How to find great audiobooks

June is Audiobooks Month, and I'm seriously celebrating!

And you can, too. 

Here are some ways to find great audiobooks.

Of course. Ask your librarian for some suggestions! (We love that.)

Personal recommendation

First, you know know an avid audiobook listener, ask that person! A friend of mine did this recently, and it totally made my day to suggest audiobooks to her.  

Yeah, you’re gonna want the Audies website.
Every year AudioFile gives Audie awards to audiobooks in tons of categories, so all you have to do is find a category you like, and listen to a winner. These are all solid choices. They’re also safe bets if you want to venture outside your usual reading comfort zone, because the Audie’s have got you covered: this stuff’s gonna be great.

Listen to audiobook samples online. They’re available all over the place: your library catalog and eAudiobook apps; Audible; Because let's face it: some audiobook narrators are going to make you want to reach for headphones of the voice-cancelling variety. Some narrators’ voices, you're just not gonna like. It’s OK. Just “acknowledge and move on,” as my wise and hilarious friend would intone.

My fellow audio addicts... What's your favorite way to discover new audiobooks?

Bookish tourist: Dragonfly Books

3 words: delighted, blissful, satiated

On our recent trip to my home state of Iowa, the Dear Man and I seriously touristed it up.

The aim of the trip: canoeing the Upper Iowa River. 

And that was pure delight. The Dear Man squired me around in a canoe while I ate snacks (and occasionally paddled). This was our 4th river, and it was the bluffiest of the bunch.

93 degrees and Iowa-humid? We got this.

And then there was All The Other Stuff.

This included a bookstore visit. (Of course it did.)

We stopped by Dragonfly Books in beautiful downtown Decorah. It's a new-ish bookstore, and it's super cute. 

I liked all the things: their displays, their selection, their layout. 

And I bought this book, by Stephen King, which has been on my TBR forever. 

So excited!

 And we stopped by a stone cottage built by a Revolutionary War veteran, and there was a darling Little Free Library installed by a Girl Scout!

Well done, sister Scout!

And we visited my college campus (Go, Norse!) and I showed the Dear Man all the important places, like the path where my friends and I impersonated the Dead Poets Society guys in our duffel coats.

And Mabe’s Pizza: we ate there. 

(I can't imagine who ate that tiny corner piece of pizza 
on my side of the table, before the photo was even taken.)

And Dunnings Spring: we walked there. 

And there were trolls, because: Norwegians. 


And there was a cave tour and rhubarb pie and a hidden military cemetery and a drive-in and an old fort and a roadside stand and ice cream at the Whippy Dip.
We seriously get around.

So, my fellow book lovers... What are your bookish travel plans this summer?

Hoarders Not-So-Anonymous

Mess: One Man’s Struggle to Clean Up His House and His Act by Barry Yourgrau

3 words: snarky, self-effacing, personal
Reading the memoir of a hoarder is something that completely wouldn't happen in my world, except that when Bybee wrote about this book, I knew I had to read it.

And then (this is so excellent I can hardly stand it), after I said so on her blog, she sent it to me!

Dang, I adore book bloggers.

Thank you, Bybee darlin’, for the book mail!

So: the book. This is the type of memoir that, if done badly, could devolve into whiny navel-gazing. Fortunately, this fellow can really write. 

And he allows the reader inside his secret world of needless (my word) souvenirs and sentimental objects and piled-up paraphernalia. His apartment got so bad, he wouldn't let his girlfriend see it.

I had an immediate Gretchen Rubin flashback: one of her secrets of adulthood is “Pay careful attention to anything you try to hide.”

And I thought, Dude, you are in some serious trouble.

But it turns out OK in the end, and I think it’s largely due to the fact that this guy really owns his crap.

Literally, figuratively, in all the ways.

And it’s kind of funny that he sort of wants to be identified as a hoarder, but also dreads that designation. It’s almost like he wants the diagnosis so he can name the Thing, but also fears that he’s One Of Those People.

If this book lacked a happy ending (he deals with his stuff), I think I’d’ve felt dissatisfied.

But since there was some personal growth going on here, including some interesting family revelations, the book had a nice -- dare I say “neat”? -- wrap-up at the end.

Now this girl is off to deal with that tote bag cache that continues to grow, despite my best efforts to keep it under control.

OK, guys... So what’s your not-so-shameful, quasi-hoarding weakness?

The most bookish cities in America

Their #3 is my #1 city
Who doesn't like a good list? And if you're hanging out here, then you also like a good book. 

So when there's a list of the 20 most well-read cities... I don't know about you, but I sure get excited. 

My only quarrel: it's based on Amazon sales, which completely neglects to factor in library use. And some of us are huge library users!

(In Amazon's calculations, I'm a reading lightweight!)

But anyway. That's what this list is about, and we're gonna roll with it. 

So in this Amazon sales contest, Seattle's the winner, but my all-time favorite city comes in a highly respectable 3rd. 

Then I started thinking of cities that are literary because of their culture, rather than just their online book-buying habits, and I found this article, which lists the top literary cities in America. 

And this list, I liked even better. It's even got Iowa on it! The literary cities list looks like a great list of travel destinations. 

What's your favorite literary city?

The residence of the Presidents

The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Andersen Brower
3 words: dishy, insider, personal

Dear The Residence,
I enjoyed every guilty-pleasure minute we hung out together.

Except when I didn’t.

Here’s the thing.

I appreciate hearing the inside stories about what it’s like to work at the White House, and the dedication it requires. I’m all about the inside-baseball workplace narratives. 

And I like the fact that the many heroes of the book are the behind-the-scenes people who make sure the clocks keep ticking and the silver is sparkling and the floral arrangements are fresh and beautiful. 


Sometimes these stories make me feel like the storytelling’s gone a little too far. Do we really need to hear about various First Ladies’ worst moments of losing their temper?

I know. It's dishy and it sells books. 

And I know. It's part of the story of what it's like to work at the White House. There are personalities involved. 

But then there's this.

Upon moving into the White House, First Families are told that the residence staff will maintain the families' privacy.

So when we hear stories, told by various residence staff members, of First Ladies and other family members saying things in private that were meant to stay in private… I feel uncomfortable. And it makes me concerned about the level of confidence that future First Families will have about their own privacy being respected.

So, dang.

And the worst part is: I’m part of the problem, because I gobbled you right up.
And I understand why your author included those anecdotes. If you're told these tales, you're gonna feel that you should share them to complete the story. But I still wish they weren't there. 

So, I appreciate your shining a light on the tireless people who work at the White House. They make the work look easy (it ain't), and much of the time they work near-miracles practically invisibly. It's a remarkable thing. I’m grateful to learn more about their work and their devotion.

But when I recall some of the private moments that were revealed, even though they were only a tiny little part of this book… I gotta say, it makes me uncomfortable.

The Residence, I just can't rest completely easy within your pages.

You’re a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. 

[sad sigh]

Unruly Reader

My boxcar days

Hello! to my hardcover children's classics
Anyone else old-school enough in their childhood reading, that they were completely obsessed by The Boxcar Chidren

Yeah, me, too.

I still think about that book sometimes -- how the children were so resilient and hardworking and honest and kind and cheerful. 

They made do, with so little! And they liked it!

It feeds that part of me that keeps reading all the self-improvement books

(I know: annoying and sickeningly earnest.)

So when I saw this headline, I got super excited: 
"The Boxcar Children" and the Spirit of Capitalism

It's an article in the New Yorker by Jia Tolentino, and it explores the Puritanical work ethic stuff in the book. 

And the inevitable happy ending. 

Pretty darn fascinating. 

I was a little afraid the article would rip the book to shreds, which I don't think it does. It's a critique, but an intriguing, fair-minded one. 

And it goes gently on the way the book led into a mystery series about the same children. I loved, loved, loved those mysteries, even though I knew they were kind of a strange spin-off from the original book with its old-fashioned notions. Suddenly, the kids are solving crimes

But heck. I'm still a sucker for a good mystery.

Anyone else a Boxcar Children fan? Original book or series... or both? 

Beach book

The Violets of March by Sarah Jio

3 words: quietly dramatic, romantic, family secrets

First, a few observations:
  1. Sarah Jio. Why had everyone else on earth heard of her, while I remained oblivious?
  2. It occurred to me that the alternate title could be The Clue in the Diary.*
  3. Apparently I've become one of those readers who yells, "Don’t do it!!” at characters in books.**

Here’s how the book got on my radar: 
Sarah Jio's name came up at BEA during a conversation about women’s fiction. So I asked Katie of Words for Worms, who was all knowledgeable and helpful and modest about it, and she told me everything I needed to know about Jio. 

Then I did the Good Reads “Want to Read” thing.

And a couple of weeks later… I’d been casting about for a good Beach Read for Book Bingo Blackout, and I realized this book fit the bill.

There were even beaches in it!

And a woman reinventing herself after a horrible experience, and family secrets from the past, and an old diary with mysterious clues, and an island setting, and budding romance, and a marvelous great-aunt.

I like all of these things.

And Jio weaves them together into a story that had me paying close attention to my eAudiobook, even while sorting the laundry. (Sometimes my mind really wanders while I’m doing that. I really like doing the laundry. [I know: Sick.])

I’m notoriously picky about reading more than one book by an author, so this is a big statement, even though I’m using careful language so as not to over-commit:

I might listen to another Sarah Jio book one day. 

So... wanna spill? What author did you discover late in the game? 

*Nancy Drew mystery. You knew that though, right?

**Woman! When the lying, cheating ex-husband calls, you don’t consider a reconciliation even for a split second!

The push-pull of the classics

"Classic" A book which people praise and don't read. 
                                                   -- Mark Twain

I wouldn't say I have a love / hate thing with the classics (it's really not that dramatic), but we could probably call it an aversion / affection thing. 

I confess that I can't recall the last time I read a classic without some provocation: book club, book bingo, genre study.

Something in me says, "That book… That book is gonna be work.”

And sometimes it is.

But almost always, it's worth it.

Still, when I saw this completely luscious display of the Word Cloud Classics at Book Expo, I had the usual mixed response: total book lust (they're such beautiful books!) blended with “Please don't make me read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow!”

And then I feel like a very bad person.

People, here’s the harsh truth of the matter: I’m a lazy reader.

But I’m also all about the self-improvement.  

So when one of the book club ladies suggests we read a classic, I stop myself from doing the knee-jerk groan, and I say, “I've also wanted to read that.”

Meaning: I wish it were over, but soon it will be, and then I'll be enriched by the experience and everyone’ll be happy.

But first: a little bit of inward cringing, because… That book is gonna be work.

That sports book that's way more

Chasing Water: Elegy of an Olympian by Anthony Ervin and Constantine Markides 
3 words: introspective, unflinchingly honest, surprising

The book I can't stop talking about? It's this one.

Ervin and Markides have written themselves one doozy of a memoir / biography mash-up.

This book’s got in goin’ on in multiple ways.

First, the structure is fascinating. If you like books with multiple viewpoints, you're gonna love this thing. Ervin and Markides share the storytelling, and the story is so much more interesting than it would've been with only one viewpoint. Ervin tells his story in his own words, which brings an intimacy and an immediacy to the narrative. But Markides’s writing about Ervin is equally fascinating, because we see him from two angles.

Second, Ervin's story is so outrageous and complex, it's only believable because it's actually true. No way you'd get me to buy this story if it were fiction.
Dude won the gold medal in 50 meter freestyle at the 2000 Olympics, then fell off the face of the Earth.

Except really, he fell into and out of school, drug abuse, homelessness, tattooing, rock & roll, cigarette smoking, nearly every type of high-risk behavior imaginable, and all kinds of different belief systems. He nearly wrecked himself.

Then, in 2011, he started swimming again. 
And by 2012, he qualified for the Olympic team. 

It's pretty stunning.

Roll in there, the fact that he has Tourette's, is half African-American and half Jewish (but doesn't particularly identify with either group), and is training for the 2016 Olympics right this minute, and People, We've Got Ourselves a Story Here.

This book is a very intriguing look inside the mind of an elite athlete who’s also a philosopher.

And the book contains remarkable descriptions of Ervin’s form as a swimmer. Markides had me breathless when I read these words: 

“It was strange to reconcile the unhurried, cerebral Ervin I knew with the swift aquatic creature slicing toward me. But it wasn’t even his speed that astonished me so much as the way in which he traveled through the water--although ‘through’ isn’t even exactly right. There was something in his swimming I’d never seen before: he seemed to swim not through the water but over it.” (95)

Yowser, guys. That’s some good stuff there. 

(He's the one in mint green.)

So yeah. This book, I couldn’t put it down. It’s not the usual heroic sports story; it’s way more more nuanced than that.

I’m grateful to Ervin for “torching his soul” to write this book, and to Markides for writing such a stunning, close third-person view of Ervin’s story thus far. 
Anyone else gonna be watching the Olympic trials to look for the guy with the sleeves?

Reader confessions

Since we're among friends here, I'm gonna tell you some things I normally wouldn't cop to.

Yep, we're talking shameful, embarrassing reader confessions here today. 

These are things I actually do. (They're actually things I always do.)

  • I look at the photo sections of nonfiction books before I actually start reading.

    • If there are no photos, I do the severe Unruly internal frown. (Nonfiction books: ya gotta have photos!)

  • I totally judge books by their covers.

  •  I check out a spare audiobook that I know I won’t get to for a while, because what if I don’t like the one I’m listening to first?   [seriously: almost twitching at the thought]

  • I hardly ever buy books for myself, because: libraries!

  • I don’t like receiving books as gifts, because I’m hella picky about what I read.  

So, yeah. Some of that stuff ain't pretty. 

Anyone else got any bookish weirdness you wanna share on the interwebs?