Hear the classics – Free audiobooks

If you’ve always wanted to trial an audiobook, but hadn’t yet got around to it, then perhaps now is the time.

I’ve just discovered a post 20 Popular High School Books Available as Free eBooks & Audio Books on Open Culture. Here, there are links to all sorts of classics like Huckleberry Finn, the Great Gatsby, To Kill  a Mockingbird and Pride and Prejudice – all available as FREE audiobooks.

This would be immensely valuable to students covering some of the classics in their school studies, as well as for those of us who would like to revisit a golden oldie but with limited time to do so. Just visit some of the suggested links to upload to your mobile device and start ‘reading’!

the Inheritance of Loss – Kiran Desai

the-inheritance-of-loss1As mentioned in an earlier post, I have been ‘reading’ (via a CDs-and-book combination) ‘the Inheritance of Loss’ – a book by Kiran Desai which won the Man Booker Prize in 2006. I had picked it up in my search for books reflecting issues of globalisation.

Set mainly in the foothills of the Himalayas, it tells the stories of several characters interwoven by family and work relationships, amid the legacies of post-colonial India, and the local struggles for political independence. Position, power and politics all play a part in this tale – with some predictable outcomes – and a perspective into cultures quite different from my own.

Since finishing (and enjoying) this book, I have searched to see how others had reviewed and found a mix of praise and criticism for the prize winner. Some reviews were quite effusive in their compliments, while others decried Desai as using too many stereotypes and betraying the culture of many Indian people groups.

Comments used in reviews include:

  • a series of parallel stories… each quixotic
  • ‘literature of tourism’ – a fascinating introduction to a particular time and place
  • overwhelmed by detail
  • gripping stories of people buffeted by the winds of history, personal and political
  • the book gets under your skin
  • a bleak view of the clash of the ‘first world’ with the ‘third world’

(Most of these comments from: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/95186.The_Inheritance_of_Loss)

It’s interesting to see the polarisation of reviews which often occurs with awarded books. These also made me wonder how the book might be received differently based on your ethnic background – would people who lived in, or knew the ethnic cultures, be accepting as I was of the way characters were portrayed and acted in the tale? Is that where the acceptance or rejection of the novel diverges greatly? Perhaps based on our own cultural baggage?

‘Reading’ using an audio production may have had an input to my enjoyment of the novel, read as it was by experienced narrator, Sam Dastor. This gave accents and voice to the characters which my personal reading-from-the-page may have missed. It certainly gave me things to laugh at in the car, as humour was interwoven with the daily struggles of Sai, Biju, Noni and Lola, and the Judge. And the language Desai uses is, at times playful, at other times precise, reflective and colourful. Perhaps that is why I also felt the need to purchase a physical copy of the book – and to see the shape of her words, and to see the names of the people and places in the tale.

I recommend picking up either copy (audio or book), or, as I did, try both! As usual comments and feedback welcome!


Audiobook: Chanda’s Secrets

I have recently been looking into audiobooks through some of the free options offered by the Sync community for Young Adults. Through this option, I have been able to trial both contemporary and classic novels suitable for teenagers.

One of several books I have downloaded and enjoyed recently is ‘Chanda’s Secrets’, written by Allan Stratton. It is a tale that follows a young African girl facing the challenges and impacts of AIDS, both in her family and community.

It begins with Chanda, as a 16 year old, organizing a funeral for her baby sister. Her mother (Lillian) is grief-stricken, unable to cope with Sarah’s death, and her sister’s father is incapacitated (or drunk, or both). This is one of the many things Chanda has to deal with, as we slowly begin to understand how life is for the poor underclass in the shanty towns of many African countries.

As the eldest surviving sister, she  cares for her both her mother and her young siblings, Iris (6) and Soly (3) who fail to understand that Sarah is dead – mamma hasn’t told them. Life for Chanda has involved a number of father figures – her mother moving from one abusive relationship to another. And, in that, there have been big consequences for Chanda.

Life is hard. Her best friend, Esther seems to be taking the easy way out – ‘befriending tourists’ while putting herself in dangerous situations – an occasional bruise or cut being testament to that. But Esther is an orphan with a different perspective to Chanda, which Chanda both questions and almost accepts – unlike many others in the small community of Bonang.

Routines for many families in Chanda’s world include funeral and burial activities. Indeed, Chanda regularly visits the graves of her father and brothers at the local cemetery, and that of her neighbour, Mrs. Tafa’s, first husband . Unfortunately, it’s all just part of life. Also part of life is the unwillingness of the community to put a name to the sickness that is claiming many of its people. However, they are quite happy to shun any family members with a hint of that curse.

‘Chanda’s Secrets’ is all about family loyalty, pride, love and caring. In the end, Chanda feels ‘ashamed of being ashamed’. Her mother travels back to Tiro, where Chanda was born, and where her extended family still lived. But when Chanda goes to find her mother to bring her back to Iris and Soly, she learns even more about how harsh the world can be.

To hear the story told, rather than read, from Chanda’s perspective gave me time to think and see things from her point of view. Clever presentation also helped to provide different voices for each of the other characters in the story, and to bring the story alive. It still could have been helpful to have a physical book to check now and then, even if only to check how words, like places and names, were spelt, and to provide an idea of how far into the story the reading had gone. However, the whole audiobook experience was an enjoyable one for this particular book. (And previously, for Kirin Desai’s ‘Inheritance of Loss’).

Some books, but not all, will lend themselves well to the audibook experience – which books would you like to ‘read’ in this way? Are there any you don’t think would work?

## Chanda’s Secrets has been made into a movie, titled ‘Life, Above All’… See the ‘offcial'(sic) trailer below. It is also followed by a sequel by Allan Stratton called ‘Chanda’s War’ – reviewed by ReadPlus here.