Audiobook Etiquette

Well, I’m doing better at catching up on my reading this summer than I could have hoped. All things considered, I’d have to say I own that success to all the audiobooks I’ve been listening to. I’ve certainly been reading regular words on papers books, but the added opportunities for getting some reading time in with an audiobook are helping me pick up the pace, significantly. Yes, I still call it reading time, even when I’m listening to the words being read, technically speaking. Listening time sounds like something you do sitting cross legged  in a circle with all your hippie friends, who want to make sure you’re not just hearing them, but listening to them, in your soul. Conversely it can also sound like I mean I’m listening to music, not a book. You decide which one is more probable. Either way, I just hate to confuse people.

Sometimes, listening to audiobook after audiobook, I manage to get myself confused about the proper etiquette of the situation. Etiquette? You might ask, what, you crazy millennial, are you talking about? Just shove your ear buds in and drown out the world. You want to drag people and etiquette into this? What is there to be proper about? Well, you, sir or madam, have obviously never listened to as many audiobooks in public with as much social anxiety as I have. Congratulations, I’ll try to send you some flowers.

Truth is, I feel there’s a certain way to listen to audiobooks that cuts down on the sort of accidental rudeness we see develop whenever we find our phones or tech more interesting than the people we are talking too. I can’t say this should serve as any sort of Miss Manners guideline for anyone curious about this subject, but from personal experience, this what I’ve gone with that gets me punched the least.

1. “What Are You Listening To?” This question, how do you answer it? The simple answer, the truth, is, as I have often found, not  satisfactory. “Oh, I’m actually listening to an audiobook, no, not music, it’s Dostoyevsky. The writer, yeah the really old dead Russian one. Where are you going?”

That’s the problem I usually run into. People think you’ll be listening to music and they can talk about their favorite artists and so on, and I suppose the audiobook response catches them off guard, or else  they figure I finally found a reply to that question more hipster elitist than, “Oh, you’ve probably never heard of them.” Perhaps I have. Perhaps I may also be projecting my own anxieties concerning how little I know about cool, hip music onto the situation and people will be totally accepting of my penchant for listening to books on my phone or iPod. I don’t really listen to Dostoyevsky that often, now that I think about it.

2. When To Listen. So, I used to feel like I knew the answer to this, used to. For a socially awkward bibliophile like myself, the best and only answer to the question of when to listen to my audiobook was all the time, anytime, anywhere. Riding on the train? Plug it in. Doing laundry? Turn it up. Vacuuming? Whats that I can’t hear you over my book, and also this vacuum I’m using right now. Who needs real noises and voices when you can have the characters and narrators of your favorite book talking right in your ear all the way to boring old work? Ignoring things while listening to an audiobook was much easier than  ignoring things with my nose stuck in a print book. I didn’t bump into stuff so much.

This technologically enhanced reclusive-ness is, I suppose, quickly becoming a societal norm, but I still managed to feel guilty about how much I preferred the voice of a book over what was going on around me all day. Soon, I changed the rules. Listening to a book is great during times you need a little entertainment boost, like while working out or doing chores, but I started to make a point of taking out the earbuds when I noticed something I could be missing out on hearing, like the first bird songs of spring, the laughter of children, or whatever my boss keeps yelling at me over the dulcet tones of Harry Potter series narrator, Jim Dale. Who knows, that stuff might even be important.

3 Sex. Yup, I knew you were just waiting for this one, you little perverts. Okay, maybe you’ve never listened to all the Game of Thrones books on CD before, and this one might take you a minute to grasp. I’ll just say it. What happens when you’re just going on about your business, riding the train to work or whatever, and all of the sudden the characters talking right into your headphones start gettin’ it on. Have you ever tried to keep a straight face, no blushes or sudden avoidance of eye contact, while listening to two or more, (one or more really, I suppose,) characters describing their sexual exploits? Sure, all books are different and the level of detail put into their sexual encounters, but listen to enough and you’ll certainly find yourself awkwardly wondering if, somehow, the old women next to you on the bus can hear Jaime and Cersei Lannister going at it as loudly as you can, no matter how sound your headphones are.

In all honesty, I often pause at the sexy parts if I’m in a really public place, to enjoy the book more privately, later. You can take that any way you like. I might be getting too apologetic and embarrassed thinking about something only going on in my own head. You give it a try and see how you feel. If it turns out I am acting like a prude, I’ll talk to my shrink about it.

Looking at my etiquette guidelines, it’s pretty clear that the core motive for most of these is the need to deal with my own crippling social anxiety. Might this personal slant of the advice make it less than useful to the rest of my audience? What if the average internet user is actually much more socially outgoing and savy than I am? Hahahahahaha. Sorry, I couldn’t keep typing that with a straight face. You’re welcome for my advice and commiseration over social anxieties, internet minions. Have a nice day and pick up an audiobook at the library perhaps, now that you know the rules.


Five Ways to Catch Up on Reading

If you’re anything like me, you’ve got piles and piles of backed up books you’ve been meaning to read for months, if not years. Even reading every day, I find myself with loads and loads of reading to catch up on. With classes out for me this summer, I’m using it to try and catch up on my reading. Brilliant plan, huh? Well, technically that is the same plan, or broken promise really, I make every year.This year though, I’m getting serious. Cramming and binge-reading for all my college courses has taught me a number of ways to get massive  amounts of reading done in a short amount of time, and I’d like to try and apply those tricks to my pleasure reading, to work on the massive back-up of books I have staring at me right now.

1. Organize. So maybe you’ve figured you’ll just catch up on all your reading one book at a time, based on whichever book you pick out of a stack first. Wrong! That’s some sloppy, apathetic book-picking right there. You’ve gotta organize it. With my school work, I’d organize reading assignments by how long they would  take and how freaking screwed I’d be if I didn’t read them. Sure, you may not be putting your GPA at risk by sloppily reading through your summer book list, but chances are some books might be jumping out as priorities. That book your friend lent you because they need you to read this, their most favorite book of all time? Maybe pick that one up first. That  best seller that you feel like a complete dunder-head for not being able to talk about? Start that one up right away. The right motivation to read and finish a book can really help you pull through all your back-logged paperbacks.

2. Double fist it. That’s right, you heard me. Read with a book in each hand, and maybe an audio-book playing on your earbuds at the same time too. You can’t get very far reading just one book at a time, and if you have enough urgent, priority reads, you may not be able to anyhow. I’ve got a wake up book, a morning book, an afternoon book, an evening book, and right before bedtime book, and on top of that more specialized books, like bathroom time and while my sister is hogging the TV and watching the wretched Kardashians time books. On top of that, you can sprinkle in audio-books for moments when reading an actual book is not possible, like exercising or driving around. The only reason my father’s middle-aged and badly abused heart hasn’t given out from all the times he’s been caught up in traffic, his ultimate sworn enemy, is that dearest mother always makes sure to continuously supply him with books-on-CDs for his car. If it keeps my father alive, it’s gotta be good enough for you.

3. Barricade yourself in. Okay, so during finals week you can find many a student locked in their rooms or at the library with a sturdy fort of books and papers surrounding them. This stressful scenario is another great way to increase the reading you get done. You don’t have to isolate yourself in a depressing place that smells like Ramen and sweat though. It’s summer, so make yourself a fun, isolated reading spot, like a pillow fort, a blanket den, a comfy chair, or a hammock strung up outside. As long as it’s reasonably quiet and isolated, you should be able to get quite a bit of reading done. I’m not asking you to give up your social life though. Reading in an isolated spot just allows you to concentrate better, so you can get done sooner and have more time to talk to your friends a relax, knowing you don’t have anything else to worry about. As I understand, people with social lives generally consider this a good arrangement.

4. Ont the other hand, read to someone. Quizzing someone on what they just read is a great traditional college tactic used to help students keep each other awake during long study sessions. In that same way, reading out loud to someone else could help you get through more books. I once decided, for laughs, to read I was looking at aloud to my dog, who was looking at me kind of funny. Chapters later, I realized that reading the story aloud to someone that was clearly interested in what I had to say, (his head was doing the cute little tilt thing, you know, the to the side tilty-dog-face thing) truly motivated me to keep reading, even if he was just hoping for a dog biscuit.

5. Get a reward. Getting an A plus feels nice. It’s a great reward for all your hard work reading. Sure, reading for pleasure is a reward in itself, but for some serious catch up reading, additional motivation help. Luckily, there are programs everywhere during the summer that help with just this sort of thing. I’m talking about summer reading programs that libraries have every year. I haven’t really participated in those since I was a kid, but I do know that they offer those programs for adults too, because I just joined one at my local library. If I keep finishing loads of books, I can turn in slips of paper that’ll enter me into a raffle for some nice prizes. Sure, they’re not as cool as the stuff I remember getting as a kid, like plastic jewelry or incredibly powerful bouncy balls, but gift cards and stuff from local businesses can be pretty cool too, even if you don’t live near an super-ball factory.

There you have it, five ways to get your excess of to-read books trimmed down nicely this summer. I’d stay to give you a proper outro, but I’ve got some reading to catch up on, seriously.

Complaining About Dinosaurs

Well, Jurassic World unleashed itself on our world today. I’m girding my loins and preparing to wade through the barrage of fans pointing out its many terrible flaws, going on about how this whole enterprise hopelessly besmirches the original Jurassic Park’s good name. With all the remakes piling into theaters, it’s something I’ve had to get used to, recently. “Hey, those robot cars smashing other robot cars don’t look like our robot cars smashing other robot cars,” or “Hey! These radioactive meat-heads blowing up cars in the desert don’t have the same panache as Mel Gibson when he did it.” The sort of entitlement that follows any of these fans upset enough to gripe on about these utterly inadequate remakes really irks me. It’s like they invented righteous indignation over petty plot points and changes. They did not, though. We did. We, the book nerds. We suffered these same pains long before the eighties and nineties and will continue to do so long after Hollywood decides to stop making movies based off franchises and toy commercials from a couple retro decades ago.

Yes, us book nerds are the real survivors here. We’ve had to watch book after book get slaughtered in its cinematic adaption. Our moans of pain are so old and expected that nobody really hears them anymore, and the people who loved the movies that broke our hearts can now feel like they have been hurt by a jack of a director, actor, or screenwriter messing up the remake of those movies. Now, I can finally prvee this point. You see, I have precedence for this particular occasion. While everyone goes on about how Jurassic World ruins their childhood, I can point to the eminent Michael Crichton and his book Jurassic Park, and how it was utterly destroyed by some hack called Spielberg.

Don’t get me wrong, I do love the movie Jurassic Park, but I also was lucky enough to read the book that inspired the movie and, as I do in just about any circumstance, I finished the book and went, “Yup, this was way better.” Using that emotional reaction, I’m going to tear into the classic movie Jurassic Park, nit-pick it to death like a pack of Procompsognathid. (The tiny, bite-y ones.)

These little monsters, the Canadian Geese of dinosaur times

Maybe some people will read this and say, “Hey, why is she beating to death a movie that she admitted to enjoying quite a bit?” I could be lucky enough to say to them, that’s how you sound when you get upset about how G.I. Joe and the A-Team movies did not live up to your expectations, so please be quiet forever now. Listen to my words and know this is how annoying you sound. I know I sound annoying because every time I start to wax poetic about a book getting ruined by a movie, people typically role their eyes and look like they’re trying very hard not to punch me in the face. So here we go, Jurassic Park.

In the much superior book, Crichton goes into much more detail about the science behind the park, without dumbing it down and presenting all the pertinent via a cute little cartoon near the beginning. Beyond simply making sure all the dinosaurs were female, Crichton’s park also made sure they were lysine deficient, meaning only they specially enriched food available at the park could keep them alive. They also describe the many ways the park has to count and measure the population of the park dinosaurs, to keep things in check. Sure, these measures all end up failing spectacularly anyhow, but the extra details themselves were what made the story more immersive and realistic.

Now we can go onto the characters, and how the movie utterly botched them up as well. Remember dear old Alan Grant, the paleontologist that has to trek all across the park with two kids he finds insufferable at first but then grows to love through their ordeal? Well, if you found that whole plot line a bit trite and overdone, then your not alone because Michael Crichton did too. In the book, Grant never hated kids, especially the two kids he saved by the end of this book. On the contrary, kids were some of the few people that loved dinosaurs as much as Grant did, so he got along with them splendidly.  That change peeved me to no end, but not as much as another character’s vastly altered personality, one that had even more effect on the story’s overall tone and ending.

I’m talking about Hammond, the idiot old guy who started the park up in the first place, is some how even worse in the book. If you recall the film, there’s a point where the slimy lawyer says something about how they could charge ridiculously high prices to enter the park and milk  a whole lot of rich clientele for all they’re worth. Hammond disagrees and talks about how he wants everyone to see the dinosaurs. In the book, Hammond is actually the one to discuss how he only wants to cater to the richest people. Even worse, towards the end, when everything is going haywire and dinosaurs be chompin’ people left and right, Hammond, admittedly probably in some state of shock or delirium, thinks to himself about how he will leave this island behind and start a totally new park that will totally work, unlike this one. How does this main character’s different motive and personality not totally change the ending, you might ask? Well…

They totally changed the ending. Specifically, Crichton killed off a number of characters that survived the film. Hammond, for example, is mauled to death by a bunch of those little Procompsognathid guys while wandering around his park, and Ian Malcom/ Jeff Goldblum decidedly does not recover from his close encounter with a bunch of ravenous raptors. Yes, Crichton did actually write the sequel, Lost World, and magically brought Malcom back to life for that, but in the original book, both Malcom and Hammond died, adding some poetic resonance to the story with these two most bitter rivals both being consumed by the park and its flaws. Spielberg was all, hell no we can’t kill Jeff Goldblum or the old guy, now that I made him all friendly and so severely dulled the impact of the book’s message.

There you have it, a nice, sizable rant about how a perfect book was soiled by a movie widely considered to be a cinematic sci-fi staple. See, remakes always let down fans of the original to some small degree, even if the end product is nominally successful. So maybe playing martyr on the Rotten Tomatoes review section or some other dark corner of the internet does not make you as right, smart or insightful as you’d like to think, eighties and early nineties kids. I’ve long since accepted the diminishing returns of book to film remakes and adaption. No, I won’t get everything I want out of a remake, and people do not think me an incredibly intelligent scholar if I spend my whole life tearing movies apart with 20/20 hindsight on what went wrong. I can, though, always go back the original, though, and enjoy that. A good book or movie never deteriorates with age or shoddy remakes, and only your own stubbornness can make your enjoyment of that franchise or series rust away.

My Pilgrimage to Printer’s Row 2015!

Hail pilgrim. There’s a few things that I’m bound to do every year with my family, things that turn us into pilgrims, of a sort.  The family I’m talking about here is an English teacher, a librarian, myself the book blogger, and my sister who is studying  biology for whatever reason but reads a lot anyhow so we still love her. We do book things, lots of book things. Madeline, you may say, that’s a really vague description. What exactly are book things? Well, the short answer is that if there’s any place we could see, touch, smell, or even taste a book, my family and I will have been going to that thing for twenty years now. Chicago’s Printers Row Lit Festival is one of those book things. This weekend, my family is all ready to make our yearly pilgrimage to explore the heaps and heaps of books set out under tents in the street of Chicago.

A whole bunch of different vendors and special guests show up each year. There are panels, workshops, and loads of events for kids and adults. My favorite part of the festival though, is always the wild and crazy tables and tents with endless surprises and fascinating finds. My dearest father loves the vintage movie posters and comics, my mother loves the fun little decorative trinkets, like old printing press letters and equipment, and my sister and I love the geek chic souvenirs; funny t-shirts with references to classic books, like my Douglas Adams #42 sports jersey.

They’ve got loads of people trying to spread awareness about their books and literary journals too. It gives a lot of self published or obscure writers the chance for publicity. People do all sorts of stuff to make you pay attention to their books. One time two ladies at a table selling books about local paranormal and psychic encounters had me take a test and said I probably had precognitive abilities. As in, I’m psychic. I really appreciated the recognition of my talents but at the same time ended up not buying anything from them because I couldn’t foresee such events in my mind’s eye, and as a psychic you really have to stick with what your mind’s eye tells you. In all seriousness, I do love the chance to get to see and buy work from writers and artists just starting out or looking for new recognition. They’ll more often than not sign their books for you, which you now never fails to excite me. I like the feeling of reaching out to help a struggling writer while also possibly getting  the gift of reading a really good book for myself.

They also have loads of groups, clubs, and writer’s guilds, mostly local, or Midwestern, at any rate, show up and hand out information on their organization and the chance to join them. You have to pay to get into such groups of course so I’ll only ever be able to look at their pamphlets until someone makes the crazy decision to pay me for my writing, but I always found the idea of joining one of these groups intriguing. Mostly its the groups that call themselves guilds. When I think of guilds I think of the crafty thieves and assassins guild in Discworld, which I was always convinced I would enjoy being a part of. Yes, mostly that part of the day is me fantasizing about wearing a fancy secret club hat and reciting poetry. I suppose that if I ever actually joined such an organizations, those expectations would go sadly unfulfilled, so I shall continue my life as a wandering pilgrim instead. It’s not such a lonely life. I’ll have my family

I’m excited not just to see my family, who do not solely define me as a person by how many final papers I have left to do, but to see all the new books waiting to be discovered. This isn’t the sort of convention you cosplay for, a la C2E2, but there’s no less a sense of community fostered by so many book lovers wandering around and showing of their goods. Printer’s Row does feel like I’m coming home, even if it’s only a mass of tents and folding tables set up once a year for an all too short weekend.