Listen [list]

Do you know about the RUSA Listen List?

I hadn’t heard of it until recently: it’s a new award established by the Reference and User Service Association of the American Library Association, to honor excellent audiobook narration. While it’s really difficult to see if you like the narrator of an audiobook until you actually listen, this list is still an excellent idea, I think. I especially like the way that “listen-alikes” for each book are suggested, so that if you enjoy the winner, you can find three more titles with a similar style or content.

I will admit that, compared to many people I know (especially knitters!), I’m not a huge listener of audiobooks. This is likely to do with the fact that my commute is only a short bus ride, if I do take the bus, and I often ditch the bus and ride my bike. But I think, also, that it’s because of the way that I consume text: I find it hard to maintain my attention while someone is reading a complex text (or giving a complex lecture), without having something to look at: it’s hard to explain, but I feel like I consume text in chunks, rather than in lines, and I like to be able to go back and forth between pages often as I read. That being said, I do enjoy audiobooks in specific situations, like during long car trips or when I have a tedious household task to complete. In fact, I first listened to Bachelor Brothers’ Bed & Breakfast while hand-sanding the finishing touches on a wall that my Dad had installed in my teenage bedroom!

I also know, from experience and from professional reading, that it can be difficult to find e-audiobooks to borrow from your public library, since they are often listed along with print ebooks in catalogs that can be hard to use. Here are a few of the titles on this year’s RUSA Listen List that I’m looking forward to taking out of my public library – I’ve linked each one to WorldCat, where you can enter your zip code or location and find a copy in a library near you.

All Clear by Connie Willis. Narrated by Katherine Kellgren

Bossypants by Tina Fey. Narrated by Tina Fey.

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley. Narrated by Dominic Hoffman.

Middlemarch by George Eliot. Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht. Narrated by Susan Duerden and Robin Sachs.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Narrated by Simon Prebble. Blackstone Audio.

One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde. Narrated by Emily Gray

“eccentrics and eccentricities–fiction”

Novels don’t often receive subject headings when they are cataloged, but two of my favorite books received this gem: “eccentrics and eccentricities–fiction.” And it couldn’t be more appropriate.

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(last summer’s foray to BBB&B land – the Strait of Georgia)

The books in question are Bachelor Brothers’ Bed & Breakfast and Bachelor Brothers’ Bed & Breakfast Pillow Book, by Bill Richardson, a Vancouverite who writes light fiction, non-fiction and children’s books while working as a radio host for the CBC.

(fun fact of the day: Bill Richardson used to be a children’s librarian – he has a library degree from UBC.)

The books (which stand alone, but are probably best read in order) chronicle the adventures and misadventures of fraternal twin brothers Hector and Virgil, who run a book-focused bed and breakfast on a small island in the Strait of Georgia, between Vancouver and Vancouver Island. The island is never identified by name: it is a mythical addition to the Gulf Islands, a group of islands that, to some observers, might as well come out of a storybook. The islands have a reputation for good wine and food (especially cheese), beautiful scenery, eccentric architecture, and low-key inhabitants. Guests come to the BBBB&B from a variety of Canadian towns and cities with the goal of either solitary or social reading of books ranging from Proust to P.D. James. They are encouraged to write their stories in the inn’s guestbook, and these are sprinkled throughout the narrative. The second book, modeled on the Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, is more scrapbook-like than the first, and includes recipes.

Hector and Virgil are the product of a dalliance between their mother, a frustrated socialite with a passion for auto mechanics, and a traveling book salesman, and the description of their parentage and childhood is one of the most enjoyable parts of the first book. Although both parents are dead at the beginning of the narrative, the twins are haunted by them, through their father’s boxes of books, delivered annually on their birthdays, which turn them into devoted bibliophiles with extended (sometimes bordering on pretentious) vocabularies, and and by their mother’s ghost, which occasionally appears “in person” but more often makes herself known through the voice of the twins’ parrot, Mrs. Rochester.

A number of secondary characters also pop in and out, sometimes to provide comic relief, sometimes to spur reflection on the part of the twins or the reader. Hector’s girlfriend, Altona Winkler, writes romance novels and tabloid-esque articles in the local paper (both are excerpted); their friends Rae and June run a local cafe called The Well of Loneliness and the second book sees the introduction of their handyman, Caedmon Harkness, who lives in a thatched VW bus with his pet parrot, who is mute. Virgil has a photographic memory for poetry, both serious and comic, and both the twins and their guests (who occasionally take the narrative reins) make numerous recommendations for books of poetry, non-fiction, novels and cookbooks.

While it is a pleasure for the reader to discover new poems through Virgil’s recitations, not everybody will have a taste for one of the books’ dominant running gags, the doggerel moral poetry written by the island’s late resident poet, Solomon Solomon. It will either make you giggle and think, or it will annoy you, and the same could be said of these books’ quirky vocabulary and wordplay and their reflective and slow-moving tone, which sometimes verges on self-indulgent navel gazing. But don’t let me put you off – I wouldn’t be writing about these books if I didn’t enjoy them very much. The first one is definitely best enjoyed in audiobook form, read by the author: the narrative was designed for radio, as Bill Richardson first introduced the characters on CBC radio in the early 90s, and I suspect that the audiobook would be perfect for commuters, as it is divided into short snippets of narrative.

These books will probably be familiar to my Canadian readers (I’m still, frankly, getting used to the idea of having readers! Hello readers!) Richardson won The Stephen Leacock Award for Humour for the first book. But, as I have discussed with friends in Madison, books that are well-known in Canada are not always well known elsewhere, and vice versa, so I hope that I have convinced some new readers to meet Hector and Virgil at the Bachelor Brothers’ Bed and Breakfast!