Category Archives: Audio books

Hands off

It was some years ago. Offspring and I were in a [Swedish] taxi, on the way to the station. Like ‘all’ Swedish taxi drivers, this one got a call on his mobile, which he took and he chatted for a long time. I think he was trying to agree to book a holiday. You know, important stuff.

Then came the need for him to make a note of something, and he got his notepad out. And a pen. Until then he’d had one hand on the steering wheel, which – while I didn’t feel it was good enough – I put up with. But juggling phone, pad and pen needed at least two hands, so he took the last hand off the steering wheel.

While not seeking to antagonise the man, I told him to either put one hand back to steer, or to pull up immediately until he’d sorted his holiday out. His choice. He put the phone away. I reported him to the taxi company, who were simply baffled. And of course, you tread carefully when angering someone who knows where you live.

Soon after, in another taxi, in another part of Sweden, I was pleased to find my driver looked like he’d virtually just left the farm. No mobile phone, I thought. Silly me. All Swedes have them. Had them, even then. So, at full speed down the motorway he discussed the bullocks with his caller. But he did keep one hand on the steering wheel.

This has made me a lot less keen on using taxis over there.

Anyway, all this came back to me when a friend emailed a link to say that from February 1st it is illegal to read your ebook while driving [in Sweden].

Yeah. Shame, really.

Although, it seems the law is about handling any mobile phone or similar, while driving. The ebook idea was from the book magazine which published the article in question, where they merely deduced that the new law must mean a stop to reading while you drive.

It is, however, legal to have your passenger read aloud to you.

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Her Dark Weekend

‘What shall I do now?’ Daughter wailed when The Book of Dust was no more. My heartless suggestion of patience didn’t seem to be what she wanted to hear.

Rereading His Dark Materials was what she eventually came up with, except the books are all here with me. Remember, this is the family with rather a lot of copies of HDM. But she felt she ought not to add to them by buying more.

The next solution was to listen to the audiobooks – and they are especially attractive because it’s Philip Pullman himself reading them. It seemed she already had the books sitting electronically somewhere, and they could easily be moved to travel to work with her on her mobile phone. She even calculated how long each walk + bus + walk to work would take and how long it would last.

Let me tell you how long it lasted. A whole weekend, is what.

The audiobooks never made it onto any bus at all, as she listened non-stop all weekend. OK, maybe the very last chapter got to travel on Monday morning.

I heard little from her over the weekend, and now I know why. There was one text message about Lee Scoresby dying. (Sorry, if you didn’t know this.) And another soon after, when Will’s father also departed this life.

Yes, and a third, noting how different the books felt now she’s an adult. Seems all the darkness washed over the child reader, all those years ago.

Done and dusted

Just the other day I suddenly realised I no longer ask my interview victims their opinion of Philip Pullman. I wonder when this happened?

Another thing that just struck me was that Son must have been reading La Belle Sauvage pretty much where he sat 18 years ago with Northern Lights, starting a whole new direction of his life with one book. That time we took the book for all of us to read on holiday. This time Son just happened to have planned a writing retreat in the same house, leaving Britain on the Day of Dust. Luckily he was able to buy the trade paperback at Gatwick, which must have saved his sanity, if not his writing time… (OK, the armchair no longer is, nor that end of the room. Well, the room is, but it has a dining table in the Northern Lights spot. But still. Close enough.)

And actually, only three of us read the book that time. Daughter didn’t read much back then. But Christmas the same year we took the audiobook to listen to in the car when driving to Scotland. It was just the right length to last the way there, and home again, with a chapter left. Only as Daughter grabbed the cassette (yes, it was that long ago) and sat down to listen to the end, did I understand that she had also been enjoying Philip Pullman reading Northern Lights. I thought she’d be too young at seven.

Philip Pullman (and ice cream) signs

Six years later when Son and I interviewed Philip in Gothenburg, I got the impression he had started writing the Book of Dust. Two years after that, in Oxford, at an event with David Fickling, we were told it’d be ready in 2009, which was another two years later. Well, we know how that went.

Philip Pullman

But, anyway, that’s how the questions about Philip Pullman began. We walked round the Gothenburg book fair, all excited about him, and Son took to asking anyone we spoke to what they thought. And as I said ten years ago (see above), all but one were nice and friendly and had positive comments to make.

The only one who stood out was Lionel Shriver, who claimed to have no idea who we were talking about. I’d like to think she just didn’t want to share any limelight with other authors, rather than she was that ignorant. I wonder if she’d still say ‘Who??’ if asked.

When Son no longer came along to my interviews, I went round asking for him. Until the time clearly came when I gave up, or forgot.

And no, I still haven’t read La Belle Sauvage. In my own time. Soon. I just have one or two other books that have to be fitted in first. But I brought a copy of it when visiting Daughter in Switzerland last week. No longer seven, she wanted to read it.

Hear, hear

I can barely admit it, but I sent the Resident IT Consultant to the tip with – nearly – all the audio books last week. He was reluctant, and it wasn’t because of the trip to the tip as such. It was the throwing away of books. It made him feel quite ill.

But by the time I put the boxes on the drive next to the car, my mind was made up and I felt fine. I suppose he just hadn’t got that far in his reasoning on whether or not this was an OK move.

This was yet another conundrum caused by the house move over three years ago. We are still clearing stuff, and doing well in the garage at the moment. Thank you for asking. But those boxes had to go.

No one has listened to any audio books for years. We will very soon have nothing on which to play them. Did I mention they are cassettes? Not CDs. For all we know the ribbons could have dried and withered and be completely unplayable anyway.

In a last-ditch attempt to feel better, the Resident IT Consultant phoned Oxfam. Whoever he talked to there had a hard time getting their thinking round to cassettes. And no, they don’t take them (we knew that) and could think of no one who does, but trying to be helpful suggested a competitor.

He then phoned the library, asking the same thing, i.e. does anyone anywhere have a use for cassettes? The person there found the idea of cassettes even weirder than Oxfam did.

And that’s it, really. Technology has moved so fast that what seemed perfectly normal less than twenty years ago, is now obsolete. It doesn’t matter that the books are good or how many we have or the amount of money they cost. They are no use.

So he went, and came back with an empty car. I assume the audio books are now in cassette heaven. Maybe someone could build motorways with them?

And should we want the books back most must be available in more up-to-date formats. ‘All’ it entails is spending money on the same books again, and hope that at some point technology will slow down enough for such an investment to make sense.

Those murdering Scots

How I love them!

It’s Monday morning, and it’s Book Week Scotland. And here at Bookwitch Towers, I am most likely to spend it reading, rather than being out and about, despite all the events on offer. I feel as if I’ve finally got into the swing of reading again, after far too much travelling, or agonising over things, and it does my mental state a lot of good.

And you really don’t want me too mental.

Scottish Book Trust have looked into what everyone else in Scotland is doing, and it appears that Scots are into crime, in a big way; ‘crime/thriller books are the single most popular type of fiction in Scotland.

In a recent Ipsos MORI Scotland survey of 1,000 adults, just over 1 in 4 Scots (27%) who read for enjoyment said that books which fictionalise crimes, their detection, criminals and their motives topped their choice of reading or listening genres. — While the crime genre was the most popular among readers of all ages, the second most popular genre among young readers (aged 16-34) was science fiction/fantasy (15%). — Eight in ten Scots (79%) read or listen to books for enjoyment and 39% do so either every day or most days. Additionally, among those —  50% read or listen to more than 10 books per year.’

Well, that’s good to know; both that people read, and that they like what I like. (If I hadn’t given up ironing, I’d be listening to more audio books as well.)

I suppose that with their fondness for a good murder, the Scots really are – almost – Nordic. It’s dark up here, although possibly more cheerful than ‘over there.’

And, on that cheery note I will dive back into my waiting book mountains, before the January books arrive. There tends to be this brief lull for a couple of weeks, or three, as one year [in the publishing world] comes to an end and the new one begins. When the publicists go off on their Christmas holidays, they might fire off the ‘first’ 2017 books. (That’s apart from the ones I’ve already received and filed away because 2017 was such a long way off…)

Board classics

Tony Ross has two new boardbooks out, which I think is slightly younger than his usual picture books. They are Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and Jack and the Beanstalk.

Yes, you’ve heard of them before, haven’t you? I think it’s pretty good, actually. It’s sort of the baby version of dyslexia books for older readers; introducing something that the reader isn’t able to ‘read’ in its normal form.

Tony Ross, Goldilocks and the Three Bears

They are not Tony’s stories, obviously, but are re-told simply, accompanied by Tony’s illustrations. They are even divided into little chapters, in that there are board tabs showing what’s to be found if you open the book right there. So you want an axe, you can see where to go, or if it’s Little Bear’s empty bowl you require.

For the technically capable there is a code on the back cover to scan and get a free audio fairy tale. But don’t let that stop you from reading to your parents! There’s nothing like a live voice while turning the stiff pages. They are just right!

More resolutions

Sorry. I wasn’t going to do them. But the Guardian published some author resolutions on reading, and I need to air my views.

Obviously, I don’t have resolutions. I long decided the best way to go is to avoid them like the plague.

But, I would like to read more. Meg Rosoff aims to read for four hours a day. That had better be tongue-in-cheek! Even if I could, I wouldn’t. Unless temporary circumstances forced it. It feels excessive. Two hours? I could aspire to that.

Jackie Morris has a sensible idea; half an hour at each end of the day. I like that. But then I had to go and ruin it by wondering how I’d deal with those mornings when you’re up early to go to the dentist, catch a train, or something. (OK, I’d read in the waiting room to calm myself down, and the train is perfect for reading.)

In general though, I suppose it’s worth aspiring to change. I have this long term idea of a new reading challenge I could do, while recognising I will never get round to it. It’s much easier to go on as I am.

Harking back to the toddler years – Offspring’s, not mine – I felt so much better once I got re-started on reading. On the other hand, sitting is said to be the new smoking, and I do feel the need to sit during most of my reading. I should aim to bake more bread, or do the ironing; both of which are jobs done standing up, and both are good for the mind.

Or, I could go back to audiobooks. Anthony McGowan cycles round London listening to books. I have a garage full of audio books, but nothing on which to play them. Besides, I have ‘read’ them already.

In reality I imagine I will stumble from book to book the way I have been for years. And I may need to ditch my current book. It could be that it’s not gripping me enough, rather than lack of time between eating Stollen and watching Christmas television that keeps me from picking the book up.