All posts in: audiobooks

01 Dec 2014

10 (audiobooks) under 10 (discs), part 2

It has been over a year since my last 10 under 10 post! Time: it flies. I have listened to many an audiobook since last October. I was going to tally them up just now and tell you just how many, but I am afraid I just can’t bring myself to do it – there are just waaaaay too many. Way too many. I’ve gotten to the point where if I do not have an audiobook rolling at all times, I get a bit twitchy. It’s embarrassing.

Are you still on the fence about audiobooks? I implore you to give them a shot, and if you do, to start small. The shorter the better. You can always transition to longer books later, but even I – Championship Level Audiobook Listener – shy away from anything over ten discs. Here are some of my favorite short listens from the past year, and nearly all are available on Overdrive in mp3 format (read: iPhone friendly). If your local library’s Overdrive catalog does not list a title you see below, click around until you find the “Additional Items to Suggest” button and follow that up with the “Suggest a Title” feature – here’s an actual how-to guide that might be handy. Speaking as a library purchasing insider, we always take patron suggestions very seriously, even for eBooks and eAudio! We live to serve guys. Request away.

Enough library grandstanding for the moment. I’m a busy lady – let’s move this right along. You want to know how busy I am? I am so busy that I cannot even be bothered to fix a really glaring mistake below. A mistake that involves confusing fiction for nonfiction. Be warned, be prepared, employ your best judgment when determining the difference between reality and imagination. Also, forgive me.



1) About Alice by Calvin Trillin – if you want something SO SHORT that it might not even qualify as a book. One disc, guys. Also, if you want to sob.

2) Labor Day: True Birth Stories by Today’s Best Women Writers, ed. by Eleanor Henderson and Anna Solomon – if you like that sort of thing

3) Everything Changes by Jonathan Tropper – if you like your rom-coms from a dude’s POV

4) Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey – IF YOU WANT TO  LISTEN TO THE BEST BOOK OF ALL TIME!

5) Yes Please by Amy Poehler – if you want to be delighted beyond belief

6) The Wild Truth by Corinne McCandless – if you like Into the Wild, or you generally like dysfunctional-family memoirs



6) Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh – if you want to meet (or re-meet) a true heroine of children’s literature

7) When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds – if you wish to explore the pressures of young, urban boyhood (and young, urban boyhood knitters)

8) The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis – if you want to listen to the most ridiculous Aslan that has ever roared

9) Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu – if you want to lose an afternoon in some good, old fashioned girl-centric YA realism

24 Oct 2014

what to listen to next – the desperate freak edition

It’s been just over a year since I resumed my semi-romantic dalliance with audiobooks. It’s really been a good year. I like having an audiobook to walk around with, to entertain me during long days of battling online databases and catalogs at work, to help me through my household chores, to put me to sleep at night.

I’m happy. But I’m also obsessed.

A few weeks ago, I finished listening to Dead End in Norvelt (FINALLY) and found myself with nothing on deck. Not a single book. I panicked. It wasn’t pretty. I’m accustomed to book overload. With my bad library habits and my unread books and my stash of galleys and my required reading, I am never without a printed book to read. Not so much with the audiobook. To snag a truly desirable book on Overdrive, one must play the Interminable Holds List game. I’ve found some ways to browse for Currently Available titles, but even once I string my searches properly I end up scrolling through page after page after page of stuff I wouldn’t listen to unless someone strapped headphones to my ears. Browsing online for books is never as pleasurable as… oh… any other way one might decide what to read. When you are a desperate freak hunting for her next fix, it can be downright painful.

Anyway. Somehow I managed to stave off madness and find a few things to listen to. My mental health has settled down, but now I am faced with a familiar reading problem – all my holds came in at once. Cue an entirely different breed of panic.


Luckily, I’m done being Desperate Freak Jessica and have returned to Capable Strategist Jessica. I can conquer this small to-read stack in a timely fashion if I plan and persevere. I think I will first tackle 2 a.m. at the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino. Of my available choices, this is the book I may not think to seek out again – also, it has the most pressing due date (10/29), and it’s relatively short (6 parts).

Next, I think I must move on to American Gods. I’ve never read it! I’ve been on hold for eons! I feel as though this is the kind of book I will want to read but never find the time to pick up the physical book. I must strike while the opportunity is ripe, or some other conglomeration of metaphors! Caveat: I made all of these lusty decision before noticing that American Gods is TWENTY PARTS. Egads. I cannot recall ever making it through a 20 part audiobook within 14 days… and the more days I spend listening to 2 a.m. at the Cat’s Pajamas, the fewer I have left. Poor planning! Abort! Abort!

Last but not least, the book I actually planned on listening to before my glut of holds arrived – There’s A Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom. It’s four parts, and I just renewed it for another 14 days. I should have plenty of time to spend a little time with Bradley Chalkers. If you don’t believe me, call my mom.

…. or at least that was my last option, until yet another book joined the fray while I was crafting this here blog post. Jonathan Tropper’s Book of Joe is probably a more reasonable choice than American Gods for my next read… but when was the last time you picked a book to read because it was “reasonable?” Oy. I’m not sure any Capable Strategies will help me at this point. Perhaps I should take a personal day? Stay home and sit in a meditative audiobook trance for 8 or 9 hours? Now that’s a reasonable plan if I’ve ever heard one!

24 Sep 2014

the last five memoirs

I have a reading success story for you guys.

After a few years of succumbing to August Reading Doldrums, I think I have finally discovered the secret. I finally reached far enough down into the depths of my psyche and found the inner fortitude, perseverance, and stick-to-it-iveness I needed to keep reading all through the month and into September.

Just kidding. I just reached down into the considerable depths of my self-indulgent nature and said “To hell with all of the books I am supposed to read. Bring on all the trashy memoirs.”

Okay. Only some of the memoirs I read were trashy. And I don’t even know what I mean by the term “trashy.” Low-brow? Confessional? Not-literary? Whatever. I actively sought out a lot of memoirs in August – most of them on audio – and it was the kind of indulgent, impulsive reading that this professionalbookperson doesn’t often get anymore.


The Last Five – Memoirs


I started my memoir streak with Kerry Cohen’s Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity, which I just found so compulsively listen-able that I went out seeking other confessional memoirs. Drugs. Sex. Disease. This was the kind of tawdry stuff August-Jessica was looking for. But I accidentally found Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life instead. Wolff’s memoir had a fair share of dishy moments, but it was definitely a Literary Memoir. No matter. I was sucked right in. Mr. Wolff’s childhood would be unique in these modern times – when his mother divorced, she left Tobias’s brother with her ex-husband and carted young Tobias across the country to make money mining uranium….. but this was the 1950s. Tobias’s story is a really intriguing counterpoint to the narratives of 1950s childhood we usually see in the media. It is definitely a “dysfunctional childhood” memoir – Wolff’s has an understandably complex relationship with his parents, especially after his mother marries an emotionally abusive man – but in Wolff’s hands it’s also a treatise on identity, maturity, and masculinity.

So, not trashy. But very good.



Speaking of testosterone….. so I read a lot of memoirs in August. But I also read a lot of manly man books. This Boy’s Life, yes, also The Magician King and The Magician’s Land (at least moderately man-centric). Michael Chabon’s Manhood for Amateurs. 700 pages of fantastical boyhood and adolescence in The Name of the Wind. Grasshopper Jungle. Freaking Rabbit Angstrom.

That’s a lot of… um… man hours. Or something.

Enter, a pair of lady memoirs. Stacy Morrison’s Falling Apart in One Piece is a memoir about divorce. Delancey is a memoir about marriage, and how opening a restaurant together with your new husband may put you at risk for divorce. Delancey: ultimately uplifting. Falling Apart in One Piece: utterly terrifying. In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin spends a chapter or so talking about how you can increase your daily feelings of happiness by reminding yourself of how good you have it, and she presents reading super-depressing memoirs as a quick way to do so. I find this particular happiness tip completely questionable (especially coming from privileged white ladies), but I have never felt so horrified and humbled as when I read Falling Apart in One Piece. Morrison met her partner young, had a long and happy relationship, plenty of career success, and finally a baby and a new house. Six months later, her husband asks for a divorce.


Like I said, Delancey was much more uplifting. I loved Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life, and Delancey was just as good. Also, the recipes. Buy the book for the recipes alone. I made her sriracha shrimp and tomato and corn salad twice in two weeks it was so fliiiiipppping good I want to eat some now.


Longtime readers might know that I have a preeeeeettty significant weak spot for sappy, consumable pop-memoirs. I liked The Last Lecture and Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I count Animal Vegetable Miracle and Eat Pray Love as two of my forever favorites. I have a bizarre, enduring affection for Marley & Me. Basically, I’ve got emotions, and if you want to use your sappy life story to twist them, I’m down.

No surprise then that I enjoyed Will Schwalbe’s The End of Your Life Book Club. It’s a sappy memoir, AND it’s about books. I also enjoyed listened to About Alice earlier this year, and between these two memoirs I discovered yet another memoir sub-genre that I enjoy – the “Men Eulogizing the Extraordinary Women in Their Lives” memoir. Schmaltz city, guys. I’m totally okay with that.


Swinging wildly in the other direction, the last memoir I read this summer was the not-so-schmaltzy Kristin Newman’s What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding. Newman is a television writer, so this memoir has all of the playful punch-line-iness of Tina Fey’s Bossypants or Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? But unlike these two memoirs, Newman skips most of the childhood and career biography bits in order to focus in on her late 20s and 30s – a time during which she was a working Hollywood writer for 9 months of the year and a romantically-open world traveler for the remaining 3. She falls in love in Argentina, hooks up in Amsterdam and Russia… and Brazil… and Australia… Any How I Met Your Mother fans in the house? Remember Robin’s trip to Argentina? Newman wrote that storyline. There are  moments of pathos as Newman faces family strife and career challenges and begins to examine what exactly she’s trying to accomplish with her jet-setting life, but ultimately, this is a fun travel+dating memoir that sits in the sweet spot between poignant and lighthearted. Definitely enjoyable.

16 Apr 2014

what to listen to next

I am entering yet another season of required reading – my to-be-read queue of real-live-print books is stacked high and will remain so for a few months. My fun-reading will be reserved for the humble audiobook.

Not complaining. I have a deep and well-documented love of audiobooks. But I will admit… now that season four of GoT has returned, it’s taking a concerted effort not to fall back into that audio trap. I don’t need to spend the rest of my summer listening to the same 90 discs of audio I ALREADY LISTENED TO TWICE LAST YEAR. Ahem.

In defense, I have glutted my phone with new audiobooks to entice me. Remember my favorite free audio source, Overdrive? Well, there’s a new guy in town named Hoopla – his checkout procedures are more streamlined and his catalog is always available (simultaneous downloads = no checked out items, no holds lists, and the joy of instant gratification). The app interface is… um… maddeningly awful, but that hasn’t stopped me from expending all of my 10 downloads each month.

Love Dishonor Marry Die Cherish Perish…. is… not… a book I would think I would like. It had a moment of surging popularity at my library when it came out, but I just do not think novels in rhyming verse are really my thing. Novels for grown-ups, anyway. However, I heard a Rakoff story recently in an old episode of This American Life and I just thought it was the funniest thing I’d ever heard. And it made me sad because Mr. Rakoff has died and this was his last work. And also, if I want to avoid falling into the GoT trap, I need to remind myself of the pleasures of Relatively Short Books – and this one is only TWO PARTS. Two parts. Two. TWO! I could listen to two part WHILE sleeping.

… or I could stick sliiiightly closer to my wheelhouse and stretch the limits of my attention span with a few lengthier YA titles. Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s The Naturals was on my radar but not my TBR list – I haven’t ready any of her books since I had an ARC of Golden in the long ago dark ages. I liked Golden well enough, but Barnes’s books always feel a little… ah… plot-hook-heavy for my personal tastes. But I saw this on Overdrive and thought to myself “Hey, you know what’s probably pretty good on audio? Plot-hook-heavy books.” Or, I could try a Printz honor that’s been on my TBR list for awhile. I read Terry Pratchett’s Nation in grad school and unexpectedly kind of loved it, so Dodger has been on my radar for quite some time. It feels so great to f-i-n-a-l-l-y read a book you’ve been meaning to read for a long, long time – audio is a great way to make that happen.

A month ago I made up a short list of Overdrive books that The Boy might like to listen to. Out of all of my suggestions, he picked The Bluest Eye – a book that I thought was brilliant and loved on audio, but, in retrospect, is the complete opposite of a book that The Boy would like. This is why I am sometimes awful at reader’s advisory, folks. Anyway, we’ve been talking about the book while he listens and it reminded me that I haven’t tried to shove a classic novel down my throat lately. I read My Ántonia in college, but I have little recollection of what the story was actually about. I started listening to this one on Hoopla for a minute last week and thought the available narrator was pretty good. Now all I will have to do is subject myself to the horror that is Hoopla. I can’t really get into it now – I may break out in hives. It’s new. It’s technology. It’s new technology. Things will iron out, eventually, and in my relentless-endless-lifelong pursuit of a good listen, I will keep trying.

25 Oct 2013

10 (audiobooks) under 10 (discs)

Audiobooks, audiobooks, audiobooks.

You are getting bored already.

But I can’t shut up. I can’t be stopped.

Allow me one more attempt to try to win you all over to the Way of the Audiobook.

If you’ve tried audio before and had a discouraging experience, I have two suggestions for you.

Suggestion #1: If you didn’t like the narrator, I behoove you to check out three or four books at once. You will know pretty quickly whether or not a narrator rubs you the wrong way; with extras, you can feel free to give up on one and try another at your leisure. An heir and a spare! Also, keep an eye out books read by the author – these aren’t always winners, for me, but most of the time they are pretty good.

Suggestion #2: If you find audiobooks to be tedious, patience-trying, too much of a commitment, then try a shorter book. After an interminable experience with The Memory Keeper’s Daughter in aught-eight, I keep a fairly strict 10 Discs or Under rule. Which I regularly break for Game of Thrones and Harry Potter. But anything outside of Westeros or Hogwarts, staying under 10 helps prevent boredom and keep me enthused and attentive.

A few weeks ago, The Boy asked me to request some audiobooks for him with the specific request that they should be short. You see, this Dear Boy of Mine, he has a goal of reading 30 books in 2013. Hazard of marrying me, I suppose. He’s a bit behind, however, and wanting to play catch-up. So I browsed my library’s newest audiobook holdings, checking the full record in the catalog for a disc number below 10, and found a slew of intriguing nonfiction titles. I added a few more fiction titles that would have piqued my attention if I wasn’t so attentive to my Overdrive bookshelf right now. If you are looking for a brief listen, here’s a list to get you started.



1) Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer, the Evolution Debates, and the African Adventure That Took the Victorian World by Storm by Monte Reel

2) David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell

3) The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down by Andrew McCarthy

4) Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman

5) The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Greatest Drinks by Amy Stewart

6) Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steven Martin


7) Just One Day by Gayle Forman

8 ) Somebody Up There Hates You by Hollis Seamon

9) The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison

10) Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

09 Oct 2013

life on overdrive

Many, many moons ago, my mother recommended that I check out the public library’s new downloadable media service.

“You can download audiobooks right to your computer,” she said. “But maybe not with iPods. Unless you download them and then burn them to a CD and then I don’t know, that’s what somebody told me. But you should check out Overdrive.”

Alas, alack, I was never able to transfer an audiobook to my bulky little iPod mini with any success. Years passed, I ripped audiobooks onto a number of computers and transferred disc after disc to iPod after iPod. Meanwhile, despite maintaining a fairly atrocious public interface (and, I now know all too well, a blood-curdlingly awful acquisitions side), Overdrive caught the tidal wave of eBook lending and has become the primary vendor for public library eBook and digital audio lending.

Judging by their success,  I’m guessing they solved that “we don’t play with Apple” problem years back, but there was still the whole process that turned me off. Put the book in a cart. Check out the book. Enter your library card number AGAIN. Download file. Open file in special Overdrive program. Gack. Ripping discs was obnoxious, but still preferable, especially when your Overdrive audiobooks would expire after a mere fourteen days.

This a really long set-up to tell you this:

  • The Boy got an iPhone a few months ago
  • The Boy said: “Man, you can just use this Overdrive app to get audiobooks and it’s super easy!”
  • I tried it out and said: “Eh, I don’t know, I’m still stuck in 2005, I like burning all these CDs…”
  • A week later, I was completely obsessed

Since my audiobook rampage began, I’ve listened to 2.9 audiobooks. In less than three weeks. And that .9 is significant because it is .9 of Libba Bray’s The Diviners which in its paper form be used to stop heavy doors or used as a blunt weapon. Also, in this three weeks, Janssen over at Everyday Reading posted a HOW TO GUIDE for downloading audiobooks directly through your phone. Can you believe that? Leave it to Janssen, I say… once a librarian, always a librarian.

I should also mention that if you are disappointed in your library’s Overdrive collection, every public library worth its salt will be happy to try to get you more stuff you’d like – downloadable audio, too. Talk to your librarian. Make suggestions. Also, publishers are more friendly about selling digital audio than eBooks – you’ll likely find more popular audio titles on Overdrive than ebooks.

And that app is the key. The app eliminates all of the hold-rip-load, the hold-checkout-download-transfer-load – browse in the app, check out in the app, download in the app, and listen. I still don’t have any problem downloading disc after disc to my computer, conceptually, but without all that crap in the way, listening to audiobooks is just more fun. The selection isn’t always the best, but it pushes me to listen to books I’d like to read but know I will never otherwise actually take the time to read. The 14-day limit is still daunting for longer books, but I’ll take that as a challenge.

And maybe that’s the secret reason for my obsession – I’m sickeningly competitive. If I download a book I want to listen to it AS QUICKLY AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE. For no apparent reason, other than to beat that deadline!! !!! !! My podcast listening has dwindled to nothing, but that’s probably okay – it’s not really necessary to listen to an entire year’s worth of This American Life over the course of a week. I guess it’s not really necessary to muscle through 2.9 audiobooks in three weeks, either, but here we are.

All freakish obsessions aside, I think keeping a steady stream of audio will be a great way to get my fiction fix while my print reading time is devoted to nonfiction.

I would say that I would keep this obsessive book downloading spree going for awhile longer, but Storm of Swords just came in on audio for me downstairs… so… back to the old rip and transfer, for the next 30 discs or so anyway.

24 Sep 2013

what to listen to next

Earlier this week I told The Boy a few revealing stories about my childhood; some tales of my early childhood nerd-hood that I was sure I’d told him at some point in the past 9.75 years but apparently not. One such story was The Tale of Child Jessica and her Lifelong Audiobook Habit. This is one of those stories where the title gives away the plot, but not all of the embarrassing details. Like how I listened to the same Blossom Family book so many times that I could pop any single cassette tape into my clock radio and just pick up the story from wherever. Or the one Christmas Eve when I went to bed, knowing that sleep would be difficult, so I put in a tape of There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom – a comforting favorite – and told myself that I should fall asleep before the end of the tape. It worked, and I delighted in the discovery of a magical childhood insomnia cure.

The Boy’s response to my nerdy confession:

“You are telling me this like you don’t still do this. Like, every night.”


Embarrassing, but the boy is correct. Or at least correct most of the time. I do still suffer from sleep anxiety and go through stages where I decide the best way to sleep is with an audiobook in my headphones. All the better if it’s something familiar. Enter Game of Thrones and Clash of Kings, both of which I read in July, both of which I re-listened to August in September, often while falling asleep. I’ve also enjoyed Jim Dale’s soothing tones reading me various Harry Potter books in the past few years, but Game of Throne is my current sleep aid of choice.

But sometimes you want to listen to A Storm of Swords and so does everyone else at your library. Of course. Moving myself up the holds list is frowned upon at my library, and also makes me feel slimy.

Also, maybe I should give George R. R. Martin a rest and listen to something else. Something that isn’t 28 discs long. If I apply the same gusto I’ve applied to GoT listening, I could probably finish TWO audio books by the time my Storm of Swords holds come in.

This has been another episode of Jessica Rambles Too Much About Something That Is Really Not Important Just Read a Damn Book Already, Fool And Now Here are Some Book Covers.

Dead End in Norvelt. Have you ever had a book haunt you? I’ve been trying to read this book for… ugh. I can’t talk about it. I just need to read it. I thought I had the audio all ready to go on my computer, but then I looked yesterday and Disc One was missing. Disc One. Of course. I almost decided on Morgan Matson’s Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour instead, since it WAS on my computer. This choice also meets the re-read criteria for easy sleep listening.

When I finished Clash of Kings yesterday, though, I was not AT my house. Enter the Overdrive Audiobook. The last time I attempted this feat I had a Mac with an iPod and MAN that whole check-out/download/oops-that’s-a-WMA-file-you-dumb-ass thing was pretty frustrating. Not so much with an iPhone and the Overdrive App! Even the browsing was improved – it was really quick to browse YA and children’s and limit by what was available. I snagged a handful, including DC Pierson’s Crap Kingdom. Hey, remember when DC Pierson was on EVERY SINGLE PODCAST earlier this year promoting this book? Well, apparently that’s enough to at least get me to download the audio for free 6 months later. Or, I could be wholesome and productive and read a NBA longlist nom, Tom McNeal’s Far Far Away.

Or I could just pop in a random disc of Clash of Kings… you know… just so I can sleep…