Saturday, February 21, 2009

Talking Books have me by the ears

Vanishing acts cover While the masses move on to Kindles and electronic reading devices, I dip my toe into the world of audio books. It started with Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I freely admit that I’m obsessed with Gabaldon’s characters, Jamie and Claire and their entire family. But when I heard Devina Porter’s voice they absolutely came to life.

Another aspect of audio books gives me the freedom to sit and knit or sew, or fold laundry if I must truly do chores while remaining in the book’s world. I’ve gotten so accustomed to audio books that I find it awkward to pick up a book because I can’t hold my knitting needles as the same time.

Now that I’ve found this wonder land, I’m finding there are pitfalls – books and voices that don’t invite me in quite as completely and delightfully as Devina and the Outlander series. Thankfully, on I can pre-listen to an excerpt to see if the book, reader and I are compatible. Almost like that E-Harmony dating service – or so I’ve heard.

Perhaps I am a purist, but I only want to listen to unabridged books, which means not a single word has been omitted. The abridged versions may be fine, but not for me. And as a writer, I would like to think that what I write requires every word I’ve included. Outlander has approximately 32 CDs for the one book – I thought that daunting, but once immersed in the story, the action flies by much too quickly and 32 CDs just means I get to spend more time with Jamie and Claire.

One book I can highly recommend, in addition to all of the Gabaldon books read by Devina, is Vanishing Acts written by Jodi Picoult from Recorded Books .

I’ve read Picoult in the ‘old fashioned’ way and thoroughly adored her writing. She has this magical way of twining such fascinating subjects together – magic and search and rescue and love triangles and alcoholism and fathers and childhood memories – in this book at least. I always learn something when reading her books and while listening to Vanishing Acts, I truly appreciated Picoult’s talent. Not every book was made to be read aloud. Hers works exceptionally well and the pace was perfect because it is a book that requires some thought, some mulling over and the slower pace of the readers words worked perfectly with my brain’s timing. The readers are: Jonathan Davis, Julia Gibson, Jim Jenner, Robert Ramirez and Sharon Washington.

I have also enjoyed an audio book of one of Lillian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who mystery series read by George Guidall. If you visit and click onto George’s name or any narrator/reader’s name, you’ll find a list of other works they have recorded. Guidall also has narrated: Extreme Measures and other novels by Vince Flynn, The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks, Night by Elie Wiesel, and Wolves of the Calla and several other novels by Stephen King.

Friends have made some suggestions. One recommended Barbara Kingsolver reading her own works. (Poisonwood Bible, etc.) Another, who can only listen to nonfiction and must read fiction gladly suggested Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, but didn’t mention who did the reading. I suspect it was Scott Brick. Scott has gotten rave reviews by a few other friends, too. He narrates along with a cast of other voices the sci-fi classic Dune by Frank Herbert.

I also asked for recommendations from members of my favorite mystery list: DorothyL which resulted in an interesting discussion of readers as well as suggested listening. Someone offered the Ian Rankin Rebus series, but couldn’t remember the reader’s name. I believe it is James Macpherson.

Joe Mantegna’s reading of the Spenser series written by Robert. B. Parker received several positive comments. One member mentioned that, “ Mantegna captures the poetic rhythm that Parker writes into his dialog.”

Also anything read by Barbara Rosenblatt got a thumbs up. She reads among other things the Lisa Scottoline, Linda Fairstein, Sarah Graves and Diane Mott Davidson mysteries.

Other recommended readers:

Dick Hill

Phil Gigante (reads Karen Moning’s Beyond the Highland Mist)

Jeff Woodman

John McDonough who reads Jan Karon’s Mitford series.

One that might be a real winner during the Christmas season – Charles Dicken’s classic A Christmas Carol as read by Orson Welles.

If still in doubt who to listen to, check out the awards list. Yes, in addition to Emmys and Edgars, Golden Globes and Tonys, there are Audies – awarded by the Audio Publishers Association. The 2008 winners list offers an opportunity read an excerpt and of course listen as well. Audio File Magazine offers reviews as well as excerpts. I listened to Sue Monk Kidd’s “Secret Life of Bees” – I think its one I would want to listen to from beginning to end. A brief listen to Xanthe Elbrick’s reading of Kathleen Woodiwiss’s Everlasting leaves me entranced by her delightful voice. And listen to some of the children’s books. Jessica Almasay’s narration of Clementine by Sara Pennypacker is especially fun. Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci invited me right into The One and Only Shrek by William Steig and I was bereft when the excerpt ended. I am afraid that this may be the next book I must download.

Most public libraries have a healthy collection of audio books including some classics I haven’t been able to wade through the ‘old fashioned’ way, but maybe by listening and knitting my way through them, I can find a better way to appreciate the old masters. And I can’t think of a more exciting adventure than to give voice to some of my old favorites – Little Women by Louisa May Alcott or Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte or….

Of course you can listen to them anywhere now that Ipods and MP3 players are the norm. Downloads of audio books are readily available. In your car, on a walk, in a plane, or while munching celery stalks (poetry is not my forte) – you get the picture. One person suggested downloading several books on her electronic device, changing the titles so that censors and customs and border police can’t discern that they are contraband and take them along on news assignments or vacation. Much lighter to transport than the paper and ink books. And obviously much easier to smuggle. Now, that’s an aspect of audio books you may not have considered….

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Magic Wands Ready: Fix the Economy

I'm listening to the Sunday morning political talk shows and my mind is wandering. But some thoughts keep reappearing and I'm just going to jot down what I think might help us fix what ails the United States of America's economy.

  1. I hear that 600,000 jobs were lost in the month of January. Happy New Year -- not! Of those jobs how many were people earning six figure incomes? Or how many were entry level jobs -- Home Depot, the car companies, Circuit City.... If the lay offs or 'downsizing' would start at the top with the CEO, CFO, board members that would slash much larger pieces of expenditure with fewer bodies effected. It would also free up people who already have capital and connections to start their own company, move into positions that might benefit the economy. As is, the people laid off make straight for the unemployment office and seek government relief. Jettison people who can land on their feet, not those who are already struggling.
  2. Put Chris Dodds in and jerk Harry Reid out as senate majority leader. Reid and house speaker Nancy Pelosi have made a lot of enemies during the Bush years and have a long list of pay backs they wish to administer to those who abused them. We need fresh leadership without a vendetta. Dodds seemed like a well liked voice of reason during the presidential campaign, I think he could be effective. I'm not sure who should replace Pelosi. Not a clue. Maybe Durban?
  3. Invest in education. Since most of the lay offs are of people with entry level job skills, why not invest in their training and grow a better workforce while we have this opportunity. I realize that President Reagan is a cult figure to many but I still deeply regret his decision to cut PEL Grants and other tuition reimbursement or free tuition programs that would allow everyone to partake of higher education. It has been proven in primitive countries that if women receive education the qualify of the family's life and economic status improves. Why don't we offer education to everyone. If someone wants to learn, why put walls up that keep them forever separated from the knowledge?
  4. Provide more aid to our states. They know best what infrastructure needs attention. Why not fund those projects, and allow them to provide the services that people need to have a quality lifestyle? People work for the states -- they may be one of the largest employers across the United States, yet we hear that funding for them should be cut. This is a time when people will rely even more heavily on the states for their care and guidance -- crime will increase as more people's income disappears -- just one example. People will try to keep warm even after their utilities are cut off and will burn the damnedest things eventually igniting their house. Social services, even libraries are getting more use.
  5. I don't have a fix for corporate greed. I have many questions -- first of all who gave them the power to run our country? Corporations who have no morals (we see that in how they handled the money given them to bail out their greedy selves) and Wall Street sees only profits and more profits at the expense of many people's lives. Yet they hold the power. Government does need to take that back and make corporations and financial businesses accountable for their actions. A million dollar fine would certainly keep you and I in our places, but that's like asking them to put a quarter in the till for their misdeeds.
  6. Enforce TRUTH! Make every company and business be 100 percent truthful. Yes, I offer this energy at this amount and it will cost you a gazillion dollars to clean up the irresponsible mess I made of the environment while making this product because I wanted a bigger profit and didn't want to spend money to make the production as well as the product safe.
  7. Promote small businesses -- including arts. Musicians, artists, creative people contribute to society, not only financially. Their work often gives hope to those who most need it. Inspire others, and get people to thinking in new and innovative ways. Sometimes they soothe the anger and frustration. Music has healing qualities -- physically and emotionally. Art leads to new thoughts and more creativity. Fabric art can often be wrapped around a person and also provide comfort. Writers can bring about important discourse. And with non-art small business -- people are able to provide for themselves and a few of their friends and neighbors. In our small community where I grew up, the small businesses provided summer jobs for many of us. They kept widows employed and their children fed. The owners contributed to the community -- little league uniforms. And provided a service with a personal touch. Small business is the heart of our country. Paul Revere was a small businessman.
Anyone else have any bipartisan suggestions? Or NON political suggestions. What can we do to get our country back?

One thing I urge everyone to do is to support a favorite company, especially a small business. Now is not the time to stop buying from them if you can at all afford it. Pick your favorites and support them.

Photo associated with

Monday, February 2, 2009

What's Art Got to Do With It?

"The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was a relief measure established in 1935 by executive order as the Works Progress Administration, and was redesigned in 1939 when it was transferred to the Federal Works Agency. Headed by Harry L. Hopkins and supplied with an initial congressional appropriation of $4,880,000,000, it offered work to the unemployed on an unprecedented scale by spending money on a wide variety of programs, including highways and building construction, slum clearance, reforestation, and rural rehabilitation. So gigantic an undertaking was inevitably attended by confusion, waste, and political favoritism, yet the 'pump-priming' effect stimulated private business during the depression years (audio clip, 87k) and inaugurated reforms that states had been unable to subsidize." -- Lilly Library

Photo: portion of mural by Douglas Lynch

Eileen Doughty wrote a guest blog for my other blogsite, Subversive Stitchers, and pointed out that several politicians are pointing to art and artists as the place to drastically cut budget spending. The National Endowment for the Arts always seems to be a target with every budget. Someone for financial or outraged moral grievance tries to undermine the arts that are as much a part of America as Paul Revere (a silver smith), Mather Brown (painted George Washington's portrait), Norman Rockwell (whose work could be any more American?) and of course Grant Wood and his American Gothic (pictured here).

My father, a tall skinny man who had grown up in abject poverty, shined shoes and sold newspapers on street corners when he was four years old, delivered telegrams until he was nearly frozen stiff in the winters of his pre-teen years, and who found himself jobless during The Great Depression worked several WPA jobs. Of all of the jobs he had, none of them made him prouder than some of the projects he completed for the WPA. Each time he saw a building or a mural or bridge that boasted a sign: A WPA Project. He felt pride in it -- he was part of the work force that rebuilt the infrastructure of his country. It gave him back his pride and dignity. And probably saved him from starvation.

Many of those WPA projects put artists to work. And their work has become national treasures. Yet when times get tough, money tight, the first thing politicians want to do is eliminate any funding for the arts. Artists certainly are not in the mix in this year's budget discussions as it was back in the 1930s-40s.

Jeannette Hendler
writes, "Artists such as Milton Avery, Stuart Davis, Mark Rothko, Willem deKooning and Jackson Pollock were just a few of the thousands of artists on the WPA Project who have achieved worldwide recognition. Many, many other artists, who were also on the project, such as Aaron Berkman, Jules Halfant, Max Arthur Cohn (His 3 Musicians pictured here), Norman Barr and Gertrude Shibley are in museum collections, exhibitions and are in many private collections, but are not as yet nationally known."

These WPA art projects became a part of the country's legacy and the legacy of thousands of workers who labored for little money but for great pride. Many of these works have been destroyed or stolen, but those that remain should be protected. If you want to see what remains in your state, visit this link. These projects are the proof that dreams can not be snuffed out by difficult economic times.

Many murals were painted in post offices so that all, the public, everyone could share in the enjoyment of these pieces of art. These were created by artists, not working for WPA, but for the section of fine arts. The National Postal Museum website explains, "Commonly known as 'the Section,' it was established in 1934 and administered by the Procurement Division of the Treasury Department. Headed by Edward Bruce, a former lawyer, businessman, and artist, the Section's main function was to select art of high quality to decorate public buildings—if the funding was available. By providing decoration in public buildings, the art was made accessible to all people."

Douglas Lynch
who worked on WPA Artist projects including Timberline, a resort built as a WPA project on Mount Hood in Oregon, recounts his experiences for OregonLive. One of his memories of a strong woman who stood up to politicians. Lynch recalled, "The woman who was the chief decorator at Timberline, Margery Hoffman Smith, she was a grand woman, a great authority. She could walk up to any of the senators or bureaucrats in charge of that building and tell them what she was going to do -- and what they were going to do. She was the one who got us to do the cafeteria murals."

Perhaps we need to find a Margery Hoffman Smith to tell politicians what to do.