Go the Distance with Audiobooks

Yes Please coverFor those of you who don’t keep up with obscure monthly observances, June happens to be National Audiobook Month. This, in my opinion, is excellent timing. What better month to celebrate a form of reading that allows us to enjoy the best of summer? We can safely read while we run, garden, hike, or embark on long road trips. It should come as no surprise that our library employees are avid consumers of the audiobook in its many forms. In order to help you choose your next ear-read (I’m making that a word), we’ve asked our staff to review some of their favorite audiobooks. Place your holds now!

Leslie

Harold Fry coverThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel  Joyce (CD and eAudio).  This novel is about a man who is convinced that he must deliver a letter to an old love in order to save her, meeting various characters along the way and reminiscing about the events of his past and people he has known, as he tries to find peace and acceptance. I enjoyed listening to it partly because of the narrator’s British accent but mostly because of the well written and compelling story.

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy is also by Rachel Joyce (CD) and it is the story told from the perspective of the woman who Harold Fry is walking to visit. It features another charming British accent and there’s a surprise at the end.

Short Nights coverShort Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan (CD and eAudio) is the story of photographer Edward S. Curtis and his passionate project of documenting the remaining Native American tribes in stunning photographs. An incredible adventure narrative and a penetrating biographical portrait, Egan’s book tells the remarkable untold story behind Curtis’s iconic photographs. You obviously don’t see the photos while listening to this book, but the images created by this author are still vivid in my memory. I associate it with painting our basement as that’s what I did while ‘reading’ this fabulous story. Now if I could just have a Curtis photograph for my basement walls…

These Few Precious Days by Christopher Andersen (CD) will amaze you with the whole story of Jack and Jackie’s final year together. This book is a glimpse into the twilight days of Camelot.


One Summer coverYes, Please! By Amy Poehler (CD) is simply hilarious and made even better by being read by the author herself. Listen to this one if you need a good laugh, and who doesn’t? (Lisa here – I have to second this choice – it’s fantastic!)


One Summer: America 1927
by Bill Bryson (CD and Playaway) is about just that: America in the summer of 1927. This is a big story about the big personalities of the day: Babe Ruth, Calvin Coolidge, Charles Lindbergh, Al Jolson and more. Do yourself a favor and let someone else read it to you! It’s fascinating.

Alan

Grapes of Wrath coverThe Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (CD)
I had always meant to read this and once I had a long commute, I was able to find the time. The book about the plight of American farmers who were forced off their farms by drought and foreclosure during the 1930’s is everything you’d expect. But the narration adds so much to the story. When you finish the audiobook, cue up Woody Guthrie’s Dust Bowl Ballads, which the library also owns.

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B. J. Novak (CD and eAudio)
Very funny, well worth hearing B. J. Novak, Jason Schwartzman, Mindy Kaling, and many, many others perform the occasionally brilliant, sometimes underdeveloped, always funny pieces on the audiobook version of this short story collection from a writer of the American version of “The Office.”

Fighting Chance coverA Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren (CD and eAudio)
Elizabeth Warren’s story of her bumpy rise to fame and political power not only sets the stage for (likely) a higher office, but serves to inspire and make her as relatable as she appears in interviews and speeches. Read by the author/politician, Warren has a wonderfully rich voice, elevating the telling nicely.

Joyce

Born Standing Up coverBorn Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, written and read by Steve Martin (CD). Listening to the long-time writer/producer/actor/musician/comic’s audiobook gave me a jolt of intimacy and pleasure that his book—no matter how well written—could not have delivered on. Born Standing Up had me marveling at not just the words, but his voice: the tone and timbre, and timing, and Martin’s is impeccable. Martin’s memoir about growing up in southern California, working and learning magic at Disneyland, playing banjo in coffeehouses, his unusual, breakthrough comedy routines and becoming hugely popular on Saturday Night Live was a funny, enthralling life story.

Eileen

I have become an audiobook fanatic since acquiring an MP3 player several years ago. I listen when I’m gardening, walking, cooking (sometimes this is not a good thing), ironing—in other words whenever I’m doing something that doesn’t take a lot of concentration.

I have several favorites. Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking (CD and Playaway) is one I heard early in my career as a book listener, and it still comes back to haunt me. The reader’s voice was perfect for conveying Didion’s sense of loss and hopelessness as first her husband then her daughter die in the same year.

Bringing Up the Bodies coverI listened to both of Hilary Mantel’s books about the life of Thomas Cromwell and his association with Henry VIII.  Several people had told me that they found it difficult to track who was who when they attempted to read Wolf Hall (CD and eAudio), the first book in what is expected to be a trilogy. Listening to it there was no such difficulty. The right reader is critical to my enjoyment of an audiobook, and Simon Slater was the perfect choice for my ears. But then I also enjoyed hearing Simon Vance read Bring up the Bodies (CD and eAudio), Mantel’s sequel.

Dance with Dragons coverLastly I thoroughly enjoyed all of the George R. R. Martin series, Song of Ice and Fire (CD and eAudio).  I didn’t expect this to be true because I don’t normally read fantasy or science fiction, but I was hearing rave reviews from library patrons, and thought listening to the audio version would be easier than reading all 694 pages of A Game of Thrones. Many hours later—and I mean many hours since each of the books in the series so far run more than 30 hours—I came to the end of the fifth book,  A Dance with Dragons, and all I could think of was when would he finish writing the next book so I could find out what happened!

Julie

Misty imageMy all-time favorite audio book has to be Misty of Chincoteague read by Edward Hermann (Playaway). His voice is so great and friendly, making me feel like a grandpa is reading it. I also like that it is a playaway so I can walk around with it. My commute is only 1.5 miles, so a book on disc would take me ages!

Me

I blogged a little while back about some excellent non-fiction audiobooks that I really enjoyed; you can find that post here. More recent favorites include:

The Road coverThe Road by Cormac McCarthy (CD). Imagine the Walking Dead, sans walkers. The world as we know it has been obliterated by an unspecified disaster. Father and son find themselves on a furtive journey to the sea. What they hope to find there is unclear, but it has to be better than where they’ve come from. Doesn’t it? Haunting, anxiety-ridden, but strangely beautiful at times.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez (CD). Young love is rough and often prone to failure. What happens if it never truly dies? Love in the Time of Cholera is a fairly humorous and slightly dark look at one man’s 1/2-a-century struggle to overcome his first heartbreak. It may leave you asking: does love ever truly die?

Ghosts in the Shelf

Voodoo Hoodoo SpellbookAs librarians, we love it when our patrons get excited about the materials we purchase for them. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a title we’ve ordered fly off the shelf and accumulate holds; it’s a good sign that we’re on the right track to knowing what our readers want. Occasionally there’s a downside to success: when we can’t keep a title on the shelf because people don’t want to return it. When titles go unreturned we charge the guilty party and replace the books right away, either with copies of the same book, or with something more updated. We often order multiple copies of replacement books to accommodate the obviously high level of interest. Over time, the librarians who buy books in different areas of our collection have come to notice specific titles and topics that go A.W.O.L. more frequently than others. Some may not be too shocking to some, while others may be a bit of a surprise. Here’s what our book selectors have to say about what some readers just can’t get enough of at the EPL:

Essential Bicycle Maintainance & RepairAccording to Richard, bicycle repair manuals often ride off into the sunset, and sex instruction books frequently go undercover.

Pat reports that books on growing and cultivating marijuana go up in smoke.

Alan frequently has to reorder rock star memoirs on addiction recovery.

Game of ThronesAndrea says that in the young adults section, books by Ellen Hopkins are frequent offenders. One disappearing nonfiction title that gave her a chuckle had something to do with being an ethical hacker.

In Zac’s area, he has to replace a lot of graphic novels. Some eternally-popular titles include Sin City Vol. 1, The Eye of the World, The Game of Thrones, Y: The Last Man, The Lucifer series, and Batman:The City of Owls.

Cover image from Numerology for your FamilyFor my part, books in the occult and new age areas (reading crystals, casting spells, astrology, etc.) can be an issue. Bibles, bible study books, and devotionals are often not returned. My favorite not returned title was a self-help book on impulse control. My guess is that the borrower really needed it.

Other problem areas include automotive repair, true crime, diet and medical advice, gardening and homesteading, herbalism, foraging, computers and technology how-tos, cookbooks, tattoo design, crafting, test prep, and home projects.

For the most part it seems like the materials that most frequently go unreturned at the EPL are items that people might need at their side for quick reference. There are a lot of manuals (hands-on or spiritual) for getting through day-to-day problems, or self-improvement. Occasionally these books make their way back to our shelves after long absences. One can only hope that this means the borrowers finally fixed whatever issues were plaguing them.

While we may find some humor in the variety of materials that our patrons can become overly-attached to, missing items can be a serious problem if left unchecked. Library staff constantly work at following up on long-overdue items to make sure that materials are where they need to be when our readers want to check them out. So to our loyal readers, if you happen to be sitting on a cache of late materials, be kind and get them back a.s.a.p so that someone else can enjoy them.

I Ain’t Got No Home

A group of young men posing with bedrolls. Picture scanned from the Everett Public Library Archives

I ain’t got no home, I’m just a-roamin’ ’round,
Just a wandrin’ worker, I go from town to town.
And the police make it hard wherever I may go
And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.
Woody Guthrie – I Ain’t Got No Home

Like the cowboy, the lumberjack, and the old prospector, the hobo is a figure from the American past that seems to have slipped into the realm of cartoons and folk heroes. What generally comes to mind when hobos are mentioned are sad clown paintings with patchy clothing, people cooking boot stew, and Charlie Chaplin playing a lovable tramp. Beneath the stereotypes and folklore is a more interesting story of a group of Americans who were vital to the expansion of non-Native settlement West, and the feeding of a young nation.

But first, a little lesson in classification. Hobo, tramp, and bum were originally not meant to be interchangeable terms; when the terms first became common, they had very different connotations. Hobos were people who generally lacked a permanent residence and traveled from town to town to work odd jobs. Tramps were individuals who lived on the road out of preference, and panhandled or stole to pay their way. Bums were folks who did not work, and stayed in one location. Today all three are generally referred to more politely as ‘homeless,’  though this term obscures the differences between the three social groups. If you are interested in learning some Depression-era hobo slang, Wikipedia actually has a pretty decent glossary.

The Everett Public Library’s collections have a lot of great resources that talk about the history and culture of American hobos. To learn more about this very fascinating chapter in American history, look up a couple of these titles:

Hoboing in the 1970’s: The Compleat Freighthopper’s Manual for North America by Daniel Leen
Hoboing in the 1970’s is an interesting combination of practical advice, photography, poetry, and ‘it ain’t like it used to be’ musings about the author’s experiences as a hobo. Anyone interested in trying to adopt the hobo lifestyle would be advised to read the author’s disclaimer entitled ‘Railroad Darwinism.’ A common theme in hobo memoirs is the recognition that conditions have drastically changed since the heyday of hobo living, and that traveling by hopping trains is no longer safe to attempt (not that it ever was, as you will see).

Yankee Hobo in the Orient by John Patric
This account details the travels of the sometimes controversial late Snohomish County eccentric John Patric as he moved through pre-World-War-II Japan. During his time in Japan Patric lived on a few cents a day, sleeping in his car and supporting his travels by selling rubber stamps and doing odd jobs. Patric also left a nearly complete manuscript of his time living as a hobo in the United States, called the Hobo Years, which can be viewed in the Northwest History Room.

Once a Hobo: The Autobiography of Monte holm by Monte Holm and Dennis L. Clay
Once a Hobo is the life story of a Moses Lake man who lived as a hobo to survive the Great Depression. This story follows Holm from birth, through his hobo years, and on to his reemergence into mainstream society. This book opens with a full-page disclaimer not to ride trains, explaining that conditions are drastically different from what they were in the early years of freighthopping.

Hoboes: Bindlestiffs, Fruit Tramps, and the Harvesting of the West by Mark Wyman
If you were to read one book about the history of the American hobo, this would probably be your best pick. Wyman has done an exhaustive amount of research into the history of the American hobo and how he or she (men, women, and children lived as hobos during the Depression) had an important function in American society. Initially the territory of Americans of European origin, the hobo scene quickly became multicultural. During the early years of Western farming, hobos were vital to successfully bringing in the harvest because large farms were isolated operations that didn’t have enough manpower to bring in the crop before it spoiled. Despite the West’s reliance on hobo labor at harvest time, these itinerant workers were run out of town for being an ‘undesirable element’ as soon as the work was done. Far from being a romantic portrait of a drifter lifestyle, Hoboes details the brutality and hardship that hobos encountered as they moved from job to job.

Wanted: Men to Fill the Jails of Spokane! Fighting for Free Speech with the Hobo Agitators of the I.W.W. edited by John Duda
This book was compiled from firsthand accounts, speeches, and newspaper stories. Wanted isn’t strictly about hobos, but it includes the stories of people who lived a hobo lifestyle to travel from battleground to battleground in the I.W.W. free speech fight.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Into the Wild is the biography of a man named Christopher Johnson McCandless. In 1990 McCandless disappeared shortly after graduating from college. Years later his body, journal, and some undeveloped film were found in an abandoned bus in rural Alaska. Over time it was pieced together that he had traveled across the United States living and working as a hobo, and eventually made his way to Alaska to attempt to live off the land. This book was also recently made into a motion picture.

Four on a Flatcar by G.D. Jacobson
Set in the 1940’s, Four on a Flatcar tells the true story of four Seattle boys who choose to hop freight trains to travel across the country in search of a missing father.

Hard Traveling: A Portrait of Work Life in the New Northwest by Carlos Arnaldo Schwantes
While Hard Traveling isn’t exclusively about hobos  there is a lot of really interesting information about itinerant workers and how they traveled in the early days of Northwestern industrialization. Readers can get an idea of the kinds of jobs that hobos worked as they traveled through the region, and have the chance to look at some great historic pictures.

Harvest Gypsies by John Steinbeck
In 1936, Steinbeck was commissioned by the San Francisco News to write a series of articles about farmers that had been forced into a life of itinerant labor by the Dust Bowl. Steinbeck’s research laid the groundwork for his landmark work of fiction, The Grapes of Wrath, which also discusses the hardships of living and working as a hobo.

Lonesome Traveler by Jack Kerouac
Lonesome Traveler is part autobiographical sketch, part lament for the death of the American hobo lifestyle as it was in the Great Depression. Kerouac tells a series of stories about periods of his life that inspired his more famous works, and ends with a piece that discusses how changes in the American economy and culture have transformed the hobo from migrant laborer to homeless criminal.

The Road by Jack London
London wrote The Road about a period of his life, in the 1890’s, when he lived as a hobo. This is a collection of short stories, sketches really, about what life as a hobo was like before the Dust Bowl turned being a hobo from a choice to a necessity.

Riding the Rails 
Riding the Rails
is a PBS documentary that tells the story of teenage hobos during the Great Depression. 

The Great Machines: Poems and Songs of the American Railroad edited by Robert Hedin
The Great Machines has a small collection of songs and poems written about hobo life. While some of these paint a more pop-culture ‘charming tramp’ picture of the lifestyle, others describe the brutality and struggle involved with a life lived on the rails.

Various Bits and Pieces of Hobo Culture