The Power and Peril of Words: The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland

April 21st, 2014 by Steve · Steve's Picks

Isolated on the 11th floor of the Record, a venerable New York newspaper in the midst of making the awkward transition to the digital age, Lena Respass, the title character of Amy Rowland’sAmy Rowland novel The Transcriptionist, spends her days typing other people’s words. These words, the dictations of reporters for the Record, flow in through her ears and out through her fingers. They also invade her sleep. “She awakens in the morning with someone else’s words, someone else’s thoughts, ribboning around her brain . . . mixed in with the flotsam of dreams until she does not know anymore what is real.”The Power and the Peril

The question of what words do to illuminate or obscure reality is Lena’s bete noire and the source of her social and professional reclusion. She knows that her analog job is an anachronism, that soon it will disappear before the inexorable advance of the digital age, just as info-tainment and profiteering are steadily eroding the idea of journalism as avatar of truth and protector of democracy (however much Howard, the Record’s publisher, wants to pretend otherwise). Her philological crisis of faith—she dropped out of a literature graduate program when she was “cured” of the naïve belief that language could save people—has left her in a soul-numbing retreat from the world. All she has left are quotations to fill the void where language should be the bridge. It’s the very definition of alienation.

This all begins to change when she comes across a story in the Record of a blind woman who apparently committed suicide by climbing the fence and swimming the moat in the lion exhibit at the Bronx Zoo, allowing herself to be mauled to death. When Lena sees the accompanying photo, she realizes she had met the woman just days before in a chance encounter on a bus. The dead woman, Arlene, had been a court reporter who, like Lena, transcribed stories of loss and conflict—other people’s stories, other people’s words. Lena reflects that “Arlene was not reporting, she was recording. She was transcribing exactly what other people were saying, all day, every day. It was a very difficult job, I mean not only the work, the concentration, the, well, submission to listening to people’s tragedies all day.”

Lena’s quest to understand what drove Arlene to such a strange and tragic end evolves into an urgent desire that Arlene, despite being buried in a potter’s field, not be erased from memory . What finally has to emerge for Lena to know what she must do, however, is a reckoning of the cost that an estrangement from words can exact upon the human psyche.

The Transciptionist is wry, tragic, moving, ironic, melancholy, funny, intelligent. And, in the end, hopeful. The writing is graceful, at times lyrical, and the melodic, subdued reading by Xe Sands perfectly captures these qualities. If you’re looking for a rewarding and thoughtful book club offering that will elicit a multifaceted discussion of the modern world and human condition, I highly recommend The Transciptionist.

 

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New Tom Cook Novel Coming This September from HighBridge

April 16th, 2014 by Steve · Acquisition News

HighBridge will publish the audio edition of Thomas H. Cook’s new novel, A Dancer in the Dust, which will release this fall in print from Mysterious Press. It will be narrated by the estimable Ray Chase. Cook’s most recent book, Sandrine’s Case, is a well-deserved finalist for the 2014 Edgar Award for Best Novel, but as great as that book is (and it’s terrific), I think A Dancer in the Dust is even better. Cook returns to themes he explored with great success in The Crime of Julian Wells,The Crime of Julian Wells notably the human (particularly male) capacity for false confidence bordering on arrogance that can lead to disastrous unintended consequences for others (particularly female others). As in Julian Wells, genocide provides the macro manifestation of such consequences, and as in that novel and Sandrine’s Case, it is the hubris of men who think they are in control and know what is best for others that is the germinal condition of both private tragedy and the larger devastations. No one mines the depths of human anguish that result from self-delusion with more acuity and poignancy than Thomas Cook. A Dancer in the Dust may be his masterpiece.

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Car Talk Classics: The Pinkwater Files

April 16th, 2014 by Peter · Peter's Picks

Peter here, blogging from Minneapolis. For many years now I have been listening to Tom and Ray, the Magliozzi brothers out of WBUR-FM Radio in Boston. I am not a car guy. I don’t even own a car any longer, but I do recall the joys and heartbreak of owning a used Toyota. My upbringing was in the suburbs, so life revolved around the family car. These days I only bus and bike it and frankly I don’t miss the long commutes of my youth. That being said, I love Car Talk, the weekly car advice program from NPR. It’s more than a how-to program. From years of listening, I can confidently state that Car Talk is a rich slice of Americana where the average listener may spend a few moments in the car, in front of the radio listening to kindly uncles offering life advice, car advice and some good old-fashioned humor. For me, Car Talk is public radio at its best, and I will always be a fan of the wisdom of these gentle souls.

Car Talk Classics: The Pinkwater Files is a four disc set from HighBridge Audio offering listeners a memorable collection of audio fun where Tom and Ray offer advice about cars to their regular listeners.

I highly recommend this collection to both the novice and seasoned Car Talk listener.

Some of my favorite moments from this collection include: the puzzler segment, stump the chumps, and the caller of the moment, Mr. Pinkwater himself.

Daniel Pinkwater, the beloved humorist and author has been a regular commentator on public radio for many years. He has been a frequent guest on the Car Talk program, calling in as a non-celebrity and offering a unique twist to the show’s storied history. This collection of humorous moments offers classic bits that listeners have enjoyed for decades. This is a perfect gift for any friend or relative who enjoys cars or who might find humor in the pitfalls of driving and maintaining a treasured vehicle.

With Dad’s and Mom’s days coming up, this cd set would make a perfect gift for you to say thanks for letting me use the car all those years, and I am sorry for not keeping the tank half full as requested.

If you have a Saturday project to do and want to have a great background laugh track for your listening pleasure while doing chores, pick up a copy of Car Talk Classics: The Pinkwater Files. Tom and Ray and their steady laughter will give you some great moments to cherish while you get the job done. A full range of Car Talk audios are available from HighBridge, including my second favorite: The Best and the Second Best of Car Talk, but this cd is a great place to start with two of public radio’s charming radio hosts, Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the Car Talk guys.

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Beowulf translated and read by the late Seamus Heaney

April 11th, 2014 by Josh · Josh's Picks

BeowulfWhen I first read Beowulf in college I was immediately captivated. As an English major, and a huge fan of fantasy literature, I was familiar with the story, but until then had never actually read the verse. I had an amazing Medieval Literature professor who set me on a path to which I began devouring works such as Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and a ton of Shakespeare (thank you Professor Twu!). I even got together with some like-minded nerds for a group reading of Paradise Lost – in one sitting (it took over ten hours). But for some reason Beowulf has always remained my favorite, and I have re-read (and listened to) it several times since. (I also enjoyed the 2007 animated film from director Robert Zemeckis, screenplay by  Neil Gaiman, even though it diverges greatly from the source material.)

Seamus HeaneyI honestly don’t remember which version/translation it was that I read in college, but Irish poet, playwright, translator Seamus Heaney’s translation came out about the time I graduated, and it made an impression. It seems I wasn’t alone, as Heaney’s translation – and reading – is now widely regarded as the gold-standard. Heaney was an incredible man, and it would be impossible to summarize his life, works, and accomplishments in this blog post, but the well-loved and incredibly popular Irish poet taught at Harvard and Oxford and published quite a bit of poetry in addition to prose, plays, and translations.

It is my sincere hope that my kids will be studying Seamus Heaney’s work in high school and college, along with the great poets of the past who made an impression on me in school (Yeats, Dickinson, Whitman, Frost, Shakespeare, Coleridge – I could go on and on). But I digress…

original Beowulf Cotton MSReading Beowulf can be difficult. But translating Beowulf, the oldest surviving epic poem of Old English, to me seems like an impossibly daunting task, even for the most skilled scholar and translator. Aside from the fact that it was in Old English, Beowulf makes heavy use of alliteration and abundant kennings. Kennings are compound words, usually hyphenated, that allude to a simpler idea or thing. It is basically Old English’s alternative to a noun. These kennings would have been instantly recognizable to the people of the time, but many are not so recognizable in modern times. For example, it might be obvious that “war-gear” refers to armor, but maybe not so obvious that “word-hoard” refers to the mind/brain. And then you can have several kenning that mean the same thing, such as  “whale-road,” “sail-road,” “swan-road,” or “whale’s way,” all of which refer to the ocean or sea (and all of which appear in Beowulf).

Seamus Heaney’s translation is absolutely incredible. It really does capture the feel and the rhythmic quality of the original, and transports you into Beowulf’s world of horror, death, monsters, destruction, and heroism.

Sure, reading Beowulf is great, but this is a story that was always meant to be read aloud. This is a story that was passed down orally for generations upon generations before it was ever written down. And Heaney’s soft Irish accent is an absolute pleasure to listen to. For me, the only way to experience Beowulf is to have Seamus Heaney read you his translation. Period.

I highly recommend this audio to students, poetry buffs, fantasy fans, and lovers of great literature.

Beowulf translated and read by Seamus Heaney is available on CD (retail or library edition) or as a digital download from HighBridge.

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Simon Vance Returns for Deon Meyer’s Cobra

April 9th, 2014 by Josh · Author/Narrator News

CobraHighBridge is pleased to announce that Simon Vance will be narrating Cobra, the latest mystery/thriller from internationally bestselling author Deon Meyer.  In Cobra, Captain Benny Griessel and South Africa’s top police unit, the Hawks, attempt to track down a thief on the run, save his sister, and capture a mysterious hitman whose calling card is spent shell casings engraved with the head of a spitting cobra.

Simon VanceSimon Vance is one of the most prolific and celebrated narrators in the audiobook industry. To date, he has earned ten Audie Awards and an astonishing forty-eight Earphone Awards. He has been narrating for more than 30 years, having read more than 700 titles. Mr. Vance is held in high regard by numerous authors across multiple genres. Noted science-fiction author Orson Scott Card has praised Simon Vance as “brilliant,” calling his voice “impeccable.”

Cobra is Deon Meyer’s ninth novel, all of which have been narrated by Simon Vance, and will be available on CD and digital download in October.

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NPR American Chronicles WWI Marks 100 Years of Hard Lessons

April 7th, 2014 by Frank · Frank's Picks

One hundred years. Enough time for many changes to alter forever the lives of people, of nations. Most human lives now last longer. People move faster, learning, working, connecting. Most would argue the quality of our lives is better. Technology is our partner in everything we do, and has the potential to help us in many ways. But one hundred years hasn’t changed everything. We are still fully capable of stumbling along as a fragmented species, with our nationalistic and racist tendencies occasionally well hidden, but often in plain sight, right to the brink of a war that would be devastating for millions. Is there a chance we can learn from history? Avert disaster?

One hundred years ago the nations of Europe felt compelled to confront one another by forces they felt were within their control. They were wrong. An assassination in Sarajevo. A confused chess match between old-world diplomats. Poorly executed military maneuvers. Unpredictable alliances. An ocean liner attacked in the North Atlantic. Battle on land, in the sky and on the seas. Machine guns. Tanks. Gas in the trenches. The world found itself at war with a murderous capability it had never predicted.

NPR American Chronicles: WWI looks at the first modern war from many unique perspectives and offers insights as fascinating as they are haunting. Author Christopher Clark describes the leaders of Europe as sleepwalking towards war, unaware that the great powers that existed at its start would cease to exist at its conclusion. Historian Stanley Weintraub recounts the unplanned cease-fire and spontaneous Christmas celebration between English and German troops in December of 1914. Tired of war, singing “Silent Night” together in the darkness, they embraced the spirit of Christmas in defiance of their commanders. Robert K. Massie sheds light on the personal relationships between the ruling European families that would play out in the war, as well as the naval arms race that was instrumental in its outcome. While there is no way to convey all of the history, the lives, the stories that deserve scrutiny in the course of studying a five-year global conflict, the stories presented here are consistently informative, expertly produced, and often moving.

Admirably, NPR has scoured its archives and included first-hand accounts from surviving veterans whenever possible: Frank Buckles lied about his age in order to enter the war, not realizing he would be the last surviving US veteran. The bravado in the voice of flying ace “Fast Eddie” Rickenbacker masks a conflicted soul that would battle demons for the remainder of his life. Thomas Sopwith built the planes that would launch the war into the modern age, but he reveals a love of flight that memories of war cannot dampen. The accomplished narration by host Rachel Martin as well as the expert commentary provided by the historians is thoroughly engaging throughout the collection, but the voices of the men who were there transport us through time in a way that is magical.

One particularly surprising story here is that of a young Herbert Hoover. His reputation suffered as US President during the Great Depression, but in 1914, as a young diplomat in Belgium, he organized a relief effort that saved a nation suffering under German occupation. His efforts in Belgium fed more than nine million people for four long years. An unlikely hero under unexpected circumstances, Hoover is still celebrated there, with streets and plazas named in his honor.

In another, the horror of the war is underscored by the story of artists aiding the many soldiers who suffered facial wounds. The devastation of facial disfigurement was particularly debilitating in these days before plastic surgery. Sculptors worked with physicians to create realistic masks that would help victims reenter society with their sense of identity intact.

The highlight of the set for me is the irrepressible humanity, and hope, contained in the voice of folksinger Pete Seeger, remembering his uncle, the poet Alan Seeger, who fought in the French Foreign Legion before the US had officially entered the fray. Seeger’s family was divided on the subject of this war, his father Charles an outspoken pacifist, his Uncle Alan an adventure-seeking romantic. But despite their differences, their bond as a family was unbreakable –until a deadly round of German machine gun fire greeted Alan Seeger as his unit charged up a hill during the battle of the Somme. The poet-soldier’s lust for life does battle with a his ill-fated sense of honor in his poem “I Have a Rendezvous with Death,” recited here poignantly by his nephew Pete:

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air-
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath-
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows ’twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear…
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

With WWI, the NPR American Chronicles series once again presents stellar archival content that goes well beyond basic timeline and facts. With unknown events revealed, unheard voices finally given voice, it’s another shining example of what NPR does best: Create a dynamic listening experience combining essential history, great storytelling – even poetry – in a program that brings events to life. Are there lessons to be learned from the so-called Great War? A resounding yes. NPR American Chronicles: WWI adds to the hope we might someday learn to avoid repeating this tragic history. Again.

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On Immunity from Eula Biss, “Didion’s heiress apparent”

April 2nd, 2014 by Frank · Acquisition News

National Book Critics Circle Award winner Eula Biss first scored hot, independent publisher Graywolf Press to release the print edition of On Immunity, her provocative examination of the flashpoint issue of vaccinations as a difficult but vital choice for personal and societal health. She found an equally hot, independent publisher for the audio edition: HighBridge will proudly release  the audio edition simultaneously with the hardcover in October of 2014.  On Immunity is sure to be the most intelligently researched and well-balanced look at the history behind the vaccination controversies and the best way for us to move forward in thoughtful discourse – and in good health! Biss combines science, mythology, literary history and her personal experience as a mother to justify the claim made recently by Salon that she may be our next great writer of exceptional non-fiction, ”Joan Didion’s heiress apparent.”

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Featured Audio Giveaway – April 2014 – Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

March 31st, 2014 by Kay · Featured Audio Giveaways

Featured Audio Giveaway
AJ Fikry
Hear an excerpt

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

Gabrielle Zevin
Read by Scott Brick
A #1 IndieNext Pick!

Hear what all the buzz is about—and why narrator Scott Brick counts it among his top favorite books he has narrated.

With his wife gone, a rare book stolen, and both his bookstore and love of life in serious decline, only something extraordinary could alter the sagging fortunes of A. J. Fikry and Island Books. What he discovers one night among the children’s books, however, could change everything.

Read about Scott’s thoughts on narrating Storied Life here.


________________________

How to Win This Audio CD

1. Send an email to newsletter@highbridgeaudio.com
2. Put the word “Fikry” in the subject line.Entries must be received by no later than 4/18/2014. See the Program Details for more information.
________________________

Last Giveaway Winner

Congratulations to ALLIE MOYER, winner of the previous giveaway, Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse. Thanks to all who participated.

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Living and Loving by the Book: Zevin’s THE STORIED LIFE OF A. J. FIKRY

March 31st, 2014 by Kay · Kay's Picks

He looks across the spines, which are, for the most part, black and red with all capitalized fonts in silvers and whites. An occasional burst of fluorescence breaks up the monotony. A. J. thinks how similar everything [looks]. Why is any one book different from any other book? They are different, A. J. decides, because they are. We have to look inside many. We have to believe. We agree to be disappointed sometimes so that we can be exhilarated every now and again.

He selects one and holds it out to his friend. “Maybe this?”

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry Having worked in publishing for nearly 30 years, I sometimes catch myself assessing rather than simply enjoying a new book. The analytical side of my listening brain fights with the emotional one that just wants to succumb to a story’s charms.

“Analytical brain” fought valiantly against Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, read by Scott Brick—but it was no match. One reason might be that Fikry himself fights so hard against the turns in his life. You identify with him only to find yourself, like him, forced by fate to accept a very unexpected path. The path is not without rocks and roots to trip one up; it’s not “a walk in the park”; but you come to the end knowing you are better for the journey—even if you never really had any choice in taking it.

The basic premise of Storied Life is this: A bookstore owner’s fortunes have fallen apart after the accidental death of his wife. Then one day a baby girl is abandoned in his store. Always a rather interior if not unsocial man, the addition of the baby forces his loner life to change.

What makes Storied Life special is Zevin’s keen understanding of bookstores, the publishing industry, and literature. Both the humor and the poignancy she draws from this understanding and deploys in subtle ways lends additional heft to a story essentially about love and transformation.

Narrator Scott Brick* captures those subtleties in a reading that uses pace and pause to full effect. For instance, when Fikry is speaking or acting, it seems like the reading slows just infinitesimally, providing a slight weight or sense of age to a man who in many ways does behave like someone older than his years.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is for cynics and romantics; it’s for English majors and would-be writers; it’s for parents and for loners; for anyone who’s ever worked at a bookstore or in publishing; it’s for anyone who’s experienced loss or felt stuck in a rut or has searched for love. That covers quite a range of people. So it’s with confidence that, if you’re looking for an audiobook to exhilarate you, I can hold this one out and say “Maybe this?”

 

* Read more about Scott’s thoughts on narrating Storied Life here.

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Sandrine’s Case: The Mystery of Self

March 27th, 2014 by Steve · Steve's Picks

In Thomas H. Cook’s most recent novel, Sandrine’s Case (a Mysterious Press-HighBridge Audio, read by Brian Holsopple), Sandrine's Casethe first-person narrator, English literature Professor Samuel Madison, is on trial for his life for the premeditated murder of his wife Sandrine, also a professor at tiny Coburn College. Madison contends Sandrine’s death was suicide; the prosecution is certain it was a murder made to look like a suicide, and the circumstantial evidence for that case is impressive. Madison recounts each day of the trial while looking back over the events of his life, particularly his marriage, trying to figure out how it all came to this point.

Sandrine’s Case is thus a murder mystery, though the mystery isn’t who committed the crime but whether the untimely death was a crime at all. But there’s another, deeper mystery at the heart of the novel: who is Sam Madison, and what is the nature of his guilt or innocence? That’s the mystery Sam is trying to solve. As he puts it early on, “Regardless of the verdict, my trial had exposed everything, and from it, I’d learned that it is one thing to glance in a mirror, quite another to see what’s truly there.” Sandrine’s Case is about how we lose ourselves, about the subtle, barely noticeable steps by which our lives can take a wrong turn and set us on a path we didn’t intend to follow and weren’t even aware we were on. But while Sam was oblivious to those tiny events, Sandrine was not: she watched it happen to him a little at a time, saw the minute changes coalesce and harden into something unrecognizable, something she was unable to prevent through all her efforts, something that would lead to her death. Whether there could be a turning point, whether recognition and redemption were possible for Sam, was knowledge that she was, in the end, denied.

So Thomas Cook writes mysteries, or at least that’s the genre assigned to his books. As with Sandrine’s Case, they’re usually about crime or the possibility of crime, with plots that twist about a central unknown, and there’s invariably at least one death involved. I guess those particular features qualify his novels as mystery or crime fiction. Whatever. If you’re looking for the kind of genre fiction that follows well-travelled formulae of plot and character book after book, however, well, Tom Cook isn’t your guy. His settings and protagonists and supporting casts vary widely from story to story. What they always have in common, in addition to an accuracy of detail that comes from thorough research, are penetrating psychological investigations into the hearts and minds of his characters in the circumstances in which they find themselves. Cook writes about real people, not caricatures, and he does so with uncommon insight. His characters evolve, adapt to new information and external forces, act and react out of the amalgam of emotion, reason, instinct, and conditioning that comprise human motivation. In other words, he populates his novels with fully-realized personalities as unique and quirky as members of our species always are. There’s an underlying intelligence to his books, not just in wide-ranging references both literary and historical, which are never forced or ostentatious, but in a psychological acuity, precision of place, and deft, elegant prose. Of all these things, Sandrine’s Case is exhibit A. Small wonder it’s a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best Novel.

I’d be remiss not to mention Brian Holsopple‘s terrific reading. Every sentence, every piece of dialogue, comes alive through his voice. Holsopple is a veteran, award-winning narrator who is clearly still at the top of his game.

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