I’m a reader. Always have been, always will be. I read at night and at the breakfast table, on my breaks at work, and while I’m waiting for Middle Weasel to finish Ringette practice.
But there are some times when it’s not practical to have your nose in a book. When I go running, I’ve found that reading is a hazard to those around me, as well as myself. When I’m ironing, it’s tricky to manage the iron, the garment and the book. Tasks like cleaning the bathroom floor become very tricky.
So it was that a few years ago I became a member of Audible.com. I’d amassed a reasonable collection of audio books on cds, but switching them back and forth between the car and the household cd players had resulted in scratches and lost discs. I was looking for a better solution. Audible have a big range of audio books, and their app can be downloaded to phones, pcs, and tablets. I have it installed on my phone, on my desktop, my kindle and my netbook. I pay a membership fee each month, which entitles me to one free book each month.
The mathematicians out there will be pointing out that my book is not, ACTUALLY free, because I’m paying my monthly membership. And that’s true, but the membership is a flat rate, and it’s often less than the regular price of the book I choose to purchase. Along with that, there are special offers available to members that turn up often, like $4.99 deals, or “Buy one, get one free” offers.
My app told me yesterday that I now have 61 books in my library, which made me think about my most recent acquisitions. There were two books that I bought and listened to quite compulsively. Normally, as I’ve said, the books are background to a dull task, but these two were so engrossing that I used my phone as a portable sound system and listened to them as I walked the dog, drove to work and did the shopping.
The first was a book I had read years before. Neil Gaiman’s “Anansi Boys“, read here by Lenny Henry. (Find the book on Amazon HERE ) In my memory, it had taken on the sinister tone of “American Gods”, a book I’d read much more recently. When it came up on Audible, I began to listen and suddenly remembered how much I had enjoyed it. It was FUNNY! The story has serious moments, even some gruesome ones, but the telling is delightful, the characters far out of the usual way, and Lenny Henry achieves the miraculous in delivering believable voices for people who range from young women to middle aged men to ancient crones. The magic in the story fits well into London and Saint Andrews, and best of all, the ending is more than satisfactory (I have a deep-rooted distrust of ambiguous or downbeat endings).
This, then, was a book I knew once but had forgotten. But a recent offer gave me the chance to try a book I had heard about, but never read. Hugh Howey’s “Wool” had sparked a lot of interest because it began life as a self-published short story, then pressure from friends and readers brought about the novel, which sold so well online that it became a “real” book, then a NYT bestseller. I had resisted getting a copy, because, frankly, it sounded dull. “Wool” as a title made me imagine it was about the wool trade. I’m sure you could write a “Sarum” style history of the wool trade in Europe, and have exciting characters and helicopter chases and so on. I’m sure reviewers would have to work quite hard not to use the phrase “Spins a yarn” when writing about it.
Luckily for everyone, this is NOT what the book is about. “Wool” is actually about the inhabitants of a Silo. They have lived in the silo for generations, knowing that the air outside is toxic, and that talk of wanting to leave, or criticising the silo can get the expelled, forced to clean the sensors that provide the only view of the grim world beyond. Life in the silo is sparse, but bearable. The story begins with the Sheriff, who has served many years, suddenly expressing his desire to go outside. His wife went mad three years before and was sent outside, and now he wishes to go after her, even though her body is clearly visible through the sensors, slumped dead on a nearby hill.
This sounds gloomy, and the truth is that the story IS grim. There are many secrets and conspiracies in the silo, and the good people who rise to the challenge brought about by the Sheriff’s decision don’t always come out of things well. At times I was worried that a bad ending would mean I had listened to the whole story only to be disappointed. However, despite the tension and the grim nature of the events, I think the story ended well, and I’ve since discovered there are sequels – this is the first of a trilogy, but it works well as a standalone tale.
Thanks to audible, I have a great library of stories, read to me by some terrific narrators. The fact that the company is now a subsidiary of Amazon may put some people off, but I don’t mind – Amazon publish my e-books, after all. It also means that I never forget my Audible login, as it’s the same as my Amazon one these days. For someone who hates to be without a book, it’s a great alternative.
I have not been paid by Audible or Amazon for this piece. Although, you know, if they DID decide to pay me a bunch of cash, I wouldn’t say no….