Tag Archives: BEA

COUPLE MECHANICS by Nelly Alard

The first book I picked up after BEA was an ARC I got at the blogger-publicist speed dating event on the last day of the conference. It’s not on sale until January 2016, which doesn’t make it the best candidate for a blog post in June, but it was what called to me when I opened my BEA box, so I went with it. Sorry to publish a review for a book you can’t get for 6 more months! (Decent book bloggers don’t do this. They write the review now and post it in 6 months, or they have a better system that tells them when to read which books. Sadly, I am not that organized, and when I finally finish a book, I need to publish the review or otherwise there won’t be any posts on the blog.)

The book is Couple Mechanics by Nelly Alard. It’s about a couple, Juliette and Olivier, who live in Paris with two small children and who are coping with the immediate aftermath of Olivier’s admission that he has had an affair. The book follows the next few months as Juliette decides how to deal with this news and Olivier tries to break things off with the woman he had the affair with. Juliette alternates between fury, despair and resignation, but is pretty committed to her marriage through the book. Olivier, who Alard portrays mostly as a weak, selfish and self-absorbed man, is also committed to Juliette, but at the same time proud of the affair and unable to say the things he needs to make Juliette feel reassured and comfortable.

Couple Mechanics is a small book in that it covers a very narrow slice of territory: this one triangle and the damage it wreaks on Juliette’s marriage. There are larger points about marriage, desire, trust and parenting, but the plot intently follows the immediate aftermath of the affair and how it plays out. It’s almost told in real time, with chapters detailing texts between Olivier and the other woman (Victoire), messages left by Victoire on Olivier’s phone, and the endless conversations Juliette and Olivier have about what he is going to do about Victoire and how they are going to muddle through. You have to really want to follow this triangle closely. There are times when the book gets a little repetitive and claustrophobia-inducing, given the subject matter. But I liked it a lot. Alard is a great writer (my version is a French translation) and misses absolutely nothing. She has it in for Olivier, but given how he behaves, he deserves it. Perhaps she could have made him a little bit contrite, just to give him more dimension, as he’s pretty easy to dislike. Juliette makes for a better protagonist, though she is sometimes a bit passive and quick to defend her insensitive husband.

Couple Mechanics is a smart, insightful novel that I had a hard time putting down. If you can tolerate the subject matter and give in to the type of ride you’re getting on – one with many starts and a slow speed that gives you an excellent view out the window – then it might be for you. It’s a first class ticket to someone else’s train wreck.

I will try to remember to post this again in January 2016.

BEA 2014 Wrap-Up

I spent three glorious days in NY last week for Book Expo America 2014 (BEA).

This year, I focused on learning about new books (mostly fiction) at a number of panels held over the course of Thursday and Friday, as well as on obtaining copies of a select few galleys. I discovered some unknown authors by wandering the floor and checking out galley stacks and author signings. I also attended some fun off-campus events, such as the HarperCollins 2014 Fall Preview and Blogger Party, the Bloggers Recommend happy hour, and the annual audiobook narrator-blogger lunch (which I LOVE going to – more on that later this week).

Here are some of my impressions of BEA 2014, as well as some photos:

1. There are a LOT of exciting books coming out in the next few months. I picked up galleys from a lot of big-name authors that I have enjoyed in the past – Sue Miller, Jane Smiley, Ann Hood – and also heard some very passionate editors rave about upcoming books from new authors. These new authors are edgy and have written about difficult topics, which I found encouraging. It shows that fiction is alive and innovating. 

2. Celebrity memoirs are as big as ever. There were huge lines for author signings by such stars as Neil Patrick Harris (who wasn’t even signing a book!), Angelica Huston, and Billy Idol, not to mention the ticketed author events that also featured celebrities. (I didn’t wait in these lines.) I also attended a panel discussion with Jonathan Tropper, who adapted his novel This Is Where I Leave You for the big screen, along with the movie’s director Shawn Levy and stars Tina Fey and Jason Bateman. It was a huge event, with hundreds of people turning out. Tropper spent a lot of time talking about the fascinating process of adapting a novel into a screenplay.

3. But the really long lines were for YA authors. The longest line I saw during BEA was for a signing by Lois Lowry. RJ Palacio also had a huge line for a signed tote bag. There were many other lines for authors I’ve never heard of, and I presume that most of them were YA.

4. E-readers might be big, but galleys moved quickly. I saw stacks of books one minute that were gone 15 minutes later.

5. Big news for audiobooks: a new format that features MP3 files and that allows a whole book to be saved onto a single disc. This will make audiobook production cheaper and faster, which should benefit the publishing industry and listeners alike.

6. Readers – whether they are bloggers, librarians, educators, or industry insiders – are as passionate as ever. Everyone seemed very excited to be at BEA, and were enthusiastic about the authors they interacted with and the books they collected.

And now the pics!

Signed copies:

photo 1Unsigned fiction(mostly):

photo 2

 

Books from the HarperCollins 2014 Fall preview and blogger party:

photo 3Books I picked up for friends and other odds and ends:

photo 4And books for my kids:

photo 5

Here are some authors who signed my books:

Jane Smiley:

photo 1 (5)

 

Ann Hood:

photo 2 copy

Sue Miller:

photo 5 copy

BJ Novak:

photo 3 (1)

Jeff Kinney:

photo 1 copy

RJ Palacio:

photo 4 copy

I am already excited for next year!

Q&A With Audiobook Narrator Robert Fass

I wrote earlier this month about the wonderful breakfast I had at BEA with a group of audiobook narrators. It was a fascinating breakfast, and while I was able to talk to a few of the narrators about their work, I still had a lot of questions when we were done. Thankfully, three narrators – Robert Fass, Karen White, and Anne Flosnik – agreed to do a Q&A here on EDIWTB about being an audiobook narrator. I am very grateful to them for taking the time to answer my questions!

Rrobertfassobert Fass is a tough man to pin down this month; he is currently en route to Kansas City, MO for the Hear Now Festival, a “film festival for contemporary audio story-telling in all its forms”.  He will be among a group of narrators reading Mark Twain stories live over the radio on Friday, as well as appearing with the Golden Voices reading on Saturday.

Here is Robert’s Q&A:

Q:  How did you get into audiobook narration?

A: I’ve been an actor all my life – classically trained, including several years with the legendary acting teacher Uta Hagen in NYC – and a working professional union member for nearly 30 years.

I’ve also been listening to voice recordings since I was a child, haunting my public library’s spoken-word and comedy sections all through my formative years. I had a radio show at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, which was mostly music, but on which I also occasionally would corral friends to read plays with me over the airwaves unrehearsed. In the late 1980s I created and hosted a live improvised radio drama series entitled Radio Free Association, which invited kids to call in answers to questions I would pose, which the players and I then used on the spot as the building blocks of an improvised audio drama with music. So the possibilities of audio have always fascinated me.

I have to credit my parents as well. My mother was a research librarian who turned me on to books from an early age and helped me get my first job at age 15 shelving books in our local public library. My father was a volunteer reader for the blind for over 25 years at Recording for the Blind and  Dyslexic in Washington, DC. When he passed away in 1997, I began volunteering in his honor at the InTouch network in NYC, an amazing organization where I was lucky enough to be one of two regular readers of The New Yorker magazine every week. That gave me solid grounding in narrating well-written essays, fiction, poetry, humor, etc.  Somewhere along the way, a fellow volunteer – an actress named Katherine Puma – offered me her spot at a seminar on audiobook narration given by the Audio Publishers Association (APA). At that time the APA was looking to bring more trained professional actors into the industry and gave the attendees the chance to submit a sample to a producer for feedback. I received enough encouragement that I pressed forward and created a full demo CD which I sent to every publisher and producer in the APA. It caught the ear of a couple of folks who gave me a chance. The reviews were good, and things built – slowly – from there. It took several years before I began to make most of my living at it.

Q: How do you prepare for a new narration role? Do you read the whole book through to get a sense of the characters and story?

A: It’s critical to read the whole book! For fiction it’s especially important because you need to make choices about the various characters’ voices – the author often provides clues somewhere along the way and the narrator community is full of tales of having recorded a whole bunch of pages with a character in one kind of voice only to discover on page 297 that he speaks in a completely different voice – a heavy Welsh accent, for instance, when you’ve done a perfect Surrey gentleman. But regardless of the genre or the complexity of the writing, as a narrator you have to understand the author’s voice, point of view, narrative style, and, most importantly, the dramatic arc of the book. You’ve got to know where you’re going.

Q: What is your favorite book that you’ve recorded? Any books on your dream list?

A: There have been so many favorites, it’s hard to pick just one. I’d have to point to SAY HER NAME by Francisco Goldman as a highlight. It won all kinds of print awards for the author and I’m proud that it was awarded an Earphones award and named one of the 10 Best Audiobooks of 2011 by AudioFile magazine. I loved narrating NO ORDINARY JOES, a deep dive into the story of four submariners captured by the Japanese in WWII and their lives and loves after returning to civilian life. That’s by Larry Colton. And I got to record a beautifully written memoir by Carlos Eire, LEARNING TO DIE IN MIAMI.

Most recently, I was blown away by the gorgeous writing in THE UNWINDING, George Packer’s real-life account of a disparate group of ordinary Americans struggling to stay afloat amid the dismantling of the social contract in this country over the last 30 years. It’s a brilliant mosaic, a great book that deserves to be widely read – and, of course, listened to!Most of my dream list, unfortunately, has already been recorded. Some of Stanley Elkin’s novels are among my favorite 20th century works of fiction and I feel a great affinity with his protagonists and delight in his loopy, verbal jazz. But the great George Guidall’s recorded them, so how can I regret that?

There is a favorite book of mine which shall remain nameless for the moment, a unique mystery with a cult following that’s never been recorded, a book I’ve long dreamed of narrating. I’m currently in conversation with the author about it and am hopeful of having the joy and privilege of producing and narrating it sometime this year.

Otherwise, I’ve had the great good fortune to narrate works by some of the world’s best authors and my dream list consists of any books that allow me to continue to be a part of bringing great writing to audio.

Q: Where do you do your recording?

A: These days I work mostly in my home studio. I still get out to publishers’ studios now and then, where I get to work with an engineer – sometimes even a director, the best of all possible worlds – and just focus on the read. But the industry has moved decisively in the direction of home studios over the past couple of years, in which the narrator is now also engineering and self-directing; so I made the investment to set up a high-quality booth in a spare bedroom of our apartment and refine my technical skills as well.

Q: Do you ever find that your voice changes from session to session? (Sometimes I think I can tell when one session ends and another starts because the narrator’s voice gets lower, for example.)

A: Not often. That kind of distraction shouldn’t happen if it can be avoided, and typically I (or my engineer) will compare the first few minutes of the day’s recording with that of the day before to ensure that the sound matches – that my voice has the same energy and pitch range, my mic placement hasn’t changed, etc.

This is, I believe, to a large extent a by-product of the move toward home studios. Whereas there used to be three sets of ears on a recording session (narrator/engineer/director), now there tends to be just one: the narrator’s. So more of those kinds of inconsistencies are going to get through. Like a lot of narrators, I do a series of physical and vocal warmups before entering the booth so that my voice is ready to start recording and, hopefully, it will be consistent from session to session within any given project.

Q: How much interaction, if any, do you have with the author while you’re recording?

That varies considerably. Some publishers connect me with the author (or, in some cases, the author’s representative) from the start. Others maintain a strict separation policy between the author and narrator. You may need to tread lightly sometimes, but I find it has always been helpful for me to be able to connect with the author in order to discover as much as I can about the spirit and intention of the work, any specific overarching idea they may have about the narrative, as well as to get pronunciation guidance on names, places, and other terms that may not be findable by conventional means. The authors I’ve dealt with have always been grateful for the amount of care and interest I’ve taken in approaching the narration of their work. I recently produced and narrated PULP AND PAPER, a collection of beautifully written, prize-winning short stories by an author named Josh Rolnick; his input was essential in giving me the understanding I needed to get into the hearts of those characters.  Our job as narrators is to get out of the author’s way, and I think dialogue with them helps a great deal in that regard.

Q: What do you like to read in your spare time?

A: I’m not familiar with this concept, spare time. Please explain.

Q: Anything else you would like my readers to know about audiobooks?

A: That narrating is a craft. The majority of professional narrators, the ones who regard it as a craft and invest their time and talent in order to make a living at it, are members of the performers’ union, SAG-AFTRA.  As the audiobook listening community continues to grow by leaps and bounds, it is helping to drive a number of shifts within the industry itself. One of those shifts is a large influx of new narrators, some of whom may be capable of great things, but some of whom do not have the necessary tools to be able to make a good audiobook (which goes far beyond having a laptop with a microphone, being told you have a nice voice, and having the notion of, “hey, I’d like to narrate audiobooks”). So it’s important that listeners be discerning.

A related shift is that social media has lowered or even eliminated the barriers to communication between audiobook listeners/fans, publishers, authors, narrators, reviewers, and bloggers like yourself. So it’s important to the ongoing health of the industry that discerning listeners let publishers know their preferences for quality narration and quality production: that it matters to have a voice that matches the material; that the book is read well; that there aren’t sirens, helicopters, kids’ footsteps, and other intrusions on the audio; that names and terms aren’t mispronounced; that the listening experience of any book is the best it can be.

 

Lastly, a big thank you to you and your readers for being audiobook fans and for giving me this opportunity to speak with you. I really appreciate it!

Thank you again to Robert for the thoughtful answers he gave and for taking the time to chat here on EDIWTB. I especially liked what he had to say about listeners letting publishers know what they think of the recordings, so that the emphasis on quality narration is maintained throughout the industry. Hopefully EDIWTB is helping on that front!

June is Audiobook Month

This month is Audiobook Month, and I am celebrating it with some audiobook-related content here at EDIWTB.

I discovered audiobooks in the summer of 2010, when I listened to 21-hour Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides. Ever since, I  always have an audiobook going in the car. My commute is about 20-30 minutes long, so I can usually get through an audiobook in about three weeks, sometimes less depending on the length of the book. I almost always pick out audiobooks for which I already have the print version, because I like to read along in the print. I find that having the print version lets me re-read passages that might be hard to find on CD, and it helps with learning how characters’ names are spelled, how books are structured, and how key scenes were written. And sometimes when I get close to the end of an audiobook, I finish it off in print because I get impatient to find out how it ends, and print is faster.

Some books aren’t as successful in audio as others (The Red House by Mark Haddon comes to mind), while others seem to dance off the pages on audio (A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash). I’ve read books narrated by their authors, multiple books narrated by the same narrator, and books narrated by multiple authors. I’ve read books narrated by 80s movies stars (hello Campbell Scott and Elizabeth McGovern and Molly Ringwald). And I’ve even had the chance to meet some of the narrators I’ve enjoyed.

Last week at BEA, I went to a breakfast with a group of audiobook narrators and a few other bloggers. It was one of the highlights of my BEA experience. I met Karen White, Robert Fass, Anne Flosnik, Patrick Lawler, Amy Rubinate, Simon Vance, Xe Sands, and Lauren Fortgang, and they couldn’t have been a nicer bunch. They tolerated my many, many questions and recommended books and recordings. They were incredibly supportive of each other, and seemed genuinely happy to be in each others’ company. Please check out their sites and their recordings!

In honor of Audiobook Month, I will be featuring interviews with Karen White, Anne Flosnik and Robert Fass later this month, and I have also created a new category within the blog – Audiobooks – which collects all of the audiobook reviews that I have written. I always cross-post my audio reviews at Audiobook Jukebox, which is a great resource for finding new audiobook reviews, and I also recommend the site Audiogals, which is run by Lea Hensley, whom I also had the pleasure to meet last week.

So keep an eye out for the narrator interviews later this month, and keep listening to the great recorded books that we are lucky to have access to.

Here is a photo of me with the narrators and bloggers at the breakfast last Thursday (thank you Lea for the photo!). I can’t seem to make it any larger.

APAC5-30

I’d love to know: what are the best audiobooks you’ve ever listened to? What made them great? I will do a top-5 list later this month.

GIRLS IN WHITE DRESSES by Jennifer Close

Close I had the pleasure of hearing Jennifer Close, author of Girls in White Dresses, interviewed at BEA this year, and was also lucky to get a signed ARC of her book while there. It comes out this August.

Girls in White Dresses follows the lives of a group of college friends (all women) after graduation – through jobs, boyfriends, weddings, breakups, showers and babies – until they are in their early 30s. The chapters are almost like short stories, except that characters recur throughout the book, and the narrative is chronological. Each chapter basically checks in the characters at a particular turning point in her life before moving on to someone else.

During her BEA interview, Close talked about how she had been a bridesmaid in many friends’ weddings, and that she thought of her 20s as a time when she felt pressure to keep up with her friends who were reaching milestones like weddings and babies, perhaps earlier than she had. I remember that feeling so well – the sense that I was “behind” because I wasn’t engaged like so many of my friends were. It felt like a horserace back then, with the goal to make it around the track at least somewhere in the middle of the pack. I, too, was a bridesmaid many times over and can remember the complicated feelings those events often conjured in me, always reflecting my then-current situation and how satisfied I was with it.

Looking back now, of course, all the pressure and anxiety seems so silly. Why didn’t I just enjoy those years?

Anyway. I really liked Girls in White Dresses – I think Close very accurately captures those confusing, sometimes isolating 20s. I heard her compare her writing style to that of Melissa Bank in The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing, and I totally agree. Her writing is spare, to the point that her characters seem almost unemotional. And there is a lot that goes unsaid and unexplained in the book. The chapters are vignettes, so whole swaths of time are skipped. But I still found this to be a pretty satisying read. I occasionally had trouble remembering which character was which when a chapter opened, but ultimately it didn’t really matter. The themes of friendship, figuring out who you are, and the pursuit of a suitable mate are amply explored here, and I laughed in recognition (and sympathy) many times.

Girls in White Dresses comes out on August 9. It’s so rare that I actually read a review copy this long before the book comes out – this may be a first! If you are interested in reading it, leave me a comment here and I will try to remember to email you when it hits shelves!

SONGS WITHOUT WORDS by Ann Packer

I am back from BEA! It was a great time in NY. I had two fun days of walking the floor, learning about new books, meeting some authors, and catching up with book bloggers. I made it to half of the Book Blogger Convention on Friday, and particularly enjoyed a session on working with publishers. Best of all – I got to spend a lot of time with my BEA roomie, Nicole from Linus' Blanket. We seem to have an endless supply of book-related topics to discuss.

The books I am most excited about getting at BEA: the new Tom Perrotta book The Leftovers (I told him that if anyone could get me into dystopian fiction, it's him); Girls in White Dresses, which I heard author Jennifer Close read from on Thursday, and… if I dare admit this… the audiobook I picked up of the Sweet Valley Confidential ten-years-later novel, which is supposed to be pretty dumb but which I simply cannot wait to devour.

I picked up many others – I will include a fuller list when my boxes arrive from New York.

Packer I just finished Ann Packer's Songs Without Words. I read her The Dive from Clausen's Pier many years ago (pre-blogging), and picked up this one at Politics & Prose over Christmas. (Hi FTC! Yep, another book I paid good hard cash for.) It is billed as a story about two friends – Sarabeth and Liz – whose relationship is put to the test when Liz, who is used to being Sarabeth's caretaker, finds that she needs Sarabeth's support when her teenage daughter Lauren attempts suicide. Sarabeth, whose own mother took her life when Sarabeth was 16, finds herself unable to give Liz the support she needs, and their relationship is severely strained. 

Songs Without Words is really more of a chronicle of how Lauren's suicide attempt affects everyone in her family, as well as Sarabeth. Packer is an extremely detailed writer, and the book is full of the minutiae of Lauren's family's lives. I generally enjoy detailed stories, but Packer goes to an extreme here. Not that much actually happens in the book. Aside from Lauren's actions, I kept expecting drama to ensue in each chapter – something that would reward me for all of the careful reading – but it really didn't happen. Lauren slowly gets better, and Liz and Sarabeth slowly work their way toward reconciliation. There is a lot of depression in the book, and Packer does a good job of conveying the helpless meandering and defeat that often accompanies the condition. The book ends on a hopeful note, but again, there is no great payoff. 

I mostly listened to this book on audio, except for the last quarter or so, which I read. I did enjoy the process of reading the book. But I have to say that looking back now that I am done, I am not sure it was worth the effort of listening and reading. The payoff, as noted above, is just too small. 

The narrator on the audio version had an irritating habit of overannunciating words, like "kiTCH-hen", which was annoying after a while. I think she also reads pretty slowly, as I would listen for a good chunk of time and find that it had only covered a few pages. (I just discovered that she's a pretty popular audio narrator – Cassandra Campbell – who also narrated the audio version of The Help).

Overall, I can't really recommend Songs Without Words too strongly. I enjoyed the process of reading it but ultimately found it unsatisfying. Would love to hear any other opinions!

BOSSYPANTS by Tina Fey

BEA week is here! I am headed to NY on Wednesday for 2 days of BEA and one day of Book Blogger Conference this Friday. Can't wait! I am also speaking about social media on Thursday at BlogWorld, which is in the same building as BEA. If you're going to be at BEA, please let me know! I am looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones at BEA. Oh yeah, and the books too.

Bossypants So I am concluding that I really prefer fiction. I bought Tina Fey's Bossypants as an impulse buy last month when I was in San Francisco. If it took me this long to get through a non-fiction book by a very entertaining woman who's my age and talks about being a working mom while dishing about 30 Rock and SNL, then clearly I have a thing about non-fiction. It just doesn't grab me the way fiction does. I need a plot.

But I did finish Bossypants. It's basically a collection of essays about Tina Fey's life, from her childhood and education to her time at Second City, SNL, and 30 Rock.It's not really a memoir, because it's not that thorough, and it's only loosely chronological. There's a lot less in here about parenthood and being a working mom to her daughter Alice than I expected. There is more, though, about working for Lorne Michaels and impersonating Sarah Palin on SNL, which I enjoyed. Fey's writing style is funny and self-deprecating, which is definitely her schtick. I wonder sometimes whether she's really like that in real life, or if she's been so successful in creating that persona that she has stuck with it in her book.

I laughed out loud a lot in this book. Here is my favorite passage. She's talking about being at a photo shoot for a magazine cover, and the kind of music they play in the background:

Sometimes they ask if you want to hook up your iPodfor background music. Do not do this. It's a trap. They will put it on shuffle, and no matter how much Beastie Boys or Velvet Underground you have on there, the following four tracks will play in a row: "We'd Like To Thank You Herbert Hoover" from Annie, "Hold On" by Wilson Philips, "That's What Friends Are For," Various Artists, and "We'd Like To Thank You Herbert Hoover" from Annie.

Hee.

There are a lot of funny parts like that. Even so, I never really  got totally into Bossypants the way I do with a good novel with a compelling plot. I think that's a sign.

OK, back to fiction. Hope to see a lot of you at BEA this week!

(Hi FTC! Bought this one with my own money, and even paid full price! I know, I can't believe it either.)