The One About the Earpods
Liz Pivots & Shares the Wealth
Hello everyone. It’s time we had a Serious Talk about audio books. I’ve seen a lot of baloney lately about how listening to a book is not the same as reading it and I have to ask those who claim this a question: why?
Social media has given us all some kind of weird free rein when it comes to yucking other people’s yum, I get that. And I’ll be the first to claim “guilty” when it comes to yucking things that deserve to be yucked— you know, stuff like drowning an entire zoo’s worth of innocent animals, dog fighting, public nose picking, Nazis. However, I will never claim to understand the motivation of folks who like/love things I don’t but are not harming anyone or the environment or an animal by enjoying them—stuff like flavored coffee creamer, beer with fruit in it, badly written erotica, or green peas.
However, punching down on anyone who appreciates a well-narrated novel is unnecessary. I came into the world of audio books back when we called them “books on tape,” which then became “books on CD” and is now more like “instant gratification downloading.” Mind you, I also used to use an artifact called a home telephone with a cord that I would stretch down the hall into my bedroom for some privacy and can also claim that the first computer I ever used had a floppy disk the size of a record album. All of these terms can be found in the dictionary if you need them but suffice it to say, I have used my eyeballs to read plenty of books as well as listen to them. I still eyeball read, but I’m finally ready to admit that my preferred method of book consumption is to plug earbuds into my ear holes and:
hook the dogs up and go for a walk
run the vacuum
go on a road trip
sit by the pool
sit on the beach
sit on my back deck
set the timer for 30 minutes before going to sleep
So yeah, I’d call myself a bit of a—dare I claim it—connoisseur of the read-me-a -bedtime-story type consumption of fiction. I read a ton of books to my kids while they were young, including an entire best-selling, fantasy wizards set in England series while we were Ex-pats in 3 different countries (including England). After that, we all listened to them again using CDs and my kids all definitely consider themselves as having “read” those books. No differences detected.
In the coming 89% Unfiltered: Word of Mouth editions we will talk about various topics such as why listening to well written (or not) sex scenes is different that observing them, the value of a solid (or not) narrator, varying your listening speeds, and other things that will have a direct effect on your positive reading / consuming experience. I hope you will continue to follow along, and encourage others to do the same. I am also open to providing reviews of submitted audio books—ONLY IF the person doing the submitting (author, agent, publisher, publicist) is willing to accept an honest review which includes the fact that if it is a DNF for me or I feel compelled to rate it less than 3 out of 4 thumbs up (no more stars for this reviewer!) I will not publish the review in this newsletter or on socials. I am willing to give feedback via email if this is the case.
So….let’s dive into it, and get these books in our earholes together, shall we?
We’ll start with an archive selection that I have listened to more than any other in my collection. It’s by Margaret Atwood that I call the Snowman the Jimmy trilogy although I’m pretty sure she and her publisher call it The Maddaddam Trilogy. Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, and MadAddam together tell a story that's part fantasy, part future dystopia, part environmental warning, and a whole lot of prescience when it comes to biology, science, and pharmacological politics. The narrator of book one is Campbell Scott as the aforementioned Jimmy , which is an intro into a world where pigs are used to grow and harvest human organs (piggoons), stretchy meat is grown in the lab, and chickiknobs are chicken-like protein from headless birds (also from the lab). But it’s a lot more than a lot of clever word play. It’s got everything from school-based social engineering (FWIW the English majors, or “words people” go to the subpar unis as a matter of course), crispr style bio-engineering, and Big Pharma as the ultimate evil overlord—all of which ends Very Badly, and you get that entire story in book one.
Book 2 goes back and tells the stories of two women you don’t realize you’ve met in book one until you go back and re-listen, which you will most definitely want to do because of the narration team of Kate MacNichol, Mark Bramhall, and Bernadette Dunne ** is a powerhouse, and lends an amazing sort of realism to the story of a bunch of tree-hugging, presumed environmentalists who are actually eco-terrorists. It’s a book with a lot of obvious bad guys, some good guys who are good, and several who are actually kind of bad. Book 3 continues well past the presumed end of the world in Book 1 thanks to a drug cocktail that is marketed as a miracle but that actually just kills you (and everyone else) because one dude (Crake) is obsessed with both his own intellectual power and his power over population of the earth. The narrators Bernadette Dunne,** Bob Walter, and Robbie Daymond are key as you learn more about the characters who, for lack of a better phrase, lucked out of not dying with everyone else because they were in some form of incarceration. It’s a scary set of books, and the more I listen the scarier they are. This series is in the Liz Top Ten Word of Mouth listens, and I think I’ll just go on and say they are, as a group, #1 on that list.
Needless to say, this one is a SOLID 4 thumbs up ++ in every category.
In the JUST FINISHED category, I can say that the SILO series by Hugh Howey (now an Apple TV series) is an amazing sci fi epic made even better by the Eduardo Ballerini** narration. There are all these people, see, who live in tall silos with a LOT of steps and no elevators for some reason, and they’re not allowed to go outside unless they are being punished. That’s it. That’s the premise. However, how they got there, why they’re being kept there, and the fact that the silos are IN the ground not above it, is all part of this amazing, darkly creative plot. I highly recommend listening to all three books back to back, WOOL, SHIFT, and DUST before you dive into the tv series, which has an incredible cast and so far is a well-executed story based on these books.
This one is 4 thumbs up in all categories too but I’m a sucker for a saga-length tale like this one.
IN MY EARHOLES at the moment I have 2 that I’m toggling back and forth between. One of them, TRUST, is a recent pulitzer prize winner narrated by some new-to-me folks (Jonathan Davis, Mozhan Marnò, Orlagh Cassidy) in addition to the amazing Mr. Ballerini. I am about 1/3 through this one and will have an opinion on it soon but since I really loved Jane Smiley’s The Hundred Years Trilogy which is kind of like Trust, only in the midwest and with corn instead of money, I anticipate the outcome to be positive.
I’m alternating that with a romantic suspense novel called Dead Sound by Anise Eden, narrated by Lisa Kay that I just started this morning on the dog walk. So far it’s a great mashup of romance, political thriller and mystery. I will def keep you posted!
Got something you know I need in my ear holes? Email me at email@example.com with your recommendation. I will listen to anything with the possible exception of gory horror or anything that has kids or animals as victims (Stephen King is my only exception to this, don’t ask me why, it’s one of life’s mysteries). I’m not going to be the best judge of historical romance either since I don’t consume much of it but hey, I might give it a try if you insist that it’s worth the time spent.
Cheers and Happy Listening,
**This is a narrator that I will seek out and listen to without knowing anything about the book other than they are narrating it.