Is Listening to an Audio Book Still Reading?


Somebody asked the question on Twitter recently, is listening to an audio book still reading? I appreciated the question. My first response is an emphatic, yes. But the question itself raises other questions around accesibility and literacy that are, I think, worth asking. But perhaps later.
For now, think of your favourite book. Book lovers are lovers of books—not just the stories they discover, but lovers of the books they hold in their hands—the ones they take to bed, the ones they take on the bus, and the ones they read at every opportunity. Many people have an intense, physical relationship with their favourite books, something which I’ve always envied.
I remember spending time in libraries as a kid. They were quiet places where you never wanted to fool around. Sometimes I never got further than staring at the shelves—those rows upon rows of books. And sometimes I would get dizzy from looking at the endless spines until I finally pulled one down to leaf through its pages.
I’ve been totally blind since the age of ten, but I still have a similar experience inside a library today. I stand at a shelf and run my hand over the books, and I recapture that early sense of wonder at the endless stories and wealth of information that would take more than a lifetime to absorb. But my experience doesn’t end there. All of these books, all of this information is so much paper that I can’t access without the help of technology or another person.
Which brings me back to my opening question. Is listening to an audio book still reading?
Again, I would answer with an emphatic, yes. But I would add something else. Books are no more defined by their physicality than I am defined by my blindness. A recorded book is still a book; a Kindle book is still a book.
According to a friend of mine, as technologies go, a book is difficult to beat. They are affordable, easily stashed in a bag or coat pocket, and they always work. On the other hand, a book is more than just its physical pages. How do I know? Because a book continues to occupy your inner landscape long after you’ve read it, and long after you’ve returned it to the library or lost it in a move. Does how it get there matter?
One of the first books I read as a newly blinded ten-year-old was on an old open reel tape recorder. That was J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. These days, I download audio books from Audible and talking books from the CNIB Library. I get books from the Internet, and I download books to my IPad from Kindle. Suffice it to say that I’m operating on a number of electronic platforms.
As an instructor at a university, I use all of these formats in the classroom. And in every class I make sure somebody reads out loud from whatever we are studying. Ask yourself this, is being read to still reading?
People read audio books for many reasons. they read them while they drive, while they cook, or while they walk. I read audio books because I have to, and that has become one of the ways I define myself—as a reader. And reading is reading, however you manage it.

Summer Reading: Be a Literary Tourist


Summertime is a time to read—a time to read new books, reread old books, or finally get to that series you’ve been wanting to read for months. You can travel to half-imagined places, and never get stuck in an airport.
Summer reading comes with a freedom that I don’t experience at any other time of year. Since I teach children’s literature at a university, much of my reading during the fall and winter months is dedicated to kid’s and young adult books. But now it’s July. That means I can read what I want. My MP3 player is my mini-library, so I read where ever I am—and whatever I want.
Two summers ago I decided to read everything in the Dune series by Frank Herbert. I read the original six books by Herbert, and then I read the rest of the Dune saga written by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. It was bliss. I told someone at the university what I did, and he thought it was such a good idea that he read everything by Philip K. Dick the next summer.
I spent part of last summer reading Bernard Cornwell’s The Warrior Chronicles, and I ended August with Stephen King’s Under the Dome. No offense to Stephen King fans, but I thought the ending ridiculous. Far too much like The Squire of gothos in Star Trek, the Original series.
Here are some of my picks for this summer:
Margaret Atwood, The MaddAddam Trilogy
Why haven’t I read this series? I’ve mostly been avoiding it up to now. All part of my Atwood eversion.
Trudi Canavan, The High Lord
I’ve read the first two in the trilogy, and I want to finish it. The series has a slower pace than most, but I highly recommend it.
Robert Galbraith, The Silk Worm
In case you didn’t know, this is J. K. Rowling. I read The Cuckoo’s Calling, the first of the Cormoran Strike books. The big reveal at the end was painfully convoluted, but I still liked the book.
Guy Gavriel Kay, The River of Stars
I’ve read one of Kay’s books every summer for several years now. It’s something of a tradition, so I’m happy to revisit Kay’s world. The River of Stars follows Under heaven, which I read last summer.
There are some of my summer picks. Where ever you are this summer, whatever you are doing, remember to pack a book. And if you read something good, then convince your friends to read it too. Books change people’s lives, so never deny someone the possibility of a new life by keeping your best reads to yourself. And, of course, enjoy.

A Visit to Charlottetown, PEI


One of the best things about the biennial Lucy Maud Montgomery conference is that it happens in Charlottetown. One of the best things about Charlottetown is going to the Lucy Maud conference.
Not entirely true. I went to see the musical Anne and gilbert the Thursday evening of my stay. The Guild, a theatre on the corner of Richmond St. in downtown Charlottetown—across the street from the Confederation Centre in one direction and the Anne of Green Gables Store in the other—is an intimate venue where the front row is essentially part of the stage. This year, Ellen Denny of London, Ontario, played Anne, and Patrick Cook of St. John’s, Newfoundland, played Gilbert, two very fine and energetic actors. This was one of the liveliest musicals I’ve ever seen, and I used to hate musicals.
I loved the show, but even better was having Ellen Denny and Patrick Cook show up at the Saturday evening banquet at the conference as part of a birthday surprise for one of the conference participants. Ellen Denny was sitting beside me, and I did my utmost to act as though I wasn’t thrilled at her choice of seats.
I correct myself. Many exciting things can happen in Charlottetown besides attending the Lucy Maud conference. I can’t oversell this place. It’s one of the oldest cities in the country, its streets are crowded with interesting shops, pubs, and coffee shops; its people are kind and helpful in a way I’ve rarely seen, and they really will go out of their way on your behalf. I was looking for a bank one afternoon, and this fellow, who happened to be eating lunch in his car, got out—leaving the door open with the keys in the ignition—to lead me around the corner and down the street to the door of the bank.
It’s not as though people aren’t friendly or helpful in Edmonton. They are. But in Charlottetown, the people seem to have fewer barriers when it comes to strangers. It’s all part of the island culture.
They have an expression on the island. If you aren’t an islander, then you “come from away.” If you come from away, then you will never be an islander. But neither are you a stranger. If you visit the island, you are a guest, and you will meet with the same kindness and respect granted to friends and family.
But back to the conference. We had four days of talking about Lucy Maud, Anne, Rilla, and many, many other characters from Montgomery’s body of work. And then there are the journals—five decades worth—which means we have more information about Lucy Maud’s personal life and writing habits than any other writer I can think of, save maybe Samuel Johnson.
The theme of this year’s conference was Montgomery and War. She only wrote one book about the Great War—Rilla of Ingleside. Nonetheless, the conference presentations and conversation ranged all over the Lucy Maud map: from food, to spirituality, to post traumatic stress disorder, to patriotism, to women and the Red Cross. We talked about Montgomery’s struggle with depression, her grief over the death of her beloved cousin Frede Campbell, and her decade-long series of court battles with L. C. Page, the original publisher of Anne of Green Gables in 1908.
I always learn something new at these conferences. I learned, for example, that Montgomery collected reviews of her books and pasted them into scrapbooks. A curious habit. But as Ben Lefebvre, co-organizer of the conference and editor of The L. M. Montgomery Reader, said to me in a hallway conversation, Montgomery was “the author of her own career.”
Montgomery’s short stories, her poetry, her many novels, as well as her scrapbooks, letters, and journals provide an endless number of discussion points, no matter the topic. I wondered if this conference would be more limited than those in the past because of the theme. But no. And more and more, scholars and professionals are bringing an interdisciplinary perspective to the conference. I, for one, had a child psychiatrist from Melbourne on my panel about trauma.
If you are an Anne fan, there’s much more to read and discover in Montgomery’s books—Emily Star, for one. If you aren’t an Anne fan, then try the journals. Life writing is entirely its own genre, and Montgomery provides interesting historical and cultural insights into life on Prince Edward Island and Ontario, not to mention Canada. Montgomery visited the UK during her honeymoon, but As far as I know, the farthest west of Ontario Montgomery travelled was Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, to visit her father, but she had friends and family all over Canada, the States, and the UK.
I fell into the world of Montgomery by accident. I didn’t read Anne of Green Gables until I was in my thirties—and I saw the film first. I don’t know how long I’ll stay in this world, but just like Charlottetown, it’s a fascinating place to visit.

Walk, Read, Think


Walking and reading is one of the best things you can do. You get to enjoy the walk; you get to enjoy a book; you just need to watch where you’re going.
When I’m walking and reading, I of course think about what I’m reading, but what I’m reading often reminds me of something else I’ve read. Here’s an example.
I’m reading Trudy Canavan’s The Black Magician trilogy as I’m walking. It’s a slower paced fantasy that takes place at a university for magicians. It sounds derivative, I know, but it’s a good series.
A particular scene gets me thinking. Some of the novices are gathered in the university’s arena, practicing various warrior and combat spells on one another. Guess where my brain went with this one: University for magicians—school for wizards—competitions—Hunger Games—Triwzard Cup.
Reading about a school for wizards—or in this case magicians—of course gets me thinking about Harry Potter, but Hogwarts isn’t the first school for wizards I’ve encountered. The first school for young wizards I met was the school on Roke in Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. This is a series that has become part of my literary map.
But back to my walk. I start thinking about competitions. The 75th Hunger Games and the
Triwizard Cup are both competitions, although the stakes are of course considerably higher in the Hunger Games. And then something occurs to me. Katniss is aware all through the games that her every move is being watched by both the Capitol and the districts. She uses that knowledge to help her manipulate the games.
In the Triwizard tournament, things are a little different. The first task in The Goblet of Fire has Harry retrieving a golden egg from a dragon, a vicious Hungarian Horntail. But what about the other two tasks?
The second task takes place beneath the lake on the grounds of Hogwarts, while the third task happens inside a maze. The school gathers for all three tasks, but interestingly enough, they can’t actually observe either the second or the third task.
What’s the good of a competition you can’t actually watch? I wonder if anyone ever pointed this out to J. K. Rowling. Does the lack of a crowd to observe the competition diminish Harry’s victory? Don’t get me wrong, I love The Goblet of fire. It might be my favourite book in the Harry Potter series. But this is a point that irks me.
There you have it. The random thoughts of a walker/reader. If you want to meet the thoughts of someone else who walks and reads, check out what Lev Grossman has to say.
The third book in his Magician’s trilogy comes out this summer. That’s a summer read I’m looking forward to. And I will probably be walking while I read it.

All of the Annes (of course with an E)


With the LMM conference in Charlottetown just over a week away, I’m spending much time these days thinking about and reading L.M. Montgomery, particularly rilla of Ingleside. Rilla is Montgomery’s book about WWI. It’s a poignant narrative about Anne’s family and the response of the community of Four Winds Harbour to the war.
If you haven’t read the book, I won’t spoil it for you, but I’m always struck by the character of Anne in this last of the Anne books, chronologically speaking, that Montgomery wrote in her lifetime. After Rilla, Montgomery went on to write Anne of Windy Poplars and Anne of Ingleside, but these books fit earlier into the series, and, if you’ve read them, you will know the different tone these books employ. The Anne of Rilla of Ingleside is both mother and wife—sometimes writer but always a prominent figure in the community—a woman who has raised a family and experienced grief over the deaths of two children. The Anne of this book is a long way from the chatterbox who first comes to Green Gables on a buggy with Matthew, imagining names for the places she passes—The White Way of Delight and The Lake of Shining Waters—and  imagining having a family for the first time in her life.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the Anne from Anne of Green Gables, but it can be tricky sometimes reconciling the girl to the woman. Anne herself in the first book talks about the different Annes that she must negociate: “There’s such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I’m such a troublesome person.” But readers of the series have to negociate Annes as well. You have to go from loving a skinny, starry-eyed redhead at eleven to understanding a wife and mother in her forties. Fans of the Harry Potter series talk about growing up with Harry and friends—especially those kids, like mine, who began reading Harry at eleven or twelve—but it’s a much longer haul with Anne.
Here are two passages that help to illustrate all of the Annes from the Montgomery’s series:
Anne of Green Gables
She danced up to the little looking‑glass and peered into it.  Her pointed freckled face and solemn gray eyes peered back at her.
“You’re only Anne of Green Gables,” she said earnestly, “and I see you, just as you are looking now, whenever I try to imagine I’m the Lady Cordelia.  But it’s a million times nicer to be Anne of Green Gables than Anne of nowhere in particular, isn’t it?”
Rilla of Ingleside
“She was thinking of little Joyce’s grave in the old burying-ground over-harbour – little Joyce who would have been a woman now, had she lived – of the white cross in France and the splendid grey eyes of the little boy who had been taught his first lessons of duty and loyalty at her knee – of Jem in the terrible trenches – of Nan and Di and Rilla, waiting – waiting – waiting, while the golden years of youth passed by – and she wondered if she could bear any more.”

Who Wants to Read a Best-Seller, Anyway!

Every kid’s book I find these days seems to have made it onto a best-seller list—that or made into a film after becoming a best-seller. It’s disheartening—to say the least. Does a kid’s book have to be on a best-seller list to be good? Not likely. Does a book have to be a movie in order to get some attention? I sincerely hope not.
I heard somewhere that Veronica Roth received a movie deal for Divergent before it was even published. A tale to make any author salivate. This might be an Internet myth—I hope so—but true or not, it helps to make my point.
I’m sure you, like me, have books close to your heart that have never been turned into a film, never raved about on the Internet, or—imagine this—no one else has read. The Internet being what it is, you can, of course, find those personal treasures out there. Shockingly, other people will have read those books over which you have claimed personal ownership, and Wikipedia will more than likely have something to say as well. Sometimes it’s just a good idea to avoid the Internet.
All this in mind, having favourite books that only you seem to have read is empowering. When your friends have never heard of a particular book that is one of your all-time-favourites, you get to tell them all about it. It’s like being a pioneer, going, dare I say, where no one has gone before.
Two books I remember reading as a young person were The Runaway Robot by Lester del Rey and A Walk Out of the World by Ruth Nichols. I’ve only ever met one other person who read The Runaway Robot, and I’ve never met anyone who has read A Walk Out of the World. I’m sure some of you have read one, or maybe even both.
The Runaway Robot is a book about Rex, a robot who is the property of Paul, a boy living with his family on Ganymede. The book is told from the point of view of Rex, which I think made me like the book even more. A Walk Out of the World is about Toby and Judith, brother and sister, who find their way into a fantasy world, and discover they belong there. I was a newly indoctrinated Tolkien freak at the time, so I was looking for anything that would take me into other worlds that were far away from my own. But as a new reader, every book was a new world, and every author a new discovery. Even still, I was desperate to create a list of books I had read that not everyone else in the world read first. I remember, with admitted nostalgia, feeling as though it was just me who was trying to understand the strange and compelling world of Lord of the Rings. But that’s what it’s like when you’re twelve.
Fortunately, I have grown somewhat as a reader since then. I no longer want to hoard a list of books that only I have read. Sounds too much like some dragons I have known. Better by far to share obscure and lesser known books, to talk about them, to rave about them, to tell anyone who will listen that they simply have to read one of your favourite books. And those pioneers you meet along the way will no doubt want you to read theirs.
So here’s to books that were never a best-seller, never made into a movie, and never, never seemed to get the credit they deserved. You can no doubt find them on Amazon, but leave cyberspace for a while and go to your local library.