car on Tuesday night, and had to endure a few minutes of silence (horrors!) before arriving home. The mystery ended satisfactorily (although I confess I couldn't recall the book's initial encounter with the dog murderer ... must be all those Latin names, tripping me up), and I can see how this could be a very popular series with young mystery fans. The reader did resort to high-pitched screaming when the heroine of the story got bossy or excited, but on the whole she did an entertaining job.

I then sought out (I can't for the life of me remember why) an old (1950) Newbery book: The Door in the Wall. Boy, you sure can see how Newbery books got their reputation: historical fiction with a message (yawn). It's a good thing it's short, clocking in at under three hours. In medieval England -- during a plague time -- young, aristocratic Robin is mysteriously crippled. His parents are absent, and he is abandoned by the family's servants. Fortunately, a monk learns of his fate and takes him to his monastery to recover his strength. Here, Robin learns to read, swim, whittle, and get around on crutches. With the help of the friar and a merry minstrel, Robin journeys to a castle on the Welsh border where he hopes to rejoin his father. But the castle is under threat, and Robin -- despite his disability -- manages to escape under the noses of the sieging soldiers and bring help. All ends well.

Message: even a crippled boy can make his way in the world. I suppose this was a radical idea in 1949, but one suspects that librarians felt they needed to support that important message by awarding the book the Newbery medal. (Those librarians are probably turning in their graves over Short Sammy's dog Roy's scrotum.)

This audiobook is from Bantam audiobooks, which I suspect isn't around anymore. Roger Rees (an old favorite of mine from the stage version of Nicholas Nickleby) reads swiftly, clearly and with great empathy. He tosses off a few accents and generally gives a good account of himself. As you know, I love an English accent and many English actors (I've got Derek Jacobi reading Boy in the book-on-cassette queue), so I didn't really mind the deadeningly obvious storyline -- which I will admit might have some appeal to younger listeners.

The publisher went above and beyond in audiobook extras -- including lovely medieval-ish music throughout the story. The music indicated "chapter" breaks (there are no actual chapters), as well as accompanied events related in the story. It was delightful to listen to.

I think I'll be getting The Golden Compass on tape pretty soon! But first I've got to listen to Schooled, an actual Selected Audiobooks nomination.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The medium is the message

Before I came to work this afternoon, I took a walk and finished I am the Messenger. In this book (a Printz Honor from 2006), Ed receives a series of playing card aces, following some accidental heroics during a botched bank robbery. The aces come with clues -- addresses, authors' names, movie titles -- that send Ed off to deliver messages of hope, messages of community to people he doesn't know. According to Ed himself, as well as those who know him, he is an aimless loser -- just like his recently deceased father. But when Ed is given his instructions, and he sees the impact that his actions have, he realizes that he is capable of bigger things. This is a terrific "message" book for teens -- you matter, it says. And it does it without being didactic or boring. Ed's an extremely sympathetic character. The book is engaging, and then you get to the end and find out who was sending the playing cards ... and it's so utterly preposterous that it made me kinda mad ... reading it.

Listening to it, though, I didn't get mad. I just enjoyed Ed telling his story, meeting people, identifying what he had to do for them, and then doing it. He's funny, self-deprecating, romantic, curious, affectionate, and a good storyteller. His journey was deeply entertaining, and occasionally quite moving. There is no doubt that my enjoyment of this was enhanced by narrator Gray's chewy Australian accent. That, and the fact that the story took place around Christmas and Ed was talking about how hot it was, gave the novel a great sense of place.

Having both read and listened, I think this made a better audiobook than book. On the other hand, Zusak's masterpiece, The Book Thief (which I have only listened to), I think might be a better print book. When I listened to the latter a year ago, I thought the audiobook was amazing, but I didn't nominate it because I thought it was just too long and leisurely to sustain teen listeners' interest. However, the Children's Notables committee disagreed, putting it on their list. (They also put I, Coriander on their list -- yikes! I'm still mad that didn't get on our 2007 list -- maybe they are better at this than we are?)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Car talk

So, for the past week or so, I've been plumb out of cassettes to listen to in the bathroom and in the car. Only one of the titles I've got left to listen to for YALSA is available to me on cassette, and I'm in the hold queue at a neighboring library. So, I'm listening to some older kids' stuff. (Hey, this blog is for all my audiobooks, right?)

I dragged out the four and a half hours of The Great Brain for more than a week (I don't think I spent enough time in the car!). This didn't matter as each of the stories in this book can really stand alone, so I guess I didn't feel any compulsion to speed up the book. I found them interesting as a literary artifact -- slightly amusing, good stuff for boys who are moving up from readers, and an accurate depiction of small town life 100 years ago. They don't have the sensibility of more modern children's fiction -- the boys engage in a certain amount of casual violence, the portrayals of any nonwhite protagonists are a little wince-worthy, the language is pretty formal. But my library's eight tired and bedraggled copies on tape are all checked out, so T.D.'s appeal remains. Part of that for me was the worldly wise, yet still enthusiastic, narration of Ron McLarty, who reads as T.D.'s (The Great Brain) admiring younger brother, J.D. (Hey, McLarty reads the Mercy Watson books, I bet that's a stitch!)

Last night I started Caroline Lawrence's first Roman Mystery: The Thieves of Ostia. If I can squeeze in an adult book every now and then, it's likely to be a mystery, so I'm predisposed to like this already. (I'm already a big fan of both Lindsey Davis and Steven Saylor.) The reader is giving us a nice portrayal of young Flavia Gemina (hard g); there are more characters to come. Perfect for the car ... or the shower!

Incoming message

I popped in the first disk to I am the Messenger, which I first read two years ago or so. The first chapter -- where the bank robbery takes place -- was freaking hilarious to listen to. I'm sure it was pretty funny when I read it, but listening to the Aussie read it made me laugh right out loud. So far, this guy -- Marc Aden Gray -- sounds perfect as going-nowhere-fast Ed Kennedy.

I've put off as long as I could listening to the nominated titles that were books I've already read, but I think I should be a little more relaxed about this. It's been some time since I've read most of them (I've just got Abundance of Katherines and Rules of Survival left -- I think), and my memory's not that good anyway. I mean, I remember the gist (Ed gets those playing cards and heads off to save a few people ... including himself), but the other bits (like the very, very funny first chapter) are mostly a blur. Besides, am I overconfident? I've got YALSA listening totally under control (I am a girl of a 100 lists) -- I'm going to finish our list before I get on a plane to Philly! I wonder what I'll listen to in the great in-between? Hmmm...

Sweet dreams

I finished up The Glitch in Sleep while walking to one of the childcare centers where I do storytimes (my least favorite place to do this, actually). Becker manages to locate the glitch (which is an actual creature, nicely voiced in a hoarse, watery voice by Wyman) and sets the world to rights. The stage is then ponderously set for upcoming adventures -- it all seemed a little obvious to me. But, I'm pretty much thinking that this reads aloud a whole lot better than it reads. There remains the question of whether teens (who include 12 year olds as I think I've said before) will enjoy this. Already, comments among the committee are flying fast and furious (politely, of course).

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Sleep deprivation

Scholastic Audiobooks is driving me nuts! They don't seem to want any business, because when they send us audiobooks to review, the letterhead has absolutely no information on how to contact them. The website is completely impossible as well. I select audiobooks for my library and I want to order some Scholastic titles, but they make it awfully difficult. (Not as difficult as HarperAudio, which didn't send us any titles for review this year: I'm hoping someone will send us Stoneheart for next year.)

Well, that's really apropos of nothing, but since Scholastic is the publisher of the title I'm listening to now, I just thought I'd rant (because I can!). The Glitch in Sleep in the first in a series called The Seems (which is perhaps only the first in a series if the first one does well, or does that only apply to movies -- after this weekend, it certainly doesn't look like there will be a movie of The Subtle Knife). So, The Seems is where our world is created (truly intelligent design). Certain humans (those with a seventh sense) are recruited by Seemsians to train as Fixers at the Institute for Fixing and Repair. Because -- unfortunately -- everything that is created in The Seems will inevitably need fixing. Young F. Becker Drane was recruited at nine, and now, three years later, he's finally been promoted to Fixer, the youngest ever. Eagerly awaiting his first case, he's called to fix the glitch in the Department of Sleep. And it's a doozy ... everyone in the world will have insomnia until Becker can make the repair. And if everyone has insomnia, the "ripple effect" could be devastating.

I'm enjoying this a lot. It's original, witty, and good for all ages. The narrator, Oliver Wyman, has an impressive resumé (although I've never heard him) of books, and he hasn't been locked into a particular genre, age range, or type of book. He's got a lot of opportunity to be showy here (accents from around the world along with otherworldly creatures like bedbugs), and he more than meets the challenge. I'm finding his narration a little gee whiz, but even that fits with the title. Becker is a little gee whiz too. Which, of course, gets me to the "too young?" discussion ... and, at this point, I can't decide.

The reviews say there are lots of pictures in the book. My library's copy is checked out, but it might be fun to look at these. Also, in trolling the 'net to find the website (which was more than a few pages in at Google), I noticed that it's been optioned for moviedom. In listening, it's obvious that it has movie ambitions all over it. Sometimes, I just think authors are seeing the movie as they write. Which doesn't necessarily make it bad book, but can make it a good audiobook. In this case, it's working!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Monkey business

Frances Robinson fantasizes about romance and marriage with Johnny Scopes in 1920s Tennessee. Frances is 15 and Johnny is 24, and I suppose in the 1920s it was not unheard of for 15-year-olds to think about marriage. However, in the story I'm listening to now, it just gave me a big ick.

Monkey Town: The Summer of the Scopes Trial is historical fiction. Both Scopes and Frances are real people, although I think the one-sided romance is an invention. (I haven't reached the end where an author's note relates some information about Frances.) Told from Frances' perspective, I learned a couple things: A group of Dayton, TN businessmen created the case in order to bring attention and commerce to their small town. This strategy backfired in a big way when the journalist H.L. Mencken came to Dayton to cover the story. Mencken was well-known for his biting commentary on people and institutions he considered ridiculous, and -- in Dayton, he had a field day. Soon, everyone believed Dayton and Daytonians to be ignorant, Bible-thumping yohoos.

In the novel, Frances' love for Johnny Scopes and encounters with Mencken cause her to reconsider her family's literal interpretation of the Bible, and her father's manipulation of Scopes for his own ends. It's an interesting approach to the standard "I'm growing up and away from my family" plot line of teen fiction, but the seriousness that she brings to her "future" with John Scopes seemed so tacked on to the story, that I had difficulty with the entire novel. Plus, I read this book about a year and a half ago, and it's just as dull this time as I found it then.

The reader is Ashley Albert, and she does a perky Southern accent for Frances and the other denizens of Dayton. Evidently, she was part of the cast of the MTV show Daria -- something that is just not part of my reality, although the younger members of my committee say that they recognize her voice. She's not terribly successful at voicing some of the characters, and I finally decided (having finished the book between the beginning of this post and its end) that it's simply inexperience.

Some readers think that they have to lay on the characters -- each one different -- in order for we (I guess it should be us) listeners to keep everybody clear. But, in this audiobook, Albert doesn't do a thing with the pivotal character of Mencken. She doesn't have him talk Bal'more; he isn't in a lower register; he isn't growling, or nasal, or shouting (all techniques for male characters I have heard) -- yet I was never in doubt about when he was speaking and when the speaker changed to someone else. I believe she could have just read nearly everyone this way and I would have accepted it more than what she did choose -- interchangeable Southern accents for many of the characters, and a very shaky British accent for Scopes' father.

What we will call a fine freshman effort, but to me, not among the Select. I think I said this back when I was blogging about The Loud Silence of Francine Green ... the narrator shows promise and I want to hear her again.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

When I think iPod, I think books ...

... which is why I pretty much thought that Love is a Mix Tape would bore me to tears. This memoir, by Rob Sheffield -- a contributing editor at Rolling Stone -- is subtitled Life and Loss One Song at a Time. Describing the mix tapes he and his wife Renee created for one another during their courtship and brief life together, Rob explains why the mix tape seems inextricably entwined with romance (good and gone bad) and -- in particular -- how music shaped his and Renee's lives ... and then his alone when she died suddenly of a pulmonary embolism.

To my surprise, I was completely rapt, listening to this. I think it's safe to say that Rob and I have nothing in common. I'm generally not a music listener -- although I recognized some (very few) of the 80s bands and songs that went on his mix tapes -- but since he was really writing about more universal themes, this simply didn't matter. I was decorating my Christmas tree while listening to this, and when Renee dies and Rob figures out how to go on (or truly, how he pretty much can't go on for a while) ... well, I had to take a few moments ... just to listen.

Rob is reading his own book, which is -- in my experience -- generally not a good idea. At first, he just came across as too casual and unprofessional, but then he starts telling this funny story about preparing the mix tape for his 8th grade dance (if the girls don't want to dance to the music, it's not good music for the dance), and I realize that his geeky persona is just the ticket. I really enjoyed this -- another book that I picked up protestingly in the course of this year's listening, and surprised myself with. (What is the What and On the Road are two others.)

But, will teens like this? That is the question. I think they'll really enjoy the beginning -- when Rob relates his early attempts at creating mix tapes. But when he and Renee are settling into married life, and then when he faces his life without her, I'm not sure they'll stick with him. In the end, this memoir isn't really about music, it's about well ... life and loss. Two kind of adult themes. I'm glad it was nominated, it'll be a good discussion.

Why though, did Random House (the grown-up's Listening Library -- a sophisticated and professional publisher of audiobooks) not include any music on this? Copyrights and permissions, probably (sigh). Each chapter begins with the name of the mix tape and a recitation of the artists and songs on each side. It would have been just great to have some of the music from the first song playing under Rob's reading. Instead, generic (to my ears, perhaps a more sophisticated listener would know the music) rock and roll plays at the very beginning and end of the book.

Speaking of iPods ... I've asked Santa for one this Christmas, but I need to make sure that I get one that will take downloadable books from Library2Go. My geeky friend Peter says that of course the iPod will do this, but he is WRONG!

Nominations are closed

As of December 1, nominations for the 2008 list of Selected Audiobooks have closed (and the list may not be updated at this writing). We have 45 titles that we are considering. I have 10 left to listen to. In 40 days. I'm actually a whole lot better off than I was at this time last year, when I probably had closer to 20 titles to listen to (and did not succeed). Since we were working on assigned titles, rather than listening to whatever we felt like, it was easier to tackle the nominated books in between assignments.

I was sick most of this weekend, so I'm actually down to nine books ... but coming to work today, I learned that there was one more nomination. Oh well, I have a plan ... and Schooled is just four disks (ooh, it's available on cassette ... even better!).

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Audiobookmaking

Hey, I just wanted to give a shoutout to the blog of the author of Thirteen Reasons Why, Jay Asher. On November 23 and 24, Jay interviewed the two (fantastic) readers of his book about their preparation and process for narrating an audiobook. In some earlier posts, he talks about sitting in on the recording session at Listening Library. Asher's blog was referenced in the interview he did with AudioFile Magazine. Great insider stuff! I'm so glad he was interested enough in the process to contact the two readers.

[Look ... a really short, punchy post ... I can do it!]

Peak Experience

Peak Experience is the name of one Joshua Woods' mountain climbing outfit. Almost 15 years ago, Josh and his former girlfriend (another rock/mountain climber) also -- regrettably -- named their newborn son Peak. When Peak was a schoolboy, Josh and Peak's mom broke up and Peak went to live with his mom, her new husband Rolf and -- eventually -- his twin younger sisters (born on his birthday) in New York City. Peak is a bit of a rebel, and at the beginning of Roland Smith's (Oregon author!) Peak, we encounter him scaling the Woolworth Building. Peak is caught just after he leaves his mark (blue mountain peaks), and ends up in juvenile detention. To keep him out of jail, Josh Woods agrees to take Peak to live with him in Thailand for a short while.

Josh has some ulterior motives, however. He wants Peak to be the youngest person to summit Mount Everest. He thinks it will add some glamour and credibility to Peak Experience, which is teetering on the edge financially. Peak is intrigued and agrees to try to summit, but there are a number of obstacles (not just physical strength and a lack of oxygen) facing him, not to mention a few truths that his father is keeping from him. Peak is the story of Peak's preparation and ascent and it makes for one exciting story (even for someone who really doesn't understand the whole "because it's there" concept).

The narrator, Ramon de Ocampo, does a fine job here of portraying smart, mouthy, yet vulnerable Peak. Peak narrates this story, and the harsh world of Everest and those (fools) who climb it comes to life with every frozen, gasping-for-air moment. Peak affects a matter-of-fact tone, but I heard the fear underneath it. de Ocampo also did a great job with Josh -- confident, athletic and using his charm and grin to manipulate those around him. He was a little less successful with the two major non-American characters -- the Tibetan monk (and former Sherpa) [blanking on his name] and his grandson, just a few days older than Peak, Son-ju. de Ocampo doesn't seem as comfortable here, but you can tell he's worked hard on making each of them distinct and memorable characters.

For me, the adventure and suspense more than outweighed these drawbacks. I listened to this because two committee colleagues couldn't commit; and I nominated it!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Rant

I have nothing more to say about this piece of crap. I really ranted about it on our listserv, probably alienating the two colleagues who liked it.

I can't recommend this to anyone, but I'm willing to concede that some people might like books that end with an axe-wielding maniac channeling Lizzie Borden. (Perhaps someone could explain why?) I found the audiobook below par, but that's because I think that poor writing shows up particularly well when read aloud. This had a lot of creaky prose.

Nomination strategizing

Well, The Icebound Land finished up with a conflict in the lists between Halt and a nasty French knight who had been holding Halt and Horace captive. Will got himself addicted to something called wormweed (warmweed?), so Evanlyn (with the help of the Skandian Erak who you just know is going to turn out to be a good guy) had to help him escape. The book ends without the two parties meeting up, but I guess that'll happen early on in Book 4, which is called The Battle for Skandia. It looks like Will and Halt are going to spend some additional time outside of Araluen. So, if it didn't end in an entirely satisfactory way, it was still a pleasant way to spend eight hours: listening to John Keating tell this story.

I'm finagling the nomination of this title: Since I don't think it stands alone very well, I'm going to wait and nominate it next year (when we'll be able to consider Book 4 as well) to see if they'll fare better as a duo. I went back to check on some other series books to see if whole groups of them end up on Selected lists over the course of a few years, and -- to my surprise -- they don't! Lirael isn't on any list, although Sabriel and Abhorsen are. Only the fourth Artemis Fowl title made it, and just the first two of The Keys to the Kingdom. While we all enjoyed the sequel to Dairy Queen (The Off Season), those who read the subsequent Stephenie Meyers' novels didn't nominate them (we do have Twilight on the 2007 list). So, there's no rhyme or reason to the series books, but I felt pretty confident that this episode of The Ranger's Apprentice wasn't going to pass muster with my colleagues.

The most shocking news of all: I'm going to be on the committee for a third year ... chairing it even! I'm not sure I'm ready for management. Since I started blogging for YALSA, I've managed to incur the ... let's not say wrath, rather, disappointment of the powers that be over my entries, twice!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Wintering in Scandinavia (Skandia)

Fortunately, while I am slogging through the bloodbath that is the John Saul novel, I am also listening to the most recent installment of a favorite series of mine: The Ranger's Apprentice. The US version of the series is only up to Book 3, even though Australian readers are awaiting Book 7. Why is the US publisher dragging this out? Book 3 is The Icebound Land, and -- while it makes for extremely enjoyable listening (particularly in relief from the horror) -- it definitely can only be described as one of those let's-get-the-pieces-in-place-so-we-can-tell-the-rest-of-the-story installments. I'm not sure this title will stand alone very well: It starts immediately at the conclusion of the previous book, and, I understand, ends in a cliffhanging way. This makes it a problematic nomination, I think. We did put the earlier books on our list last year, so I wonder if we select it this year, if we will need to make some reference to the earlier titles.

At the end of The Burning Bridge, apprentice Will and princess-in-disguise Evanlyn had been captured by the mercenary Skandians. They will be sold as slaves once the Skandian Wolfship arrives home. Back in Araluen, Ranger Halt gets himself banished from the kingdom so he can head off to rescue them. Will's best friend, the warrior apprentice Horace, makes the journey with him. Currently, they are trekking across Gallica (a thinly disguised France -- Horace and Halt just enjoyed a baguette) at what seems to be a leisurely pace, but I'm sure they are moving as fast as they can.

What I enjoy about these books is the completely sympathetic characters the author has created. What young readers like (I think), in addition to the characters, is there's plenty of action and adventures. And, I have to say that this book is somewhat lacking in the latter. But, if you have read Will's adventures from the beginning, you feel deeply invested in the characters to want to power through this episode. And, according to Amazon, you'll only have to wait four months to get to the next one! Look, though -- they changed the title from the Australian version. Plus, I kinda like those photographic covers that come from Down Under.

[Here's what inquiring minds really want to know: Is there an Aussie version of the audiobooks, published -- perhaps -- by Bolinda? I'm checking right now ... No!]

Listening to this story, though, isn't a problem. And I think that's because John Keating is as attached to the characters as I am. He reads so warmly and compassionately that it almost feels like you're sitting around the fire and listening to him relate the tales of the Ranger's apprentice. Perhaps he is the Ranger's apprentice and he's telling his story to his grandchildren. Keating knows these people, and he wants you to know them too. He knows how to build tension (although there isn't a whole lot of that so far in The Icebound Land), and he creates nicely delineated characters. And while he does have a few reader tics (audible intakes of breath, a tendency to get a little sing-songy), I find I just don't mind them in these books.

But what is going on between chapters here? The recordings have l-o-n-g pauses (as many as 10 seconds which can seem like forever if you think your batteries are running low) between chapters. Could it be because the form of the novel alternates chapters: first we're with Will and Evanlyn, then with Halt and Horace and the publisher wanted us to be VERY clear that we were relocating? It doesn't work, and in fact, it's somewhat detrimental.

Horrors!

God, I so hate the book I have in the tape player right now: In the Dark of the Night by John Saul. Never in a million years would I ever be reading or listening to this stuff, unless assigned. Already there's been a disemboweled cat, and as I turned off the player last night, I could easily foresee the grisly death (probably by hacksaw) of a secondary character. A committee colleague nominated this, so I'm listening. Very large ick!

A Evanston, Illinois family is renting an old Victorian mansion up in the north woods of Wisconsin. The mansion was owned by a psychiatrist [I have blanked on his name] who specialized in serial killers and who mysteriously disappeared seven years ago. The family has a teenaged boy, Eric, who will now be able to spend the summer with his two best buds from home, whose families also rent houses in this resort community. Eric's mom has some kind of anxiety disorder that makes her fear pretty much everything (do I need to spell out the irony that she finally has something to be afraid of here?), and there's a cutesy younger sister who is now pretty broken up over the dead cat.

Eric and his friends have been exploring the mansion's carriage house, which seems to be the storage place for all the doctor's things. He appears to have been a buyer of things used by serial killers (Jack the Ripper's scalpels, Jeffrey Daumer's hacksaw). But when the boys enter the carriage house, something comes over them and they lose all track of time. And the night the cat died, each of them dreamed that they were Jack the Ripper, murdering a prostitute.

And then there's an old guy in a boat that has a cross standing in one end. He seems to be connected to the doctor in some way. (Cue the eerie music that begins and ends each side of the tape).

I'm so utterly freaked out by the story that it's hard to pay attention to the listener. He's providing plenty of atmosphere -- intoning "in the dark of the night" where appropriate. He's made the younger sister a little whiny, and the townie boys (who are tormenting the Evanston boys when they aren't inside the carriage house) are nasty in a cariactured kind of way. The adults all sound normal, but the boys seem a little gee-whiz to me. Several of my colleagues have complained about the voicing of the boys, but that doesn't bother me the way the bad writing does.

All I can say is thank god for young adult writers who know how young adults talk and act. John Saul just doesn't. For god sake, he had Eric pull a handkerchief out of his pocket -- what teenager carries a handkerchief? Every time the boys are in the carriage house, they marvel at how the time passes. Their conversations sound awkward and stilted.

I think the nominator of this book thinks it's important that we have a horror title to broaden or round out our list, but I think our list needs to be great audiobooks, period. And -- as I think I've said before -- a great audiobook can be a so-so book well read, but I am not finding this title to be an example of that.

Chinese food

We are on the home stretch! Since I finished my assigned books (On the Road and the Konigsberg title), I've been trying to get to some titles where others voted "maybe" (i.e., maybe this should be nominated, but I'd like another's opinion) just before our nomination deadline of December 1. So, I finished Revolution is Not a Dinner Party last weekend; I've currently got a fave series in the CD player now (The Ranger's Apprentice Book 3), and I should be able to squeak in Peak to wrap up.

I thought Revolution is Not a Dinner Party would make a nice companion to Mao's Last Dancer. They take place during the same time period, and feature two young people who share Chinese heritage, but little else. Revolution is fiction, but based on the author's own experiences. Ling Chang is the daughter of two doctors (one Western-trained, one Chinese) living in Wuhan on the Yangtze River (I think I passed through Wuhan on my cruise this summer) in the early 1970s. The Cultural Revolution has been underway for a few years, but hasn't reached her family until now. She and her father study English together and listen to the Voice of America. A picture of the Golden Gate Bridge has a prominent place in their home.

Ling is nine years old when a party functionary moves into her family's apartment, and her life changes forever. Soon, her upstairs neighbors are taken away for re-education, and their son is forced to "draw a class line" between himself and his parents. Ling's father is jailed for Western sympathies, although the party members and Red Guards still want him to perform any medical procedures, rather than the "barefoot doctors" who now staff the hospital. At school, Ling is forced to spend her afternoons in political education, where the classroom is taken over by her peers -- those peers who have drawn the class line between themselves and their parents.

This is a good story; like Mao's Last Dancer, it is authentically focused on young people who have experienced historical events. Those events were effortlessly made personal, which makes for great history lessons. However, over the course of the novel, Ling seemed to attain superhero status: She survived the Cultural Revolution with her standards intact -- never understanding why another child might cave to the political pressure, and becoming both physically and emotionally stronger than her mother. All at the tender age of 13. By the end, it felt a little self-aggrandizing.

The reader made some odd choices: Ling (who narrated) and her father spoke with no accent at all. Some of the other characters, most notably Ling's mother, were voiced in Chinese-accented English. And some were not. There didn't seem to be any reason to make that choice (for example, could the accented speakers have all come from the country, or not been educated), and it was distinctly noticeable (both I and the other committee member who listened noted -- and noted our dislike -- this choice). At the same time, I very much enjoyed her interpretation of Ling -- impetuous, spoiled, smart, triumphant. In the end, I remained as divided as my colleague. Fortunately, Selected Audiobooks considers titles from two years, which means that the committee may still be considering this title for its 2009 list.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Coincidentally ...

So E.L. Konigsburg wrote one of the great books for children ever, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and she's still writing 40 years later. But, from the totally child-centered story that is Mixed-Up Files, she seems to be getting farther and farther away from actual children in her writing. Example A is the book I just finished listening to this morning: The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World. In the final analysis, I found this book to be about three women; the two boys it's ostensibly about merely play the role of deus ex machina (hey! I was an English major!)

Amadeo Kaplan and William Wilcox are helping William's mother, who works as an estate sale agent (after leaving her abusive husband). Mrs. Wilcox is currently at work at the house of former opera singer Aida Zender, a big woman with a bigger ego and big tastes. Mrs. Zender spent her professional years in Europe and her house is full of treasures. Amadeo -- who we know to be a boy who longs to find something undiscovered -- finds something amazing among her things: a drawing by Modigliani.

Now, life is a lot of coincidences, but the ones here strain belief: Amadeo's godfather is the director of the Sheboygan Museum of Art and is preparing the opening of an exhibit of Degenerate Art. Did you know the Nazis found Modigliani to be degenerate? (He was also a Jew, not a good combo ... but at least he was dead by the 1940s.) Amadeo does know this and contacts his godfather about the drawing that he's found. Just before the opening of the exhibit, Peter's father dies and his mother sends him a box of his father's writings, a memoir of how he made it out of Nazi-occupied Amsterdam in 1942. Amazing! Peter's father's brother owned an art gallery in Amsterdam ... and owned the Modigliani. He traded the Modigliani to the Nazis in exchange for Peter's father's safe passage from Amsterdam. The brother ended up in a Nazi work camp wearing the pink triangle and was never heard from again. But it's Peter's mother -- not Peter -- who confronts Mrs. Zender to find out how the drawing came into her possession.

You could learn a lot in this slight book, but it all feels like a lecture. Certainly if your discussion of a title requires three links to Wikipedia, maybe there's just too much going on, so you have to edit by giving lectures instead of telling a story.

The audiobook isn't bad. Since there's so much detail in the plot, you really have to pay attention and there were times when I clearly hadn't been. William is constantly whispering to the "angel on his shoulder," so there must have been a reference to this early on, but I couldn't remember it. And to clarify in my own mind the details of the denouement, I confess: I took a look at the print version.

The actor Edward Herrman does the reading. He's pretty good ... in a lecture-y sort of way. He reads Amadeo with a bit too much wide-eyed innocence, but he handles those three adult women with aplomb. He's at his best, though, when reading Peter's father's memoir -- he reads with a plausible (to me) German (Dutch?) accent and invests real emotion in the telling. Recorded Books -- which generally adds no bells and/or whistles to its titles -- does a little fancy thing here: Amadeo reads the memoir out loud, but shortly after he begins, a little voice over creeps in and the narrator becomes Mr. Vanderwaal himself. It's a nice touch.

And here's a fun fact: In listening to both this and On the Road, mention of Beethoven's opera Fidelio (hey, here's another opportunity to Wikipedia!) comes up. How weird is that?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Howl!

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness ..." says Allan Ginsberg in his poem Howl. But I think that the mind of one particular acquaintance was already quite screwed up before he met Ginsberg. That would be Neal Cassady -- who seemed to be (for no reason that I can determine) the person about who all the other Beats revolved. Cassady didn't do anything -- well, not much beyond drinking, whoring, stealing and brawling -- while all those around him were writing and making a more permanent mark. (Citing my sources here: Wikipedia.)

And frankly, I would have no interest whatsoever in Neal Cassady and Allan Ginsberg were it not that my current listening assignment is Jack Kerouac's On the Road (that's where the howl comes from -- it was my plaintive cry of Nooooooo when I learned that I was going to have to listen to it). On the Road is told from the view of Sal Paradise (Kerouac) and features his four cross-country road trips traveling with or seeking out one magnetic figure: Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady) in the late 1940s.

Let me tell you: I was dreading this. Eleven hours of self-indulgent stream-of-consciousness boys-will-be-boys listening. I did not go into this with much of an open mind.

I'm now about two-thirds through, and I have to say that the journey has grown on me. The episodes all have a tendency to blur together -- did Sal dally with the "Mexican girl" on his first trip, or the second? Did they go via New Orleans on the second trip or the third? Why are we in Denver, again? But -- in this story -- the journey is everything, it doesn't really matter what happens along the way.

The narrator is Will Patton, who I think I've seen in a movie, somewhere ... ah, yes, Desperately Seeking Susan! Gosh, that takes me back! (He also narrated one of my favorite books: When Zachary Beaver Came to Town.) Anyway, he's doing yeoman's work here: He must have had to read through the book first to figure out when to take a pause because he's paced himself very well: Some of the sentences/phrases/thoughts can go on and on. He's interpreting Sal as awfully boyish, but he's created Dean as a total ADD, crazy, impulsive id with a growly manic delivery. Women (or girls, as Kerouac refers to them) are all kind of soft-spoken and wimpy ... but you could certainly argue that that's how the author views them. It's a good performance.

But, despite how history has shaped this book into a representing a generation of disaffected young adults (and here I do mean adults that are young -- 20-somethings), I can't see this title being of much interest to 21st century teens. Sal and Dean are searching for something ... most certainly (well Sal is, I'm not so sure that Dean wants to do much more than feed his impulses), which could resonate with teens, but their lives and concerns seem those of adults. The book also feels dated to me, and its approach to women and minorities would offend many (myself included).

I am fascinated about one thing that Sal mentions over and over again: the Travel Bureau. According to a biography of Kerouac in Google Books, this was a place where you could go and get paid to drive someone's car to a specific destination. Evidently, you could also hang out to be a passenger in one of these cars. This set up happens frequently in On the Road, with Dean doing most of the driving. And with the way Dean drives, it's a wonder any of them survived their 20s.

I'm not going to nominate this, but I'm not resentful of the time this book is taking away from the other titles I want to get through. After I finish this, I figure I've got two more books on CD I can finish before our nomination deadline of December 1, plus two more books on cassette (after the one I'll finish one tonight, I think).

Oh, and why quote Allan Ginsberg? He makes several appearances in On the Road, as the poet Carlo Marx.

And then there were five ...

It turns out that Jamie had travelled back in time to replace an earlier version of himself in the final battle of the first war with the Old Ones. Matt (or the earlier version of him) explains it all to him after the battle (where the Old Ones were initially defeated ... except now, of course, they are back). Matt kept talking about how time was a circle and that's why he and the other four can travel back and forth (I think ... I'm never completely clear on those time travel explanations). In this time period, we meet the fifth of the five -- a girl named Scarlet whose father -- it turns out -- works for the Nightrise Corporation (gasp!).

Anyway, finishing up this book didn't change my mind about Prebble's narration. While I understand the whole point of having the same narrator for an entire series, this just didn't work here. The whole book had an American perspective that Prebble just couldn't manage. When he did use an American accent (seemingly for all the bad guys), he just made them sound like gangsters. And he didn't use an American accent for Jamie or the other young characters that appeared in the novel, which made them essentially indistinguishable from Matt, when he finally showed up.

We put both of the earlier Gatekeeper novels on our list last year, but -- when I went back to review my notes on Evil Star (Book 2) -- I hadn't been impressed. Ultimately, Nightrise was even less memorable.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

American English

So, Anthony Horowitz writes trash fiction ... no doubt about it. He spits books out with alarming regularity, and they do tend to be the same story, over and over again. Yet, they are somewhat addictive (although I think I'm over Alex Rider) and one must continue to read them to avoid withdrawal. There's nothing wrong with a bag of Cheetos every now and then, I say.

Plus, we send kudos to him for writing so successfully for boys -- those pesky reluctant readers.

Yes, I traveled to Washington County (about 10 miles from my house, but this time my car broke down on the highway ... dead alternator) for another book on cassette. I went to retrieve Nightrise, the third in the Gatekeeper pentalogy/quintology/quintet (do I get points for that?), which is called The Power of Five in England. Perhaps you remember in the earlier adventures of Matt Freeman that he had that mystical experience in Peru where he met twin boys in a ... was it a boat? Well, Nightrise is the story of the twin boys, Scott and Jamie Tyler. They are telepathic and can read each others' minds and are -- at the beginning of the story -- part of a nightclub act in Reno. However, evil is afoot -- in the form of the vast corporation called Nightrise (were they mentioned in Evil Star, I can't remember) -- which appears to be a front for the Old Ones. Nightrise has been kidnapping children who show any telepathic ability and now they are after Scott and Jamie.

The kidnappers only manage to snag Scott, but Jamie -- with the help of the mother of one of the kidnapped children -- figures out a way to find and rescue him. Where I am in the story, Jamie is having a near-death experience: according to the plot, he has been pronounced dead, but he's in some mysterious landscape and meets some people who know him. He travels with them (on horseback) and is preparing for battle.

Simon Prebble is reading this. He seems to do all of Horowitz's books, as I listened to him read an Alex Rider novel last year. He's a very good reader, but he's not particularly suited to this title, which doesn't need his Englishness. He's inconsistent with his character voices -- some of his Americans have an American accent (or Prebble's version of an American accent, which sounds very back-of-the-throat to me), but some of them don't. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to his choices. He must be waiting for Matt Freeman to reappear so he can sink comfortably into his own voice for awhile.

So, while I'm wrapped up in the inexorable forward motion of this story, but wonder if it might be better in print. I don't see any need to nominate this one.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Tessa's pissed off ... with reason

I take a walk on the mornings that I don't have to be at work, about four miles through my beautiful neighborhood, Irvington. Its beautiful tree-lined streets and varied houses and gardens make for a very pleasant hour, particularly since the weather has been so lovely lately -- yes ... temperate sunny days in November! But this morning on my walk, I was pretty much sobbing the entire time. That's because I was listening to the sixth and final disk of Before I Die. I guess you know how it turned out.

Tessa has terminal leukemia. She lives with her father and younger brother Cal somewhere in England. She's been fighting the cancer since she was 12, but her diagnosis four years later is that everything has been done that can be done. Tessa makes a list of the things she wants to do before she dies. Her list isn't much of a surprise: fall in love, have sex, drive, take drugs. One, I loved in particular: Say yes to everything. Yet despite the ordinariness of Tessa's list, you are on an extraordinary journey with her. Kind of like Thirteen Reasons Why, you know you are headed towards an unhappy end, but you can't stop yourself from reading/listening on.

I've had a very hard two weeks: Dealing with aging parents and the death of a colleague have just about wrung me out. I don't think I would have been nearly as susceptible to Tessa's story at another time, but my state of mind doesn't affect the underlying power of this book. Tessa is angry, she's frightened, she's fragile, she's utterly frustrating to those around her, she's completely mesmerizing. So is the reader, Charlotte Parry -- she's not afraid to voice all of Tessa's emotions.

In an attempt to give myself some distance from this story today I was thinking about listening v. reading. In a book like this -- where you know the outcome is going to be (and you know that it's not going to be good) -- I think audio adds both distance and intimacy to the story. Its paradoxical: the distance is because it's not your voice telling the story; the intimacy stems from the same thing (someone else is whispering her story in your ear). I wonder if it's that paradox that makes for the lasting power of all storytelling ... hmmm.

We are closing ... I've got elections stuff keeping me busy tonight and I want to get this posted before I forget. Perhaps I'll have more to say tomorrow.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Don't look back!

Another recently nominated title is The Night Tourist -- at a little more than four hours an entirely pleasurable listen. This story uses the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice as its inspiration, as -- following a near-fatal accident -- young Jack Perdu finds himself able to see and interact with the ghosts of the New York Underworld. He's guided on his visit by Euri, who quickly joins him in his quest to locate his long-dead mother, in the hope that she hasn't yet made peace with her life and moved on to Elysium (located in the Hamptons, according to Euri). Needless to say, Jack -- living -- isn't supposed to be in the Underworld, and he has just three days to find his mother and get out of there ... otherwise, he becomes a ghost as well.

This is what I call a New York-centric book. There's a lot of "insider" stuff that might not mean much to your average teen in Oregon. In addition, Jack speaks Latin and a number of historical adult figures play small parts in the story. None of this detracts from this very enjoyable and satisfying story. It's funny, suspenseful, smart, leavened with the right amount of sentiment. Jack and Euri are 14-year-olds, but this is a book for upper elementary school readers as well.

I thought the narration was a little overdone. Andrew Rannels, the narrator, read with a kind of breathless enthusiasm that became slightly exhausting over the short course of the story. This enthusiasm also skewed the book to a younger audience, I thought. It all became very gee whiz in quality. He created some good voices (some New Yorkers, an obscure Scots poet), but his Dylan Thomas wasn't very Welsh. He also occasionally sustained the speakers' character into the "he saids" part of the text (if you understand what I mean), as well as the reverse: Not starting the character's voice until after reaching the "he said" portion of a piece of dialogue.

Finally, the reading aloud may have brought some unwanted attention to phrases of somewhat purple prose and some clunky writing -- every so often inducing a cringe while listening.

It's so funny about taste, isn't it? This title was nominated by the same person who nominated Mimus, which I loved. But I'm not crazy about this title. It's a good thing there's nine of us!

Deep cleansing breaths

Next up in this week of Iowa power listening: Breathe by Penni Russon. This is an Australian title, published by Bolinda, and is the sequel to a book called Undine. Oh, it says here, there's a third one out (in Australia) -- thank god! because I just did not get the ending of Breathe. Anyway, I did the bad thing and read Undine just before listening to Breathe (I believe I've owned up to this before), and it's my belief that one would be quite at sea (I've made a pun) if one didn't have Undine's backstory when reading/listening to Breathe.

So, Undine learns in Undine that she has magical powers. In Undine, she saves her best friend and neighbor Trout, but now Trout is pretty much unable to cope with the fact that she saved his life. He's also not dealing with the fact that his love for Undine seems destined to be unrequited, so Trout is now roaming the streets of Hobart, Tasmania is search of the answer to capital-C Chaos. Meanwhile, Undine has made a promise not to use her magic, but it's calling to her. And that's just about as simple as I can make it ... and you still really have no idea what is going on, do you? Trout gets in a whole lot of trouble, and Undine disappears entirely ... or does she?

I like listening to the Aussies read their books -- it makes for such a pleasant change. This narrator sounded 100% authentic, so much so that occasionally I had to think twice about what she was -- in fact -- saying. The setting of the book seemed so rooted in Hobart and the ocean that (although atmospheric music was included) you really had a physical sense of where the book takes place.

Still, I didn't much care for it. Nothing in particular (beyond the sequel issue), it just didn't stand out for me -- either as a story or as a listening experience. The ending was most peculiar, although that appears to be explained if you read the brief bit about Drift (the third book) at Russon's website. I can certainly see how teens might like it, though, so I think I'll order the audios for my library.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Intelligent designs

Well, any audiobooks we receive in the mail now will not be considered by our committee for its 2008 list. Whew! We have quite enough on our plates, as we got a raft of titles from Random House, Listening Library, Recorded Books and even Scholastic in the past two weeks. You may recall that I've expressed worry that are nominations list isn't very long, but I think that's about to change. Thus far, the Listening Library batch has resulted in four nominations: Thirteen Reasons Why (mine), Before I Die, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, and Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature. (There were also two other titles from other publishers nominated ... yikes, must get listening.)

So, this post is about Evolution, Me .... Which I didn't like. I mean, I did like the story, very much actually. A devout Christian teen named Mena has incurred the ire of her church by supporting a young gay parishioner, and she has been ostracized by her church friends -- all of whom attend her school. She is searching for new friends (does this plot sound familiar?), and fortunately finds one in her new lab partner, Casey. Casey (male) comes from a very enlightened family, who quickly sweep Mena up and put her to work in supporting her science teacher, Ms. Shepherd -- who is being pressured to teach intelligent design as a scientific alternative to evolution. Mena is not sure how she feels being the spokesperson -- even anonymously -- for people of faith who believe in the theory of evolution, but she definitely falling in like with Casey, so she becomes biblegrrrl and stands up on the side of right (well, at least on my side of right!).

But I didn't like the narrator. To me, she sounded too old, she read too deliberately, and she really needed a drink of water. (I'm listening to the last disk right now since yesterday when I began this post I couldn't remember what I didn't like about her.) It seemed like she was trying really hard to "be" a teenager, and I think she really slowed down the pace of this charming story.

The audio version finished up with an interview between the author and (I am waiting to get to this part on the disk) Kenneth Miller, who is a Brown professor who professes both Christian faith and belief in evolution. This was very interesting; again, I'm very glad that Listening Library chooses to flesh out the end of its audiobooks with this kind of value-added stuff.

On the other hand, Listening Library, what happened to Jim Dale? He doesn't finish off the books with his little paean to audiobook listening. Nobody does ... it just doesn't seem right!

Leaves are falling, but not trees ...

Here I am blogging from Iowa City, Iowa and doing some power listening (since there isn't much else to do here while tending the elderly parents at the old folks home). I finished If a Tree Falls... before I left Portland, and pretty much didn't change my mind about what bugged me about the dual narration. This is the kind of thing that you want the author to explain why she chose first person for one person and third for another. (Because she had to have a reason, but she doesn't offer it here although she does explain the meaning of the title -- sort of.) Anyway, I don't wish to take anything away from the readers, they were very good; but the narrative approach Choldenko took fits awkwardly into audio.

I also thought that the book itself was simply too jam-packed with stuff: class and race prejudice, eating disorders, mean girls, divorce, adultery, etc. Its slight frame just couldn't take it.

However, I will admit that I had the whole "secret" quite wrong -- what the secret was quite frankly never occurred to me. (Not the secret, but that it would be in this book.)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

First impressions ...

So I just started If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period by Gennifer Choldenko (who didn't like Al Capone Does My Shirts?) and I know I need to give it more of a chance, but so far it's not sending me. It's another two-hander (as they say in the theatre biz) that might be suffering in my mind by comparison to Thirteen Reasons Why.

Rich, chubby Kirsten meets scholarship student Walk [semi] "cute" on the first day of seventh (?) grade: her mother seems to chase his mother out of the parking lot (I think it's fairly easy to predict what that's about). Kirsten appears to have a unhappy home life (mostly absent father, overly involved mother), and her best friend seems to have moved on.

(As an aside, this has been a recurring theme in the books I've read this week: A Crooked Kind of Perfect and Candyfloss [with my eyes] both feature this situation. It's getting old.)

Walk is black, and most definitely in the minority at their exclusive private school. Determined to keep his head low and his grades high, Walk somehow stands up for Kirsten when she's accused of stealing her teacher's wallet. (The mean girls [including former BF] have planted the evidence in Kirsten's backpack.) Obviously, some "unusual" friendship is going to result from these encounters.

The two readers are fine. There's something very odd, though -- Kirsten's narration is in the first person, while Walk's is in the third. So every time Walk starts reading (which he does by saying 'Walk' -- also very annoying, but I understand that the publisher needs to read every part of the book for an unabridged version), you expect to hear 'I' and are jarred by hearing 'he.'

Of course, that's not enough to pass any judgement ... these are just thoughts at the end of the first disk.

Alas, no treasure on this island

I decided not to nominate Treasure Island for those reasons I said in my earlier post. While I enjoyed listening, I disagreed with Molina's interpretation: He seemed to see Jim Hawkins as a quiet observer of events, when I think the story is Jim's for the taking. Show some excitement, please!

This audiobook concluded with an essay by David Cordingly, who, according to Wikipedia, is considered the "leading authority" on pirates! (At least, I think this is the same David Cordingly.) Could I just say that he's not the greatest essay writer, because the one included with Treasure Island was pretty much a dull, blow-by-blow telling of Stevenson's writings.

Now, I like it when audiobook publishers add some extras to augment the literary experience, but this was not the best choice. It kind of ended the whole book with a whimper.

On the other hand, there was delightful "pirate" music throughout the audiobook. Can't beat that! It was not this pirate music, but these guys are very big here in Portland, Oregon. Early next year, a stage version of Treasure Island by a local children's theatre group will feature their original music. Wild and wacky?

And they lived happily ...

I dawdled through A Countess Below Stairs, finally listening to the last half hour late last night. The evil fiancee is routed by the servants, who convince her that the Earl of Westerholme has "defectives" in his family tree. The eponymous Russian countess' family jewels are returned to her -- through a series of somewhat preposterous events -- so she can save the Westerholme estate and marry her true love. I hope I haven't given anything away. This is the second of Eva Ibbotson's "teen" romances that I've encountered (the other being A Company of Swans); I actually think her little girl romances (Journey to the River Sea and The Star of Kazan) are better. Of course, the latter are more recent, and maybe she's just become a better writer with experience.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed this story. But, I don't think I'm going to nominate it, just because the story is so ordinary, old-fashioned even. It certainly is a nice, safe romance; the story is well told by the narrator -- with a somewhat sprawling cast of characters easy to keep track of. But there's something kind of tired about the whole thing -- no new ground was explored either in the story or in the audio version.

On the other hand, all six copies of the audiobook and 18 copies of the book are checked out, so she's clearly filling some need.

Finally, Recorded Books has done it again: the audiobook cover depicts a child, not an older teen who's old enough to fall in love. Here's the cover of the reissued paperback (which doesn't look right either), I couldn't find a copy of the cover of the audiobook (even Recorded Books uses the paperback cover). What's up with that?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Unlucky number 13

The second book I finished was Thirteen Reasons Why (nicely designed on the cover as Th1rteen R3asons Why). I bought this title for my library based on the reviews because it sounded like the perfect audiobook: One of the characters is speaking to us on tape. I like any audiobook that reflects its medium so accurately.

Clay Jensen receives a package of seven cassette tapes anonymously in the mail. It takes him a little while to find the correct hardware to play the tapes, but once he starts listening he can't stop: Hannah Baker -- the girl he'd been crushing on most of the summer and school year; the girl who took too many pills just a few weeks ago -- has left him a message. A message for Clay and the other people who made her life so unbearable that she felt she had no choice but to end it. Each side of the cassettes tells the story of what one person did to her. And each person described on the cassettes will receive the package in turn so they will understand what they did to Hannah.

Now, on the surface, this sounds absolutely absurd, doesn't it? And I admit, at the beginning I was somewhat skeptical. Who's forcing these people to listen to the tapes (and mail them on)? Surely, in the scheme of high school gossip, others know about the tapes and what's on them? Why were no adults asking questions about Hannah's suicide? But soon, these questions become irrelevant, because -- like Clay -- you can't stop listening. You can't stop from moving on to the next cassette to understand what happened to Hannah. And -- most effectively in this story, I thought -- like Clay, you can't help hoping that someone is going to help Hannah, rather than harm her. But at the same time, you know that Hannah is dead, and that you are hoping in vain. It's powerful stuff.

Clay is read by a narrator I've heard a couple times already this year, Joel Johnstone. This is his best work I think (although I did like Wednesday Wars). He reads with such emotion and it all sounds completely genuine in his interpretation. His grief and loss are palpable. And Listening Library did the right thing and hired another reader for Hannah: Debra Wiseman. She, too, reads with pathos and feeling. You can so easily imagine Clay's need to hear her voice again.

Small complaint: Hannah's tapes include a conversation (that Hannah taped surreptitiously) between her and her guidance counselor. I so wish that Listening Library had sprung for a third reader. But at this point in the story, you are galloping towards the end and so the slightly stiff and amateur-sounding voice Wiseman offers for the guidance counselor is only a minor bump in the road.

I think this is probably a better audiobook than book.

Slightly imperfect

I did some power listening over the weekend and finished two titles (that must be because my car's alternator died ... and so did my car, briefly). One was too young for us -- and I knew it -- but my bookgroup is discussing it and it was only a little over three hours, so I slipped it in. It is A Crooked Kind of Perfect, which I think of as one of those slice of (slightly exotic) life "realistic" novel where a young person copes with some small thing in her life and comes out a better person because of it. In this book, Zoe Elias has dreams of being a concert pianist, a la Vladimir Horowitz. Instead, her agoraphobic father and workaholic mother purchase the Perfectone D-60 electronic organ and she begins reproducing TV theme songs and hits from the 60s, 70s and 80s under the tutelage of Maybelline Person (pronounced Per-Sohn). Her best friend isn't any longer, and the weird boy at school has started following her home. But then, Maybelline decides that maybe Zoe should compete at the annual Perfectone Perform-O-Rama ... you can finish up the plot. I kept thinking that the 4th graders in my book discussion group would lap this one up.

The audiobook is alright. Nothing spectacular, just like the book. The reader has a nice husky voice that seemed perfectly alright for young Zoe, since it afforded a slight sense of jadedness in her character.

Just too young for our teen listeners.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Familiarity breeds ... content

I retrieved another book on cassette from a nearby library system and started A Countess Below Stairs in the car last night. This is an old title (1981) from Eva Ibbotson, whose Little Princess-inspired stories (Journey to the River Sea, The Star of Kazan) I have very much enjoyed. (And now that I check our catalog, I see that she has written a bunch of [what I'm assuming are] tame romances for adults.) Fleeing the Russian Revolution, Anna Gruzinsky [sp?] takes up a post as parlormaid in the house of a young English lord who has just gotten himself engaged to a wealthy young woman who is a fan of the eugenics movement but whose money is spiffing up the ancestral pile. The Earl of Westerholme has just witnessed Anna taking a discreet bath in the lake (because there isn't any place for the servants to take baths), so I foresee romantic entanglement in the future, that will, of course, all work out most satisfactorily in the end. I just loved this kind of book when I was a young teenager (see previous posting about Jane Eyre).

Davina Porter is narrating, and she does that English historical stuff so well. She can make all the social status accents distinguishable, and tells the story in an engaging and sprightly fashion. I can tell that these nine and a half hours are going to be pleasurable in that familiar way. I mean, I know exactly what is going to happen, but I'm glad to listen to it all anyway. Such a relief after Homeboyz and Such a Pretty Girl.

15 men on a dead man's chest

So, is that an original poem (rhyme?) by Robert Louis Stevenson? Considering that Treasure Island was written in 1883 (I checked Wikipedia), it seems entirely reasonable to think that he made the "yo ho ho and a bottle of rum" stuff up. With pirate mania at a peak right now (although maybe that's died down now that the Pirates of the Caribbean movies have run their course), Listening Library opted to re-record this classic (our library also has a 1984 version narrated by David Buck), read by Alfred Molina (an actor I've liked long before Spiderman). And since I'd never read the book, I was looking forward to listening.

I wonder about kids reading/listening to something like this today; do they realize (do they care?) that this is the original? That all pirate/buried treasure/swashbuckling started with this story? Maybe if they do get that, they'll understand what makes a classic. When I read Jane Eyre for the first time, I finally understood where all those romance novels got their plot from as well. It was a real 'ah ha!' moment for me. I think that audiobooks go a long way in making classics accessible, of course. There's no denying that literary language was a lot more dense 100 years ago, so to have someone else read through it can be exceedingly helpful.

Still, despite the language, Stevenson does know how to write an adventure story. (Although I find myself mentally skipping over all the sailing details that I don't understand, just as I did when I forced myself to finish a Patrick O'Brien novel ... ugh.) And I like that Jim is a teenaged boy showing the characteristics of more modern teenaged boys in adventure stories -- going off without adult supervision/permission and, ultimately, saving the day. I haven't gotten that far, I'm just assuming that he saves the day. So, I think a well-narrated version of this would make a good addition to a notable and/or selected list.

In case you don't know the story, young Jim Hawkins finds a map previously owned by a famous pirate, and is included in a mission to locate the treasure indicated on the map. Unfortunately, the local squire bankrolling the expedition happens to hire a bunch of pirates (masquerading as regular sailors) to sail his ship. Jim happens to hear of the plot to mutiny and take over the ship , but despite this, he and those few loyal to the captain and the squire end up in some trouble once the island is reached. And that's where I am in the tale

The novel is narrated in the first person -- mostly by Jim, but occasionally by Doctor Livesey -- and Molina is trying for innocence and adventure. He gives the various pirates suitable "argh" qualities, and even brings the parrot to life ("Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!) But, he seems to be reading with an awful lot of low-voiced restraint; with this story, I think I'm craving a little more audio adventure here.

I only have about a disk and a half to go; I still may nominate it. One of my colleagues listened and voted no. I may have to make a strong case!

Weekend listener

I always feel so good when I wrap up two titles over the weekend -- that way, when I get to work on Tuesday I can quickly post two sets of comments to our listserv. Makes me feel like I'm really accomplishing something! So on Sunday, I finished both Alex and the Ironic Gentlemen and Homeboyz ... and am now listening to two much more interesting titles ... but that's the next post.

And, no surprises at the ends of either ... each actually just got more so! More childish and twee for Alex, and more lectures and gang violence in Homeboyz. I was delighted to relegate both of them to the listened pile. Last night, Laurie Halse Anderson said that she gives every book she opens three chapters and then sticks with it or not. You'll never get those hours back, she said. Well, sometimes you have to finish up -- that's what librarian/committee member responsibility is all about! (See my halo?) And how would she feel if the Printz and BBYA committees didn't finish her books, hmmm?

All this is in aid of the fact that I have nothing more to say about either of these books.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Offing The Off Season

Yikes! I was finishing up the Homeboyz post, when I realized that I'd completely forgotten about The Off Season, the follow-up to our committee's beloved Dairy Queen; a book that I'd nominated! Jeesh! I say beloved, because DQ was the only title that all nine of us voted yes on last year. What's not to like about D.J. Schwenk, I ask you?

For those you who don't know D.J., she's the only girl in her Wisconsin dairy-farming family, but she doesn't let that stop her from participating in the family's favorite sport: football. D.J.'s two older brothers are off on college scholarships, while she is currently kicking ass on the Red Bend, WI varsity. At the same time, she's having a somewhat secret romance with the quarterback on Red Bend's biggest rival -- a boy she trained all last summer (in Dairy Queen). Things are looking pretty good for D.J. when she pulls a ligament in her shoulder and has to go on the disabled list. But that's only the beginning of the "whole herd of trouble" that's headed her way.

And considering I finished this more than three weeks ago (ouch!), I'll just have to pull the annotation from my nomination: Narrator Natalie Moore is D.J., with her sweet voice, upbeat delivery, and that Midwestern accent. Giving voice to D.J. makes this a special novel: The listener is just sitting down with D.J. and letting her tell her story, it's so natural and confiding that you can't help but become her friend and care deeply about what happens to her.

I don't do much handselling/booktalking to teens, but I wonder if anyone has any luck giving these books to high school football-playing boys?

... And now I am truly caught up!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Fiction as lesson - yawn!

So, having dissed the readers of The Freedom Writers' Diary for not being "authentic" enough for its location, I am now listening to a novel that takes place in the identified "'hood," Homeboyz by Alan Lawrence Sitomer. Evidently, this is the third in a trilogy (Hoopster) about a Los Angeles family with four children. Each book is devoted to one of the children, except this one -- because the youngest child is gunned down in a drive-by shooting, and her next oldest brother, Teddy, vows revenge. Thus far, I'm thinking that Teddy is as smart as his older brother and sister portrayed in the earlier novels, but considerably less socialized. Until he broke the law, he was headed for a computer hacking career at the NSA. Now, though, he's on parole, supervised by the very hot Parole Officer, Mariana Diaz, while mentoring a middle schooler who seems destined for juvenile hall himself.

If you can get around the frequent lectures, as well as the descriptions of perfect bodies and super-intelligent brains, this is a mildly entertaining story. It's the kind that, I think, white kids from the suburbs want to read in order to find out the "truth" of what goes on in the inner city; as opposed to a book that kids in the inner city would want to read about their lives. It seems like high-school fantasy (like It Girls or Gossip Girls [never read either] or that one called Haters I read a few months ago).

The reader, JD Jackson, reads the preposterous story well, infusing it with a bit of reality. He reads with the same precision that the male reader did in Freedom Writers', but he sounds like a resident of the area. He also does a good job with girls -- which are sometimes a problem for male readers (as boys are for female ones). As I was listening last night and this morning, though, the author's interruptions to the story -- to lecture me on the evils of school bureaucracy, the fact that government spends more on jails than it does on schools, and more on suburban schools than inner city schools, etc. etc. etc. -- were just getting to be a real pain. Get on with the story of Teddy and Micah, I plead to my tape player! It may not be great literature, but at least it's interesting!

Advance copies

So my library can get Harry Potter out on the day it's published, but with some other titles, we can be a bit poky. (Right now, we've got a teen desperate for the audio version of Eclipse [which evidently was shipped to the committee this week -- and, thank god! has not been assigned to me for listening] who writes our email reference service pretty regularly begging us to process the book and send it to her.) That thought is apropos of nothing (except that I'm amused at that patron's eagerness and embarrassed that we can't process it a little faster for her), because what I really wanted to say is that the Selected Audiobooks Committee usually gets its titles when everyone else does. No mountains of ARCs (or would they be ALCs?) for us!

It seems to me, though, that someone at Brilliance Audio is picking the titles up right off the assembly line to send to us, because we've been receiving the audios before the books are officially published. We've already received the new Peter Pan prequel: Peter and the Secret of Rundoon (to be published on October 23) and the one I've got in my CD player: Alex and the Ironic Gentlemen (published September 18). It makes me feel very special. (Now that I've complimented them, do you think they'll refrain from making 60+ minutes of audio into 99 tracks per disk?)

Well, receiving the early copies makes me feel special; Alex and the Ironic Gentlemen just makes me feel OK. This was nominated by a colleague, so I'm being a good committee member. Mostly I'm wondering why she considers this a good book for middle school readers. It seems very childish to me.

Orphaned (natch!) and bookish (natch again!) Alex Morningstar lives with a beloved uncle above his doorknob shop in a funny small town where she feels odd and out-of-place (natch III). Going into sixth grade, she meets her new teacher, Mr. Underwood, and believes she has found her (intellectual) soul mate. It turns out that Mr. Underwood is the descendent of her little town's most prominent citizen, who once found and secreted a treasure somewhere. Unfortunately, others (who happen to be pirates from the good ship Ironic Gentlemen [I think ... I'm not there yet!]) in search of the treasure have followed him to his new home, and -- all too soon -- kidnap him, killing Alex's uncle in the process. Alex is, fortunately, not home at the time; in fact, she was obtaining the map that identifies the location of the treasure. She vows to follow the kidnappers, rescue Mr. Underwood, and find the treasure.

At the moment, though, she is having a bit of difficulty getting to the port (called -- I'm assuming the break in the word -- Port Cullis) from where the Gentlemen and their captive will embark. First she was trapped in a vacuum (a train full of big band entertainment and glittery society), and right now she's trying to talk an octopus (whose moniker is the Extremely Ginormous Octopus) into completing a promised movie role (wearing those electronic thingys so that the moviemakers can film a "motion capture."

As you can see, it's all very twee. Evidently, according to the PW review posted on Amazon, there are many capitalizations and clever (or not) asides to the reader. It is mildly entertaining, but I think a little on the youngish side. The reader, Christopher Lane, is good; he's reading professionally with a nice variety in pace and volume and he's created a number of characters (including the inebriated E.G. Octopus) with lots of consistent voicings. The story seems more suited to the elementary school set, although we all know that fantasy attracts a broad age range. And, one of my nominations, Larklight, could definitely be enjoyed by elementary schoolers. As a matter of fact, I'm suggesting it to my 4th-5th grade book group.

Top 10

And Mimus just kept getting better. When I last wrote about this book, Prince Florin had just learned that plans were afoot to free him and his father from the evil King Theodo. Well ... no surprise ... the plans went forward and the ending was extremely satisfying. There was even a bit of a commentary on the nature of peace -- which in this case was brought about by the jester himself, Mimus.

There's not much more to add about the great narration by Maxwell Caulfield. He sustained his many characters through to the ending, adding a few more along the way. The last few chapters were positively riveting as his narration built suspense and excitement.

Last year (my first year on the committee), we closed nominations on December 1, and then each of us compiled and shared a Top 10 list (not to be made public). My list of great titles isn't anywhere near ten ... but, with the addition of Mimus, I know I have at least five now!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Starts and finishes

Just briefly about City of Bones (finished 18 days ago). No surprises at the end, although -- in addition to the inevitable Buffy comparisons, you could add a little Star Wars Luke/Leia thing as well ... if you catch my drift. Mom's in a coma and Dad has his mitts on the cup, so everything's right for the next installment (which is due out next March according to Amazon.com -- City of Ashes).

I'm also nearly finished with another title, Such a Pretty Girl. This is the kind of book that just makes you want to take a bath. Meredith's father raped her three years ago, and -- instead of staying in prison for nine years -- he's returned to the loving arms of his slightly repellent wife because of time off for good behavior. Mom seems determined to act as if nothing has changed, while Meredith knows that he will offend again. And for some reason, she thinks that she must submit to him again so that he will go back to prison and be unable to hurt any other girls and boys. I'm on the last side of the last cassette, which finds Meredith home alone with her father, and ... well, I just want to get it over with. (Would a mother really insist that her 15-year-old daughter -- who testified against her father -- let bygones be bygones?)

The narrator is reading in a kind of white trashy way that doesn't seem to fit the story -- where she and her family appear to be living in (upper?) middle class circumstances in a town on the Jersey shore. Meredith's grandmother is the mayor of this town. The narration makes me think the story is taking place in some trailer park in Mississippi. But I can see how the narrator would have been influenced by the characters' behaviors into thinking that the story takes place there. This is trash fiction, no doubt. There ain't nothin' select about it, to me.

Samurai Shortstop redux

The number of nominated titles is down considerably from the number we were working on last year. At 28 by the end of September, we don't even have enough to make a list of 30 titles. I worry about these things. Is the quality down, am I a more sophisticated listener than last year, are we being too picky? I actually think the answer to all three questions is 'yes.' Yet, with a month left for publishers to send us their material, I'm thinking we won't have nearly the quantity that we were working from last year (when there were over 70 nominated titles).

So, it's time to start re-examining those maybes and get them off the fence. So, I went back and listened to Samurai Shortstop again (happily, I could get it on cassette). I enjoyed the story, again. I hear the narrator's voice, again. Yet, I was still hesitant. What put me over the fence (on the nomination side) was comparing it to some of the other titles that have been nominated. And, for me, it was clearly superior to several of them: Defining Dulcie, The Loud Silence of Francine Green, and Princess on the Brink. So, it seemed to be something that I needed to get my committee colleagues to hear, and so I nominated it (number 29).

I have only been swept away a few times this year, and I'm still waiting for the one I'll still be talking about next year. Which makes me think about the Odyssey Committee. Are they having trouble too ... or will next year's medal (is it a medal?) go to Harry Potter?

Remembering the twists and turns

One of the hazards of not being an everyday blogger is not remembering what I wanted to say about a book I finished listening to ... oh, 12 days ago. So, thoughts on Twisted aren't going to be that thorough. I didn't find the book to be all that compelling -- certainly not like Speak -- and there wasn't anything memorable about the audiobook. But there wasn't anything particularly unmemorable either.

Through the medium of a summer's community service, Tyler Miller has turned himself from a skinny nerd into a serious hard body, and attracted the attention of his high school's "It" girl, Bethany Milbury. Tyler has long worshipped Bethany from afar, so he's not quite sure how to handle her sudden interest. As a result, when things turn bad, Tyler is blamed for something he didn't do; but -- because of his prior run-in with the law -- everyone believes he did. The pressures building up in Tyler threaten to boil over, and he's not sure he has the resources to handle them.

I didn't think the narrator was very good. For me, he didn't capture that snarky, know-it-all, bored-to-tears-by-everything-around-me tone that embodied Tyler. He didn't seem particularly pissed off either, which seems to me to be critical in shaping Tyler's character. Did he make a deliberate choice to read neutrally? If so, I think it was the wrong choice. This story was crying out for creative interpretation. It has no power if you can't connect with Tyler.

Laurie Halse Anderson is coming to speak at my library this month, so I'm hopeful she'll get some questions from teens about this title.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

But did you like the movie version?

When an old (ish) book becomes a movie, interest in the title perks up again, and things like audio versions appear. (Speaking of old books and new movies, is anyone else really afraid of The Dark is Rising? Susan Cooper is.) Thus it is with The Freedom Writers Diary. An audio version appeared in one of my deliveries, one of my colleagues listened to it and nominated it, and I started listening to it when I lost the Fanboy and Goth Girl disks last summer, but abandoned it for Harry Potter about a week later. Nothing, and I mean nothing, of the story stayed with me in the interim. When I was flailing about for books on cassette to listen to, I located this title on World Cat and placed an Interlibrary Loan. Amazingly (considering the increased interest in the book -- 56 holds at my library [how many of those people think they've placed a hold on the movie?]), the book on tape arrived in my hot little hand last week. Because I really didn't want to listen to this, I decided to power through it by listening to it in both formats. This strategy worked because I finished this in less than a week -- hooray!

I think a book like this has a lot of appeal for teens, so I'm glad the publisher decided to send it to us (so many audiobook publishers don't send us any adult titles), but this just did not work for me in audio. There are three narrators: one reads the entries of the teacher, Erin Gruwell (there's one for each of eight semesters); and the other two read the male and female students' entries. The diary entries are anonymous, and are presented chronologically. Thus, you hear a series of entries about the same events. And if I understand the format of the book, there is one entry for each of 150 students (but I don't think this was the case, because occasionally a couple of the entries sounded like someone you had heard from before). As a result of this approach, all of the girls sound the same, as do all of the boys. The individuality of the students is completely lost, and ultimately all you are listening to is a series of brief ruminations on a particular event they all experienced -- interspersed with more personal stories of loss, triumph, or something in between. It's repetitive, and -- since you're hearing the same reader -- pretty much indistinguishable. All the power of the individual experiences is lost.

I also had some serious objection to the male reader, whose perfect pronunciation and rounded even tones certainly didn't make any of the male characters sound like they came from the 'hood of Long Beach, California. I felt like I was listening to some entitled Princetonion with three last names read. On the other hand, the female students came alive with some character and personality. But the reader interpreting Erin Gruwell simply sounded bored.

How was the movie, anyway?