Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Middle school reading list

I published a high school reading list of audiobooks and short stories last week. This week I'm finishing the theme with some great middle school reading. Next week, I'll be back with a new audiobook review.

The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgeson Burnett
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Short Stories
"The Empty House" by Algernon Blackwood
"The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell
"The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry
"The Monkey's Paw" by W.W. Jacobs
"The Tale-Tell Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe
"The Lady or the Tiger?" by Frank R. Stockton
"The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" by Mark Twain

Book blogger appreciation week nominee

I've been listed on the Long List for an award as Best Audiobook Blog for Book Blogger Appreciation Week. You can see all the nominees here. It's a great list! There are several of my favorite audiobook blogs listed too.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

High School reading list: Short stories

Continuing the post from Tuesday, here's some of the short stories I see most often in high school literature syllabi. There's some overlap with the middle school stories I'll be posting next week, so check back later for more.

"An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce
"The Swimmer" by John Cheever
"The Bet" by Anton Chekhov
"The Open Boat" by Stephen Crane
"A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" by F. Scott Fitzgerald
"The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
"A Jury of her Peers" by Susan Glaspell
"The Outcasts of Poker Flats" by Bret Harte
"Rappaccini's Daughter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne
"Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemingway
"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving
"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson
"Araby" by James Joyce
"The Rocking-Horse Winner" by D.H. Lawrence
"A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor
"The Garden Party" by Katherine Mansfield
"The Open Window" by Saki
"Junius Maltby" by John Steinbeck

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

High school reading list

With school starting this week, I'm afraid I won't be able to post a new review. However, since it's the beginning of the school year, I'm posting a list of free audiobooks that are often in assigned reading for literature classes. I'm intending this to be a service for both students and teachers, so they can read and assign some audiobooks without worrying about the ability to pay.

Today, I'll have a list of audiobooks for the high school students; Thursday will be short stories for the high school crowd. If I'm still busy next week, I'll post a list of free audiobooks for the middle school and elementary school classes.

Alphabetical by author's last name:
Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas
Silas Marner by George Eliot
Howards End by E.M. Forster
A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
Macbeth by William Shakespeare
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Friday, August 19, 2011

Book blogger hop

Book Blogger HopEach week, the Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Crazy for Books asks a different book-related question for book bloggers to answer. This week, the question is

What is the LONGEST book you've ever read? (Not including spiritual works)

Since I write an audiobook blog, I've changed the question slightly to

What is the LONGEST book you've listened to?

I'm not going to include The Count of Monte Cristo, since I had read part of it on my smartphone and listened to other chapters. The longest book I've listened to only is A Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. The audiobook is great; it's well-performed, it changes up narrators with changes in points of view, and has an exciting, easy to follow plot. Even so, I found myself having to push through parts and counting down the hours to the end. Listening to a very long book can become difficult, but it's a nice way to get a start on a large, imposing book on your to-read list.

What's your experience with long books? Do you prefer to read, listen or a bit of both?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

"Rashomon" by Ryunosuke Akutagawa

Source: peopleTalk (mp3)
Length: 16 min
Reader: Sadao Ueda

The story: If you've heard of this story before, it's probably from the excellent 1950 film of the same name directed by Akira Kurosawa. The movie, however, takes most of its plot from another story by this same author. So, if you've already seen the film, you're not losing anything by reading this classic Japanese story as well.

The setting is the decaying Rashomon gate in Kyoto during a economic depression. A laid-off servant shelters under the gate, trying to decide whether to live an honest life and probably starve or turn to a life of crime in order to survive. As I listened, I couldn't help but think about people in modern society thrust into the same situation. This story would be a great starting place for a discussion on the validity or invalidity of the concept of moral relativity and its application.

Rating: 8 /10

The reader: Ueda is a professional actor who really knows how to use his voice for storytelling. He builds the excitement of the story to the climax through his use of pacing and rhythm. Ueda has a Japanese accent that is not so strong as to interfere with the understanding of the story, but lends some authenticity to the telling. Apart from some muddy sound and confusing language effects in the introduction, this is a well-recorded piece.

(photo of Nanzen-ji Gate, Kyoto by rdvark via flickr. Creative Commons attribution, non-commercial license)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Botchan by Soseki Natsume

Source: LibriVox (zipped mp3s or M4B)
Length: 5 hrs, 7 min
Reader: Availle

The book: According to WikipediaBotchan is one of the most popular novels in Japan. Natsume is the greatest Japanese novelist of the early twentieth century; until a recent anti-counterfeiting redesign, his face appeared on the 1000 yen note. Now that school is back in session, it's the perfect time to read this humorous book about the experiences of a math teacher.

As a name for the main character, "Botchan" can be appropriately translated as "young master" with both the connotation of a privileged background and of a schoolteacher. The narrator moves from a pampered upbringing in Tokyo to teaching at a middle school (what Americans would call a high school) in a provincial town. He gives the other teachers sarcastic nicknames like "Red Shirt" and "Porcupine" and views himself as superior to them. Much of the humor in this novel comes from the conflict between his airs of superiority and the students' attempts to bring him down through their pranks.

As a former teacher at a small college, I was surprised to see the same small-scale squabbles among teachers playing out in a setting halfway around the world and a century in the past.  I suppose departmental politics are the same at every level of education all across the globe. Anyone who's a teacher or is interested in teaching should listen to this classic.

Rating: 8 /10

The reader: Availle has an accent that is hard to place, sometimes sounding like British received pronunciation and sometimes sounding Asian, possibly Japanese. This accent adds spice to the recording, rather than making it difficult to understand. She pronounces the Japanese words with enough confidence that I assume she's correct. For the different characters, she adopts various tones, matching each voice to the character's personality. This is a good amateur recording of this translation.

(Entered in Cym Lowell's Book Review Wednesday. Visit the link for other book reviews)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Picture Is Worth a 1000 Spoken Words

I usually try to illustrate my reviews with the images provided by the publisher of the audiobook. LibriVox volunteers in particular have done a great job at designing covers for their public domain audiobooks. Sometimes, there is no cover image for the book, especially when I'm reviewing a short story or poem. In these cases, I have to search for a Creative Commons or public domain image to use instead.  These searches often turn up with great images. I've included a few of my favorites below. You can find the license and credits by clicking on the story links.

Friday, August 12, 2011

"Moon Graffiti" by Jonathan Mitchell

Source: The Truth (mp3)
Length: 15 minutes
Readers: Matt Evans and Ed Herpsman

The play: In 1969, William Safire wrote a speech for Richard Nixon entitled "In the Event of Moon Disaster". It was to be read to the nation if the members of the Apollo 16 mission were not able to return to Earth. Jonathan Mitchell, of American Public Media, wrote "Moon Graffiti" as a dramatization of that very possible alternate history.

Having been born after the moon landing, I've always seen the event in terms of history - something that inevitably happened.  This play opened my mind to the danger and uncertainty that the astronauts were facing when they signed up for NASA. Confronted with the worst possible outcome of a space mission, not blowing up on the launchpad but being stranded in space, I have a greater appreciation for the bravery of the astronauts and cosmonauts who have explored our corner of the universe.

Rating: 8 / 10

The readers: Having directed for public radio's Studio 360 and other programs, Mitchell has great talent at creating a setting out of sound.  Here, he recreates the moon landing not as the broadcast audio that we all know, but from inside the landing module. The result is thrilling. In a few places, the audio is garbled, but this is on purpose -- not being able to understand everything that's happening is part of the program. Public radio continues to astound me with its great programs like this one. If you haven't donated to your local station yet, you should.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Public domain)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Salmon of Blackpool by Roger Gregg

Source: Radio Drama Revival (part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 )
Length: Approx. 2 hours
Readers: Crazy Dog Audio Theatre

The play: What is the purpose of art? Is it to reveal universal truths? Is it to help us understand other people? Is it to make us feel good and be able to cope with our lives? Is it to make money for the artists and others? Can it be all of these?

The Salmon of Blackpool asks these questions in a engrossing drama. Irish screenwriter Richie Ryan gets his first big break from a Hollywood studio: to write a biopic of dying action superstar Johnny Gallagher. As Richie gets to know Johnny, he strays from the studio's plans to write a feel-good Oscar bait. Instead he pens a script that more accurately, if pretentiously, reflects Johnny troubled personality. The production of this story teeters on the edge of being a Sunset Boulevard knock-off, but Gregg's skillful writing and the abilities of the actors keep the narrative grounded in reality. This is one of the better original audio dramas I've heard in the last few years of reviewing.

Rating: 8 / 10

The readers: One of the most interesting aspects of The Salmon of Blackpool is how the sound design matches the subject. This audio drama uses the conventions of film-making to capture the feel of a movie.  Sound effects are used not only to provide atmosphere and illustration, but to move the story along. Gregg allows the performances of the actors to tell much of the story that is left unsaid. David Murray, who has appeared in movies like G.I. Joe gets to show his acting chops as the complex character Johnny while Michael Sheehan brings to Richie a mixture of likableness and desperation that make his character's actions creditable. Kudos to Radio Drama Revival and Crazy Dog Theatre for this one.

(picture by Peteforsyth via Wikipedia. Creative Commons Attribution, Share Alike)

Friday, August 5, 2011

"A Martian Odyssey" by Stanley G. Weinbaum

Source: LibriVox (mp3)
Length: 58 minutes
Reader: Greg Margarite

The book:  In 1970, The Science Fiction Writers of America voted "A Martian Odyssey" as the second best science fiction story of all time, after Isaac Asimov's "Nightfall" (previously reviewed). While I disagree that it's that great of a story, I can appreciate how influential it was on all science fiction that came after it.

The tale is told by astronaut Dick Jarvis to his fellow explorers on the first human mission to Mars. After Jarvis's sidetrip from the expedition ends in a rocket crash, he sets out on foot for the main rocket. Along the way, he meets several alien species including the intelligent bird-like creature who introduces itself as "Tweel."

Tweel and Jarvis's attempts to communicate and understand one another comprises the leap that Weinbaum made over his contemporaries. Weinbaum imagines an intelligent being who is not just odd sounding or funny-looking, but actually alien in its thought patterns. This took the alien in science fiction from being either a bug-eyed antagonist or a green-skinned stand-in for other humans, to being a rational but unknown xenobiology species. Although this isn't among the best science fiction stories you'll ever read, it is a good one that all fans of the genre should know.

Rating: 7 / 10

The reader: Greg Margarite has read numerous science fiction stories for LibriVox. He has an expressive voice that clearly conveys the printed page. In this story, Jarvis is narrating his adventures to the other members of the crew, so Margarite gives the astronaut a cocky tone that fits well with his character. He emphasizes the international nature of the rest of the crew by giving them accents for their few lines. Margarite narrates other Weinbaum stories in the Collected Public Domain Works of Stanley G. Weinbaum at LibriVox, including the sequel to this story "The Valley of Dreams."

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Green Odyssey by Philip Jose Farmer

Source: LibriVox (zipped mp3s)
Length: 6 hours, 6 minutes
Reader: Mark Nelson

The book: Philip Jose Farmer is best known for his Riverworld series, in which people from throughout history are reincarnated in a mysterious land with a river running through the center. That mish-mash of people from disparate times results in people like 19th century explorer Richard Burton meeting Nazi leader Herman Goring. In this standalone novel, Farmer does a similar mashup, this time with genres. The Green Odyssey reads like a combination of A Princess of Mars (previously reviewed) with a pirate adventure novel.

Astronaut Alan Green has been living as a harem-slave to a queen on a semi-barbarous planet since his spaceship crashed there two years ago. He manages to escape imprisonment and flee to a merchant ship so he can search for two other astronauts rumored to have recently crashed on another part of the planet. The science-fiction coolness factor is that that on this planet, ships don't travel across the water, but instead roll across giant plains of grass. Although I found the ending a bit disappointing, the rest of the novel was good pulpy adventure in an improbable, but interesting, setting.

Rating: 7 / 10

The reader: Mark Nelson is a great reader. I've reviewed his readings multiple times here at Free Listens: Right Ho, Jeeves, "The Call of Cthulu," Plague Ship, and the previously-mentioned A Princess of Mars.  I really can't think of anything else to say about him that I haven't already. He has everything you'd want in a LibriVox reader: a clear strong voice, a good sense of pacing, and the ability to do a few voices without going over the top.