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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Audiobooks: an addition or alternative to reading - interlude

I had listened to audiobooks a few times during school, but I wasn't too keen on them. A few years ago one of the books I wanted to borrow from the library was only available in audio format, so I decided to give it a try. It opened up a new avenue for my reading.

Audiobooks are a wonderful invention. At one time they were available as records and audio cassettes. Now they are more frequently found in CD and digital format. Many books are often offered as both unabridged and abridged (shortened/condensed).

There are many services for payment for audiobooks. There are also free resources like local libraries that often carry many newer books and Librivox.org that carries out of copyright texts in audio format. The Library of Philadelphia also has library card available for a fee, if you want to check out digital media there.

If you're looking for a way to add reading to your life or to add a couple extra books to your reading list, audiobooks may be the way to go. By listening to audiobooks during my daily commute to and from work, I normally add 2 books to my monthly count. Many people enjoy listening to audiobooks while working, exercising, or even cleaning the house. It's a great way to indulge a hobby, while getting stuff done.

Of course, a good narrator makes a huge difference between whether the book is a hit or a miss in this particular format. Narrators like Dick Hill make the characters come to life. He makes it easy to tell one character from the other by the way he speaks. Events take on real tenderness or urgency with just the change of his tone.

Many books I had difficulty getting through when reading were much more palatable in audio format.

I suggest giving audiobooks a try, if you haven't already.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Two Towers - J.R.R. Tolkien

The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien is part of his famous Lord of the Rings trilogy.

With the Fellowship now broken, the characters find themselves going on in various groups. The beautiful prose sung by Aragorn and Legolas at the departure of yet another member of the fellowship is heart wrenching. As they continue on their journey and on into battle, the camaraderie between Gimli and Legolas grows stronger. An unexpected character comes to their aid during their journeys in Rohan. As the group travels on more of Aragorn's origins are revealed. Their search for the missing members lead them on to Isengard.

Merridoc (Merry) and Peregrin (Pippin) find themselves with only each other for company. In their dire situation, each shows a sense of ingenuity and courage. Their travels bring them to a strange forest where they meet an old forgotten people, who they join to continue their journey.

Frodo and Samwise (Sam) pair together, leaving behind the rest, and continue on to Mordor. They team up with a most unlikely ally, who eventually leads them into trouble and possibly death.

Many readers find the long descriptions in Tolkien's writing tedious, while others enjoy them for the vibrant picture they create. The many songs scattered throughout the book are a delight, especially when read aloud. I think many readers will find bits of themselves or people they know hiding in the many beloved characters.

While this epic fantasy is certainly enjoyed by many all on its own, learning the folklore that influenced Tolkien can add a new layer of appreciation. Like the opera composer Richard Wagner, Tolkien was inspired by Norse mythology, such as the Nibelungenlied and Volsunga Saga. The powerful ring, elves, dwarves, dragons, and many other fantastic events and creatures can be traced back to these sources.

This novel and other by Tolkien were burned in New Mexico by those who claimed they were Satanic.

Notes specific to the audio version: The narrator gives some tune to the songs throughout the book. While they are not melodic, the narrator has a good sense of cadence for each one. The way he voices each character is different enough that in most cases it is easy to tell the difference between them during a conversation.

Other books by this author:
The Hobbit: or There and Back Again
The Silmarillion
The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun

Recommended viewing:
The Hobbit animated version from 1977
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy theatrical extended version.

Recommended listening:
Nightfall in Middle Earth by Blind Guardian
Music Inspired by The Lord of the Rings by Bo Hansson

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Joan of Arc: By Herself and Her Witnesses - Régine Pernoud

Joan of Arc: By Herself and Her Witnesses by Régine Pernoud is a fantastic biography on Joan of Arc, Jeanne d'Arc. This biography sets itself apart by using recorded testimony of both Joan and those who knew her to create a living portrait of Joan.

Appropriately, the book starts at the beginning of Joan's life. With testimony from Joan's own mouth during the trial and that of those who knew her as a child, the image of an obedient and devout girl comes to life. A child who went to confession daily, if she were permitted, and kept to her chores diligently.

Despite the disapproval from her parents, Joan set out on the road to meet The Dauphin, Charles, who she was determined to place on the throne of France by driving out the English. Her defeat of the English at Orleans staggered many in France, and struck fear into the invading English.

Details of the battles that followed are provided by her comrades in arms, including Jean de Dunois, the Bastard of Orleans. Joan won many major battles in the Hundred Years War, but she also lost many. Those she lost, she claims to have done without the support of her "voices", Saint Catherine, Saint Margaret, Saint Michael, and Saint Gabriel.

While it's true that Joan recanted to save her life at one point, the author suggests that she knew more about the situation than she would say aloud. Being held under state custody while undergoing a "church" trial appears to have tipped her off to the illegitimacy of the process. Even though Joan knew how to sign her name, she only signed an "X" on her recant. Her many demands to see the Pope, which by Church law were supposed to be honored, were dismissed.

This biography does not end with Joan's death like so many do. Details about the "rehabilitation" 25 years after are shared in this book, where Joan was finally once again accepted as a member of the Church. Many of the statements throughout the book are taken from these documents.

Joan's influence in the Hundred Years War cannot be emphasized enough. Without her intervention to take back Orleans and many other strategic locations in France, the outcome most certainly would have been different.

More recommended reading on Joan of Arc:
Joan of Arc: Maid Myth, and History by Timothy Wilson Smith.
Joan of Arc: A Military Leader - Kelly DeVries

Recommended movies on Joan of Arc:
The Passion of Joan of Arc

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

D'aulaire's Book of Greek Myths - Ingri and Edgar d'Aulaire

D'aulaire's Book of Greek Mythology by Ingri d'Aulaire and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire is a treasure.

The illustrations in this book are just delightful. The illustrations were originally done by a process called lithography, which works on the principle of grease and water repelling each other. The overall style is sketchy with attentive details and gorgeous color schemes. Many of these are full page illustrations, that include family trees and exciting scenes from the stories.

The retellings are faithful to their originals while leaving out details that many do not find appropriate for children. A good example of this is that it does talk about Zeus having children with many women aside from his wife; however, it does not talk about how he came upon them in the form of a swan or a bull.

The continuity of the narrative is carried out in an easy to follow format. It starts with the telling of the creation of the world, Gaia, and her brood: the Titans. It goes on to talk about Zeus and many wives, which bridges the gap for the next portion which talks about Hera. Each story makes a segue way into the next by introducing the next character by how he or she relates to the previous one. The tales of Prometheus and Pandora make an appearance, among many other popular tales. Heroes like Heracles and Jason of the Argonauts are presented. Even the tragic tale of Oedipus is included, as well.

Many of the gods and goddesses in the Greco-Roman mythos are often presented in a malevolent manner, but that is not the case in this book. The anger of Artemis for being caught unawares while bathing and the jealousy of Hera of Zeus's antics is presented in a matter-of-fact way.

I'd recommend this for anybody who is interested in Greco-Roman mythology.

Other books by these authors:
D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths
D'Aulaires' Book of Trolls

Recommended books on Greco-Roman Mythos:
A Child's Introduction to Greek Mythology: The Stories of the Gods, Goddesses, Heroes, Monsters, and Other Mythical Creatures by Heather Alexander
Mythology - Edith Hamilton

Recommended viewing:
Jim Henson's The Storyteller: Greek Myths
Clash of the Titans 1988 version
Jason and the Argonauts

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Introductory Post - interlude

As a first post, I think I should give a little background on myself and what this blog is about.
As a child I loved to read; although, I wasn't good at it. I read a lot, but it was rare that I would actually finish a book completely through. I visited with characters like Ramona, who drove her parents and sister crazy. I stopped by to say 'hello' to Charlie as he explored the candy factory. I even peeked in on Gilly Hopkins. Thanks to the library, I'm able to borrow these children's novels and finally find out what happened to them.

When I got Junior High, I skipped over young adult novels. In the few books I read in the genre, I found the characters to be unrelatable. Having gone back to read many of the young adult novels, I've come to the conclusion that this is more of a reflection on where I was than on the genre as a whole. Although, I do tend to think some of it had to do with the limited selection in my small town library.

Instead of the young adult genre, I mostly read classics. They were often in the $.99 bin, so my mother brought many of these home and I devoured them as fast as I could. By the time I reached High School, I had already read many of the required reading assignments. If our book reports were limited to a selection of books the teacher had given us, chances were I had read at least one of them.

As an adult, I keep track of the books I finish each year. I keep a low-end goal of reading 3 books a month or 36 books a year for the past four years. I've exceeded this goal each year, but I still think that 3 books a month is just right for me. It ensures that I'm keeping active in reading, while not limiting other activities in order to attain it.

I decided to start this blog after realizing that I start a lot of books each year that I never finish. The reasons can vary from book to book. I thought it would be interesting to not only keep track of and review books I complete, but to give impressions of books I don't finish, as well.