Tag Archives: audio books

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year… To Listen to Audio Books

Welcome to the end of the year! You’ve made it… basically. There is really only one more day. For me, the past week has been filled with good food (I’m going to take credit for a lot of the baking), good company (I’m hilarious… and I love my family), and a lot of travel (in short, travel increases 23% during Christmas and the New Year). I do a lot of driving during the holidays, and my drives are normally around five hours long (on a good day) but can go as long as… I think 9 hours was the longest on a really bad day. That’s a long time to be alone in a car… or a long time to be with some family, too. I’ve started to download audio books to keep me company, and I’ve found that downloading can be easier than using books on CD, because I never have to switch to another CD and be distracted while driving. Audio books can be awesome, and it helps me start to dwindle my (200 and counting) TBR pile, but they can also be hard to listen to depending on the narrator. The following books I’ve enjoyed because of the story and the plot, but also because I can tolerate the narrator*.

Bone Gap

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby is a great fantasy/magical realism/mystery/young adult book. The story follows a young man who knows about gaps in the town that people can fall through. He believes a person who is important to him, Roza, has been kidnapped and taken through one of the gaps. The question is, can he prove this to a town that doesn’t believe, and can he find Roza before something worse happens to her? This was a book that I really looked forward to reading, and I was happy with the narration overall for the audio book. They did a good job of really giving the different characters voices.

say what you will

Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern is a book about a boy who is struggling with OCD, and even admitting and figuring out what OCD is and entails, and a girl who has cerebral palsy. The book deals with a variety of issues that can be hard to read about, but I found overall that the book was good to listen to.

There are so many audio books out there and so many options. Some will be good and some will be bad, but if you find yourself traveling during the holiday season, it may be worth taking something to listen to.


*Full disclosure, not everyone will like the same type of narrator. I get really frustrated listening to narrators that are all breathy and whispery (it’s a word… I think), you know the type I mean. Some people may enjoy that type of narrator, and that’s awesome, but if you try an audio book and don’t like it at first, try and figure out if it’s the book or the narrator, and try other narrators before you dismiss audio books completely.


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“You Want to Learn? Come!” – On Volunteering at the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped

Did you know that April 12-18 is not only National Library Week, but it’s also National Volunteer Week? This bit of serendipity makes perfect sense to us, because the volunteers who help out in various roles across our system are such a big part of what makes the Library a special place.

One set of amazing volunteers are the folks who dedicate their time to narrating, recording, and editing audio books for the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. We sat down with volunteers Russ Kuba, Sister Jeremy Mahla, and Joe Farinacci to shine a spotlight on the special work they do.

Some background info: The Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped loans recorded books and magazines, equipment to play the recordings, large print books, and described videos to patrons with visual or physical impairments. Many of the audio books we loan out are provided by the National Library Service, and are basically the same audio books available in the general Library collection. These volunteers, however, record and edit audio books based on local interest that might not be otherwise available in audio format; all the books they work on have some connection to Western Pennsylvania.

photo of volunteer Russ Kuba

Russ’s favorite thing about volunteering at the Library is learning something new!

What do you do at the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped?

Sister Jeremy: I’m mostly an editor and I’ve been doing that for more than four years. I mostly fix up mistakes made in the recording process.

Russ: Mostly editing and monitoring recording, reading in braille. [Because I am visually impaired] I use special editing software that allows me to edit book computer files based on audio cues instead of visual cues. I’m all self-taught on using the software.

Joe:  I started as a narrator, but I do recording monitoring too.  I always say ‘What you need!’. If you need me, I’ll stay here as long as you’ll have me.

Why do you volunteer? What keeps you coming in?

Sister Jeremy: I enjoy it! I especially enjoy working with the people here and working with computers. It’s a very real learning experience. I always tell people ‘You want to learn? Come!’

Russ: I’ve been a patron here my whole life and I wanted to help others. It’s in my genes – my mother was a school librarian and I lived across the street from a library.  Maybe it’s a love of learning, but there’s always something new and interesting. The camaraderie is good and everyone gets along.

Joe:  I knew someone who was volunteering here and I had some experience with sound recording, plus my wife is slightly visually impaired and listens to audio books. I thought I would give it a try, and I loved it. I feel like I’m helping, plus I love the process. It’s an awesome service and a fantastic place to volunteer.

What’s your favorite book you have worked on?

Sister Jeremy:  One thing that’s fun about this work is you get to hear all different stories – all different kinds! I even worked on a book written by someone I went to school with.

Russ: Two great ones were Hatchet and Plow and Steel Ghosts.

Joe:  Hemlock Grove was a good story, and it was a fun challenge to do the different voices. I also liked Behind the Stage Door, which is about concert promoter Rich Engler. There’s all kinds of stories about concerts in Pittsburgh, including Joe Cocker, Paul McCartney, George Carlin, and Jimmy Buffett.

(Note: These special, volunteer-produced audio books are only available to LBPH patrons, so the links in this blog post will go to print copies in the general collection. If you or someone you know might qualify for service through LBPH, please call 412.687.2440.)

After our chat, Joe was kind enough to let us film him for a behind-the-scenes look at the recording process:

As a part of National Volunteer Week, we’re hosting tours and a service project at the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Feel free to sign up if you’re interested in learning more about this extraordinary Library!



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7 More Ways to Get Sher-LOCKED

If you are patiently–or not-so-patiently–waiting for the next season of the BBC’s Sherlock, consider this:  a keyword search for “Sherlock Holmes” brings back over 900 results in the Library catalog, while a subject search for Holmes, Sherlock (no quotation marks needed) nets you another 600+ results. This means you have plenty of material to obsess over focus on during the show’s hiatus (that is, when you’re not on Tumblr reblogging otters who look like Benedict Cumberbatch).

Original meme by Red Scharlach. Image reposted at RadioTimes.

Original meme by Red Scharlach. Image reposted at RadioTimes.

Given the large number of written pastiches, plus the fact that the character of Sherlock Holmes has appeared in television and film more than anyone else except Dracula, this shouldn’t surprise you at all. You may, however, find yourself overwhelmed by your good fortune: where, with so many adventures to choose from, should you start?

Here are seven suggested points of entry*, in various formats:

1. Sounds familiar…

To bridge the classic and contemporary fandoms, you might want to try the audio book Sherlock1The Rediscovered Railway Mysteries and Other Stories. Author John Taylor uses the conceit of a locked cedar chest that contains Watson’s notes on cases that, for various reasons, were never made public. These tales, which feature the science of ballistics, stolen goods, and a baffling murder, stack up favorably with Amazon reviewers. But, of course, with audio books, it’s the narrator that makes or breaks the story…and our narrator, in this case, is none other than Otterface Whatsisname. Try not to break your fingers while making the catalog reservation, okay?

2. Across the pond

sherlock2American versions don’t always ruin everything. Exhibit A: Watson and Holmes vol. 1: A Study in BlackJon Watson’s internship at Convent Emergency Center in Harlem gets a lot more interesting when the mysterious S. Holmes shows up shortly after the victim of a vicious beating is brought in. Intrigued by what he learns from Holmes, Watson tags along on what seems, at first, to be a simple kidnapping case, then blossoms into a far more sinister conspiracy. A gorgeous color palette of blacks, browns, and purples (with some luscious golds and icy blues for contrast) enriches a comic that is incredibly faithful to Conan Doyle’s vision (Irregulars, fetching haberdashery, and all).

3. Media Studies 101

Rather than start a knock-down, drag-out argument over which actor made the finest manyfacesSherlock**, make the time to familiarize yourself with The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes. This documentary covers eighty-five years of stage, film, television, and radio portrayals of the master detective, and is narrated by Dracula Saruman Sir Christopher Lee. At a run time of only 48 minutes, you can have yourself up to speed on the topic in the space of a lunch hour. And because you can download the film to your portable device, you can still have lunch outside, if you like.

4. Worth the wait…

company holmesLaurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger–two authors you can trust on this topic–invited a group of well-known contemporary authors to write new stories inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle’s original work. The result, In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, is definitely worth putting yourself on the waiting list for it. Contributors include Michael Connelly, Cornelia Funke, Jeffrey Deaver, Sara Paretsky, and Harlan Ellison, so you know King and Klinger took this project very, very seriously. Tied together with a terrific introduction, and the promise of a second volume to come, this short story collection should be on your don’t-miss list.

5. Three pipe problems

If your vocabulary organically includes terms like “heteronormative,” “deconstruction,” or21st century holmes “paradigms,” you will most likely enjoy Sherlock Holmes for the 21st Century, a fascinating bundle of scholarly essays. Contributing editor Lynette Porter has assembled a collection of work that examines the relationship between a broad spectrum of cultural themes (which include sexuality, fandom, information literacy, and tourism) and the recent Holmes canon. The connections the authors draw between present and past iterations of the consulting detective make for a fascinating look at how, in each generation, we create the Sherlock we need, want, and–perhaps–deserve.

6. Get ’em while they’re young…

death cloudYA readers keen on historical fiction might enjoy Death Cloud, the first in a series of teenage Sherlock Holmes mysteries authorized by the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle. If you can imagine the highly functioning sociopath as a bored, bright youngster on holiday, the concept isn’t at all far-fetched. While staying with relatives over the summer, young Sherlock makes a friend, confounds his tutor,  and encounters a mysterious cloud that’s followed by a series of puzzling deaths. Obviously somebody has to investigate, and who better than Holmes? Fun historical fiction that functions as a gateway to the real deal.

7. And, inevitably, tea

While visiting the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, Julia Carlson Rosenblatt and her dininghusband got the idea for a dinner showcasing food from Conan Doyle’s era. That dinner, held on June 2, 1973, paved the way for Dining With Sherlock Holmes: A Baker Street Cookbook. The foodies in the fandom will appreciate this Herculean effort, which is clearly a labor of love by people who did their homework (with the help of the Culinary Institute of America). Every recipe is either tied to a direct quote from the original canon, or its inspiration is thoroughly explained. If you’re thinking about having a Sherlock party, and really want to take it over the top, you’ll want this cookbook in your hands…though a healthy dose of kitchen proficiency is definitely a pre-requisite.

That’s a lot of Sherlock, and we’ve barely scratched the surface. Do you have a favorite Holmes, or Holmes-inspired book/film? Tell us about it in the comments section!

–Leigh Anne, whose own gateway drug was Young Sherlock Holmes.

*I’m assuming, of course, that you’re already well-versed in the Conan Doyle canon. If you’re not, what are you waiting for? Go get those books!

**Even though the answer is clearly Basil Rathbone.



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Who Needs Reality Shows When You Have eCLP?

So there we were, enjoying a glorious vacation week at my aunt and uncle’s beach house, and my 12 year old twins were watching the latest episode of America’s Singing Horribly with People Who Don’t Have Any Talent.

(True parenting confession time: my kids are really into reality shows. If you know me and my husband, there’s no rational explanation for how this happened.)

Less than five minutes of this cacophony and I’d had more than enough. Unfortunately, my options were somewhat limited.

Now, my aunt and uncle have a nice beach house — but it’s a tad on the smaller side. Whatever goes on in the living room of the beach house is heard everywhere throughout the beach house. Reading was impossible because I couldn’t concentrate. Going outside for a walk was out of the question: It was thunderstorming. And I am among that pitiful percentage of the population who lacks an iPod or iPad or iAnything that would allow me to listen to music iAnytime.

But what I do own is a Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh library card.

And a smartphone.*

And the OverDrive app conveniently located on that smartphone.

And a pair of headphones.

As the banal banter from the TV continued incessantly, I snuck into the bedroom, fluffed up the pillows on the bed and pressed that OverDrive app button on my phone. Clicked Get Books. Clicked Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Signed in. There, as if by magic (but because I’d told my phone I wanted it to remember it) was my library card number, right there from the last time I used it. I clicked on the nebulous person icon (who I could relate to pretty well at the moment) and brought up my Wish List.

Overdrive - My Account Overdrive - Wish List Available Now

My friends. These are the times that OverDrive Wish Lists are made for, and you’d better believe I was ever so grateful for having created it. This was no time for browsing as a bubble-headed bleached blonde was on the TV yammering about how the only way this incredible talent was going to get his Number One Wish and advance to the finals was if you, America, gotoyourphonesandmakeatollfreecallortweetusingthishashtag….

I was more interested in using my phone to download one of my Wish Listed audio books, and — holy cow! — I had plenty to choose from. As it turned out, of the numerous eBooks and audio books on my wish List, 131 of them were available right at that moment! Right there in the beach house! One hundred and thirty-one books!

(What can I say? I have a pretty extensive Wish List.)

I scrolled through the offerings. I was being pickier than I should have been, given my quasi-desperate circumstances and plethora of e-choices from the Library. I selected Jess Walter‘s short story collection We Live In Water (an appropriate if not ironic title, since we’d just spent the day by the ocean) and by the time I finished the heart-crushing first story “Anything Helps” (so incredibly good!) my kids were finished with their show and ready for bed.

Everybody in this family wins. Everybody gets a trophy. Especially when one can be 500 miles away from Pittsburgh on a barrier island located in a town too small to be listed on most maps and still be able to access the Library’s collection of books within seconds via one’s phone.

Now that’s my kind of reality show.

* Yes, I know I could very well listen to music on my phone (via the Library, too!) but that’s an Eleventh Stack post for another day. 

~Melissa F.

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Acceptable Classic Literature

Here’s a companion piece to my Annoying Classic Literature post, written at the suggestion of the very same delightful 12th grade English teacher who inspired my earlier ranting.

Austen, JanePride and Prejudice

It wasn’t very funny when I was in 10th grade, but it made much more sense when I was a senior in college. On the outside chance that you’ve never enjoyed (or suffered through) this classic, I offer you a Very Concise Summary.

Stage the First
Elizabeth: Hi, there!
Darcy: I do not know you, therefore you are lame.
Elizabeth: Well, I don’t like you anyway.

Stage the Second
Darcy: Oops, I was wrong. Marry me!
Elizabeth: Get bent, you jerk!
Darcy: I’m a jerk?

Stage the Third
Elizabeth: Oops, I was wrong. Drat.
Lydia: I’m an idiot!
Darcy: How to Win Friends and Influence People
Elizabeth and Darcy: Yay!


Pride and Prejudice is available as a book, an audio book, and assorted movies. We also have the Cliffs notes and a DVD guide, which I feel obliged to point out even though I think you should read the book. You can also try Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (a book, an audio book, and a graphic novel – crikey!) or Bride and Prejudice, which is just a plain old movie.

Kafka, FranzThe Metamorphosis

Spoiler Alert – He’s a bug! Or is he? Gregor Samsa finds the best excuse ever for skipping work, while his sister learns just how important it is to clean under the bed.

The Metamorphosis is available as a book, an audio book, a graphic novel, and a play. We also have the Cliffs notes, but the book is pretty darn short so just read it already. And if that’s not enough giant buggy goodness for you, try Insect Dreams: the Half Life of Gregor Samsa by Marc Estrin, in which Gregor joins the circus, travels to New York, and becomes an advisor to FDR.

Lewis, SinclairMain Street

Poor Carol (Milford) Kennicott learns the hard way that the good people of Gopher Prairie, Minnesota do not appreciate women with opinions, nice legs, or an interest in poetry. Just think how much happier she would have been with high speed internet access and Dr. Kennicott’s credit card.

Main Street is available as a book, and an audio book. We also have the Cliffs notes for when you’re too depressed to read any further but you still have to crank out a ten page paper by the end of the week.


Floggings, syphilis, drowning, earthquakes, and the Inquisition have never been so much fun! It makes me wonder – what tragedies would befall a modern day Candide? Probably identity theft and swine flu. Or perhaps his car would be recalled.

Candide is available as a book, an audio book, and an operetta. We also have the Cliffs notes, but Candide is just too absurd to pass up. Plus, people will think you’re smart when they see you reading Voltaire.

And remember, all is for the best in the best of all possible blog posts. But now I must ask, gentle readers, what classics do you particularly enjoy? If you had to foist one great classic on a high school student at the risk of alienating them from literature forever, what would you choose?

– Amy


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Annoying Classic Literature

In honor of a chance reunion with my 12th grade English teacher, I offer our gentle readers a short list of so-called classic literature that I despise.

Dickens, Charles Great Expectations

Random kid makes good by helping a convict and just so happens to meet the weirdest woman in England? Real plausible there, Dickens. Not that Dickens ever cared about plausibility (though he apparently cared about orphans and making money).

Try instead: Well, I can’t recommend any more Dickens, since I’m firmly in the Anti-Dickens camp. But I can suggest Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair, which presents a much more amusing Miss Havisham.

Great Expectations is available as a book, an audio book, and assorted movies. We also have the Cliffs notes and a DVD guide, but if you’ve been assigned this book you should still probably read it. The Eyre Affair is available as a book or audio book.

Eliot, George Middlemarch

I tried to read this three times, twice while in college, and never managed to get more than 2/3 of the way through it (though I still got As on my papers, go me). The moral of the story is that you shouldn’t marry an old dude when you really want a younger one. There, I just saved you 800+ pages of dullness.

Try instead: Um, I hated Middlemarch so much that I never tried to read any more Eliot. Anyone out there have any suggestions?

Middlemarch is available as a book,  an audio book, and a movie that I should eventually buy for this library. We have the Cliffs notes too, which are probably every bit as boring but much shorter.

James, Henry The Turn of the Screw

This particular bit of assigned summer reading was such exquisite torture that I had to read it twice. Not that I enjoy making myself suffer, mind you, I was just so bored the first time that I was reading individual words and not complete sentences. I had to read it again so that I could pick up enough plot points to write a convincing essay (which I did, of course).

Try instead: Roderick Hudson – I read this one in college, and it actually has a plot. A plot that make sense. And the main character has a name!

The Turn of the Screw is available as a book and an audio book. We have the Cliffs notes as well, so save your money and borrow our copy instead. Roderick Hudson is only available as a book, probably because everyone gives up on Henry James after reading The Turn of the Screw.

Wharton, Edith Ethan Frome

Life is hard! Let’s sled into a tree! While Robert Altman and the crew from M*A*S*H would have us believe that suicide is painless, this book, with its botched and completely lame suicide attempt, is anything but. Gah.

Try instead: Anything else by Edith Wharton. I loved The House of Mirth and Old New York, perhaps because they are nothing like Ethan Frome.

Ethan Frome is available as a book, an audio book, and a movie, though not even the presence of Liam Neeson can make this classic palatable. We also have the Cliffs notes for those who want to get this over with quickly and painlessly – unlike poor Mr. Frome. The House of Mirth is available as a book, an audio book, and a movie – though perhaps not a good one. Old New York is available as a book.

So I ask, gentle readers, are there any classics that you cannot stand? Or would you care to convince me that these four are worth my time after all?

– Amy (who really does have a degree in literature)


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Audio Libros!

Shiny and new!

 By popular demand, the Film & Audio Department now offers books on CD in Spanish. This small but growing collection features titles by authors such as Isabel Allende, Dan Brown, Malcolm Gladwell, Sue Monk Kidd, Eckhart Tolle, and more

(For some reason, I find the Spanish title of Who Moved My Cheese to be wildly entertaining. It’s ¿Quien Se Ha Llevado Mi Queso?

If you’d like to brush up on your Spanish but just can’t stand to conjugate any more verbs, check them out! 

– Amy


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Believe the hype

I hope I’m not the one to break the news to you of the memoirist Frank McCourt’s passing on Sunday. McCourt left us with three unforgettable full-length books: Angela’s Ashes, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography, as well as the National Book Critics Circle Award; ‘Tis and Teacher Man. It is my belief that these books can only be truly appreciated when read aloud by the author. That’s right—I’m telling you it’s time to step out of your comfort zone and listen to an audio book. Listening to Frank McCourt with his Irish lilt, telling you about his miserable childhood in Ireland is like having your very own Irish grandpa telling you hilarious, heartbreaking stories of the old country.

Here is a snippet from the beginning of Angela’s Ashes:

“The happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood. People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests, bullying schoolmasters; the English and all the terrible things they did to us for 800 long years.”

If you have never had the pleasure of reading Frank McCourt, believe the hype, and try out one of his books in audio format.


Support your library! The Pennsylvania Library Association has designated the week of July 20th PaLA Call-In Week. Please take the time to call the Governor, your Senator, or your Representative and tell them how much your library means to you. Visit the PaLA website or our advocacy page for details.

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