To Listen or Not to Listen: Audiobooks are the Question

Do you listen to audiobooks? I’ve only started listening to them in the past two years, primarily during the walking portion of my daily commute to my Chicago office. The pandemic turned that upside down, of course. (I miss you, Chicago.) Now, as I’m trying to get healthier, I’ve started using audiobooks on my walks around the subdivision. Not as exciting as walking to Michigan Avenue, but I don’t have to navigate around pigeon droppings any more. 🙂

My Rules for Listening to Audiobooks

I have a few rules about audiobooks that I’ve found work best for my listening enjoyment.

  1. Nonfiction listening only. I’ve tried fiction audiobooks, but my mind wanders and I lose track of the characters. I’m much better off listening to nonfiction, particularly memoirs.
  2. The listening time should be less than 10 hours. My interest wanes after about 8 hours, if I’m being honest.
  3. When possible, choose an audiobook with the author as narrator. Only the author truly knows how the words should sound. Listening to Jen Lancaster or David Sedaris read their own memoirs is much better than even the most professional narrator, IMO.
  4. Do an activity while listening, like exercising or sewing, but don’t drive. Never drive while listening. This is how accidents happen. Trust.
  5. Listen at 1.5x to 2.0x playback speed. This definitely varies by the narrator’s speech patterns, but I’m a fast talker and prefer to listen to the same. I haven’t found an audiobook that I enjoyed listening to at 1x.

October Audiobook Marathon

So, with those rules in mind, I’ve been on an October audiobook marathon. Here’s a recap for you.

Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

Have you experienced the great wisdom of Brené Brown? You should. She is a queen in my book. Her research and insights about vulnerability and connection are life-changing. I plan to read the physical book from my bookshelf soon, but for now, listening to Daring Greatly was a good step forward for my own mental health. My only complaint for the audiobook was that I would have loved for Brené to narrate her words here.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

We Should All Be Feminists is a short audiobook, but it’s amazing. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie narrates, and her accent is both soothing and empowering. This is a book for anyone looking for answers about where women should have roles. Spoiler Alert: It’s everywhere!

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

This is my second audiobook by David Sedaris. I didn’t love Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, but Me Talk Pretty One Day is so popular, I didn’t want to miss out. This is another case of how the author-as-narrator makes an audiobook even better. I felt like David was walking next to me while telling me hilarious stories about his life.

Happiness is a Choice You Make by John Leland

You know how sometimes you choose to read a book after only skimming the description and you assume one thing based on the title only to discover that the book is about something very different? Just me? Okay, perfect readers…

I neglected to understand that Happiness is a Choice You Make was about John Leland‘s experiences over a year with the elderly. There were touching moments, but three years after losing my dad and having an aging mother made this book a little too personal in soul-searching ways that I’m not ready to face. Still, I was too far invested into listening before I realized this, so I finished it.

Wolfpack by Abby Wambach

Before listening to Wolfpack, I knew three things about Abby Wambach: 1) she is an excellent soccer player, 2) she is married to Glennon Doyle, who I think is fantastic, and 3) she wrote a book. This short audiobook taught me so much more. Abby is insightful, empowering, and a damn good writer. Her humility and genuine desire for a better humanity shines through here. And again, listening to the author narrate this book made a big difference. I’m a fan.

Get Out of Your Head by Jennie Allen

I really need to pay more attention to the book summaries on my Libby app.

In listening to Get Out of Your Head, I wanted to buy in to more of what Jennie Allen described. I am a Christian, but other than praying each day, I don’t actively participate in my religion. There’s a lot of personal baggage there. I didn’t realize this book was a Christian self-help book, but I took away some valid ways to stop my negative thinking patterns. The book was fine and Jennie is a good narrator, but my own stuff got in the way of truly enjoying it.

What I’m Listening to Now: The Tao of Martha by Jen Lancaster

This weekend I started listening to The Tao of Martha by Jen Lancaster. I read the book when it was released back in 2013 and enjoyed it. I love Jen’s humor and snark, and her memoirs are some of my favorite books ever. Needing a little of that joy right now, I decided to try one of her audiobooks. So far, it’s been a great choice. P.S. – Jen’s recent book, The United States of Anxiety, is an excellent read that I highly recommend.

Do you listen to audiobooks? Tell me some of your favorites!

Crows & The Zombie Apocalypse

What happens when the zombie apocalypse hits and a domesticated crow must seek out survival alongside his pal, Dennis the Dog?

I’d never considered the answer to this question before, but Kira Jane Buxton takes us on a quest to find resolution for S.T. (Sh*t Turd) and Dennis in her book, Hollow Kingdom.

I’m not quite sure what to think after finishing this book, but I am certain about several things.

I am certain that I’ve never read a tome like this before. I am certain that Ms. Buxton writes with fantastic imagery and unique turns of phrase.

I am certain that the anthropomorphic qualities of the animals S.T. and Dennis encounter are both hilarious and tragic, especially the scenes with my favorite animals–elephants.

I am certain that the MoFos (humans) had it coming. Finally, I am certain that creativity like this needs to be celebrated.

Have you read Hollow Kingdom? What unique books surprised you?

This or That: Bookish Brain Edition

I love “This or That.” I often think of these ponderings as “Would You Rather” because my little loves to ask these types of questions. So, I thought I’d write a Bookish Brain This or That post!

I love “This or That.” I often think of these ponderings as “Would You Rather” because my little loves to ask these types of questions. So, I thought I’d write a Bookish Brain This or That post!

Buy or Borrow

Much to my family’s chagrin, I’m a book buyer more than a book borrower. I utilize my library for eBooks, but some books (okay, many books), I need to have my own hard copy. There’s something soothing about holding the pages in my hand.

Print or eBook

I enjoy both print and eBooks. My overall preference is for a hard copy book (see above), but I find I read more quickly via eBook. I’ve found myself buying copies of the same book I’ve read on my Kindle App, just so I can have both. This is especially true for beloved series like Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses, and I’m currently building up my Louise Penny Inspector Armand Garmache collection — there are 16 books in her series, so I have a ways to go!

Also, I buy hard copies of books by authors I love, like Dr. Maya Angelou, Pat Conroy, Jen Lancaster, and Jennifer Weiner. I may never read the books again, but I want to have them in my collection. Yes, I am aware that I’m a book hoarder.

Indoor Reading or Outdoor Reading

This is a toss up. Primarily, I read indoors as I do most of my reading at night. However, I love to sit on our deck and read in the early mornings on the weekend. I guess I’d say I read anywhere.

Classics or Contemporary

As an English lit major, I want to say that I’d pick the classics over contemporary books, but that’s just not true. I’ve found that I don’t enjoy classic literature as much as I used to. And, I can’t stress this enough, there are too many books to read than to force yourself to read what you “think” you should be reading. Case in point, I picked up Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca from my bookshelf recently, thinking that I should finally see why there’s so much love for this classic, especially before the Netflix movie drops. Nope. Couldn’t do it. It felt stiff and the descriptive prose felt too heavy for me. Maybe another time.

Bookmarks or Dog-Eared

Okay. I recognize that this may be my undoing in the Bookish Community, but I dog-ear my pages (sometimes). I’m getting better, but I don’t have many pretty or fun bookmarks, and sometimes I just need to close the book quickly, you know? I’m looking at crafty ways to make bookmarks myself, but for now, I either dog-ear or grab a scrap of paper.

Marginalia or Clean Pages

Writing in the margins of a print book or highlighting sections of an eBook – that’s my jam. Maybe it’s because I watched my father write notes in his books and underline important passages. Maybe it’s because I learned great note-taking skills in college. Or maybe it’s because authors have such amazing messages or poignant turns of phrases that I have to capture their work. In any case, if you see me marking up the marginalia, you know I feel the words in my soul.

P.S. The Goodreads highlights feature is genius.

Speed Reader or Slow and Steady

I devour books, but I’m not as speedy as some friends. If the book is engaging, meaningful, or full of twists, then I will find any spare moment to read–and read quickly. This is the case for most of the tomes I choose. However, other books are more plodding, whether it’s because I’m not truly enjoying it or because I want to savor the prose.

What about you?

What are your “this or that” choices for this list? Do you agree or disagree on my picks?

4 Truths About Mental Illness

I have a mental illness.

Those five words are stark on the page. Despite so much growth in mental health awareness, a powerful stigma remains against mental illness. Is she psychotic? Is she dangerous? Why can’t she just get over it? Just a few of the questions that are bounced around when people come to conversations about mental illness and aren’t familiar with what being mentally ill really looks like.

Having had mental health battles for nearly 28 years and having been diagnosed, misdiagnosed, and re-diagnosed, I have some experience with what mental illness means. I’m not a doctor or a licensed therapist, but I live in the darkness much of the time. Here are four truths I’ve come to realize about mental illness.

1. My mind lies to me.

Depression and anxiety are pretty little liars. Because of my brain chemistry and thought patterns, I’ve set up a nice home for these liars in my mind. Improving my life means I have to rebut those lies on a daily basis and start evicting them.

2. Nature and nurture play roles in my mental health.

It’s not an either/or situation. My heredity and my lifestyle impact my mental illness. I’m predisposed to having a different brain chemistry because there is a history of mental health issues in my family. Life events have caused me to be more depressed, anxious, and to even battle manic episodes at times. We’ll talk more about those at another time. Also? I haven’t done myself any favors by feeding into negative thought patterns, digging deeper trenches in my neural pathways to feed into the depression and anxiety.

3. Taking medicine does not make me weak.

This truth has been a long time coming for me. I have been under a psychiatrist’s care for more than two decades, but I’ve fought the idea of treating my mental health like an actual illness for about just as long. As my dear father once told me, “If you had diabetes, you’d take insulin. Taking care of your brain, and taking medicine for your mental health is just as important.” He was a smart man (I miss him so), and I’ve finally come to understand that using medication to help treat depression and anxiety is not wrong.

4. I’m not a bad person.

My severe depression and generalized anxiety disorder do not control my conscience or my character. They are liars. (See Statement 1.) I need to improve in different areas — as a wife, a mother, a daughter, a human being — but I’m not innately bad because of my mental health.

I know there are more truths here, but these are the four most powerful ones that I’ve realized to date. What would you add?

The Lions of Fifth Avenue

Fiona Davis is one of my favorite historical fiction authors. Her books are rich in story, characters, and setting, checking all the boxes for a great read.

The Lions of Fifth Avenue, Davis’s newest publication, is driven largely by its setting: the New York Public Library, with two intertwined stories occurring 80 years apart.

In 1913, Laura Lyons lives at the newly opened New York Public Library with her husband and two children. As her husband maintains his job as the library’s superintendent and works on his novel, Laura advocates for her own dream of becoming a journalist and is able to enroll at the Columbia Journalism School. When she pursues her schooling and discovers the Heterodoxy Club, where a group of “new women” are vocal about suffrage, health care, and independence, Laura makes choices that deeply impact her family and future. A mystery unfolds at home, with priceless first edition books disappearing from the library stacks.

As Laura’s story unfolds, we meet Sadie Donovan, a single woman in 1993 who works at the New York Public Library. Just as her career as a curator takes an upswing, Sadie is faced with her mother’s death and a crisis at the library that strangely echoes the experiences of her grandmother, Laura, 80 years before. Sadie must grapple with a mystery of her own while learning more about her family’s history.

I really enjoyed this book – another five-star read for me. The New York Public Library setting is just perfect. I would adore living amongst those stacks! Can you imagine living in a library like that glorious institution? It would be heaven on earth for me!

All the Devils Are Here

When an author removes her characters from a beloved setting, does the magic of a series end?

All the Devils Are Here is the newest installment in the tale of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of Three Pines. This book takes use away from that mysterious, beloved Canadian hamlet and places us in Paris, City of Light. This book is about family, secrets, and relationships. I loved the closer look at Gamache’s broken bond with his son, Daniel, and the continued father-son dynamic between Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvior. The novel’s mystery is multi-layered, and the details are brought to life with Penny’s gorgeous prose. While I missed Three Pines and its inhabitants, I can confirm, the magic doesn’t end for Penny here.

This was a 5-star read for me, and it brought laughs and tears. I can’t wait for her next book!

The Grace Year

Booklover Confession: I love a good dystopian novel. Give me a well-crafted fictional setting depicting a “perfect” society where the protagonist questions the rules, and I’m a happy reader. The Grace Year by Kim Liggett fits these requirements.

Tierney is a complex heroine and her fight to make life better for all women is full of characters and action that made me question what would happen next, as well as what happens to women in today’s society. I read this book in about 24 hours and enjoyed every minute.

The Vanishing Half

I knew The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett was going to be a good read. I didn’t account for “good” not being a strong enough qualifier for how amazing this book really is. Bennett is a genius at telling stories, weaving together multiple points of view, and creating characters who jump off the page.

The relationship between twins has always fascinates me, and The Vanishing Half takes this relationship one step further – what if one twin chooses to abandon a part of herself that is inherent to them both? This book explores race, colorism, sisterhood, and gender issues with eloquence and an unflinching grace.

The Mothers

Friendship, love triangles, maternal relationships, and an undercurrent of religion and matriarchal observations. That’s what Ms. Bennett presents to us in The Mothers while gifting us with her beautiful prose and complex characters.

I felt empathy for each of the main characters – Nadia, Aubrey, and Luke – while reading this book. I felt for their decisions and their questions of what-could-have-been. The Mothers’ voices were strong as well, and I enjoyed how fully developed the supporting players were – like Nadia’s dad, Robert.

This is a character-driven novel about decisions, loss, and moving forward. A recommended read from me!

Followers

Book Review: Followers by Megan Angelo

Followers is a cautionary tale that questions the right to privacy, the price of fame and financial security, and the desire to be loved. In a world driven by technology, I found some of the plot line to be almost too real – like some of these things Ms. Angelo describes could actually happen. (The irony of me posting a review on social media is not lost here.)

In Constellation, CA, in the year 2051, character’ lives are determined by the number of followers they have on a new social platform and the sponsorships they’ve agreed to. Marlow starts to question everything and proceeds on a journey to find answers.

In New York City, in the years 2015-2016, Orla and Floss want better lives for themselves, and they soon make decisions that will impact a greater audience than they anticipated.

Followers transitions from setting to setting with ease, as we learn more about Marlow, Orla, and Floss, as well as how the world changed so dramatically in 36 years.

I enjoyed this book and will continue to think about it, which makes it a solid 4⭐ for me.