Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My New Found Love For Audio Books

A few months ago, my book club had decided to read Dracula. I don't know if you've read or seen a copy of Bram stoker's Dracula, but it's incredibly long. I started freaking out because I was worried I wasn't going to be able to finish it. But, then I remembered I had downloaded a free iPod app for free audio books. The website has volunteers (yes, even you can read for them) read books, poems, short stories, essays, etc. that are in the public domain. It's all free (hence the volunteer readers part).

And that's right, Dracula is in fact in the public domain! I quickly found the audio book and started listening. I was saved! I listened to it at work and at home. The only downside? Because it's free and all volunteer readers, you don't always get the best narration.

What do you mean, Mattie? As long as you're "reading" it, why does it matter who reads it? Oh... let me tell you, friend, it makes a huge difference. Here, I'll show you:

There were a few really great, enjoyable people (I could only get a link to the full chapter the person reads, so listen for a bit (perhaps starting half way through) and then come back here):

Click here to listen to Reader 1
Click here to listen to Reader 2
Click here to listen to Reader 3
(As you can tell, I fancy the male, British readers...)

Then there were a few okay, tolerable readers that were only slightly irritating, but I got through it:
Click here to listen to Reader 1
Click here to listen to Reader 2
Click here to listen to Reader 3

But then, there were truly terrible people (well in this case, just one), that thought Dracula was a really melodramatic Harlequin romance novel and called for really breathy narration:

Click here to listen (go to middle to get full effect)

This same person read the last two chapters! I could barely get through hers when she read a chapter in the middle of the novel, but luckily she was a tiny bit better at the end. Only, she decided to read Van Helsing's parts with a weird accent that didn't add to the visualization but instead just made it hard to understand.

Click here and here to listen (same person, but the ending chapters... so a little better, minus the ridiculous accent for Van Helsing, which can be found towards the beginning of the second link).

But, I did get through it, and for the most part it was an enjoyable experience. It converted me to audio books, and I listened to other ones. It helped me finally finish Pride and Prejudice! (Yay! I'm no longer a failure as an English major!) I also bought some other audio books (definitely worth the money) from audible.com for the following month's book club after Dracula.

I now LOVE audio books. Granted, it's not the same as reading the actual book (which I will still try to keep doing), but it helps so much (especially if you get really good readers) because you can listen to it in the car, and while you're working or exercising. It's amazing! Well, except of course when you get a dramatic, romance-novel-type reader, in which case you might be better off just reading the book yourself. In fact... I think I will. When I get a chapter/book up on that website read by me, I'll let you know!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

November--Speed Reading

I was hoping that by me doing speed reading it would be a quick thing. The month of November was pretty crazy for me (you know... making a wedding cake and all). I bought A Complete Idiot's Guide to Speed Reading, and I read about four chapters and then gave up.

If I really concentrate, I can read fast. But, my problem is that most of the time, I read to read, not to get information, which is why speed reading is kind of hard for me. I got to the point where I started "speed reading" the speed reading book.

A major point in the guide is that you're supposed to practice and time yourself. Well, I really didn't have time to do either let alone finish reading the book! I'll have to revisit it again, so I can really get better at speed reading.

But, at this point in time, my secret to speed reading is... audio books.

December is the last one in my "learn something new every month" resolution. Let's hope I finish out strong.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Texas White Christmas

So I realize that my most recent post gave the impression that I have been rather lacking in Christmas spirit. Lest you worry, I wanted to clear up the fact that I did find some in time for Christmas. Turns out viewing a few choice films from the canon really did the trick.

Granted, I don't think I'll ever obtain the child-like glee I once had about Christmas (except perhaps when I have children of my own), but for now, I'm ok with that. I have been rather busy these last few weeks with trying to prepare for Christmas. Last week I was baking up a storm I tell you! But luckily, the busy-ness subsided this week and I was able to enjoy a rather relaxing Christmas Eve and day.

Now, living in Texas, there is no way I would expect there to be a "white Christmas." It just couldn't possibly happen. But, lucky for me Texas tried the best it could. Perhaps it was the constant playing of "Let it Snow" and other snow and winter-related songs on the radio, or maybe it was the 24/7 showing of "White Christmas" on A&E. Whatever it was, on Christmas eve afternoon it started snowing! Now, it wasn't enough to play in, or enough to really coat the ground (like I said it's Texas), but it was good enough for me.

(This was during the day when it started snowing.)
(This was Christmas eve night when it was still snowing.)

The snow stuck around for most of the morning on Christmas day, but eventually it turned into ice and then slowly melted by the afternoon. It was fun while it lasted. I guess all the dreaming of a white Christmas with all those Christmas cards I wrote and sent on the 23rd really worked!

Hope y'all had a very merry Christmas! And if you don't celebrate this holiday, I hope you had a good day staying at home since practically everything was closed!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Feeling a Little "Scrooge-ish"

When I was younger, I used to love Christmas. I mean, I still do, but I used to go all out. I was one of those people that started listening to Christmas music early, sometimes even as early as July (yeah... I was one of those people...). I couldn't wait till the day after Thanksgiving when my family would put up the tree and all the decorations. Wrapping presents was my fave! Even after I knew about Santa Claus, I still couldn't wait till Christmas morning and to see the excited looks on my family's faces when we each took turns opening our gifts.

While Christmas is still one of my favorite holidays, the last couple of years my joy and excitement for the season has gone down. I really didn't help my family put up much of the decorations; I haven't been listening to Christmas music all that much. I'm still excited about giving presents, but the normal Christmas spirit, I feel, is lacking and in turn leaving me feel Scrooge-ish.

My thing is, I've been thinking about it, but I can't figure out why. I'm really trying to be a little more cheery, but I'm not my usual Christmas self. Is this how it's going to be now, now that I'm all grown up? I hope not. I have no excuse not to be in a good mood, but for some reason, Christmas is feeling a bit like a thing I have to do/get done, rather than what it's actually supposed to be: A celebration of Christ's birth.

I'm slightly getting back in the spirit, I'm just a little behind. Hopefully, I'll be up to speed by the time Christmas rolls around. Snap out of it, Mattie! Remember the reason for the season! :)

Maybe I just need a pint of eggnog and to watch some movies from the Christmas canon.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Christmas Movie Canon

That's right, there's a Christmas movie canon, just like there's a scripture canon and a literature canon. If anything, the Christmas movie is just as sacred and important as the other canons in the world. And just like every canon contains differing things with every person you ask, the Christmas movie one is different depending on you and your family.

There are, however, a few classics that are pretty much required to be present in your family's Christmas Movie Canon:
1. It's a Wonderful Life: There is a law (I'm sure) that says it is not Christmas unless you watch this movie. The end.
2. White Christmas: While this one is not quite as important as "It's a Wonderful Life," it is still one of those movies that helps ring in Christmas. I mean, who doesn't love Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye cross dressing? (If for some reason the musical aspect of this movie is too much for you, feel free to add/replace this with "Miracle on 34th Street" (old school or remake).)
3. Some version of A Christmas Carol: Come on, there's like 500 versions, surely you can pick one to include in your Christmas canon. Personally, I have two--Scrooged and The Muppet Christmas Carol.
4. A claymation/animated classic: It's just not a true Christmas season without watching at least one of the claymation/animated movies. Take your pick: Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (my choice), The Little Drummer Boy, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, The Year Without a Santa Claus, A Charlie Brown Christmas, not to mention the Disney/Mickey Mouse Christmas movies; heck, I'd even let you count The Nightmare Before Christmas if you wanted!
5. A Modern Christmas movie: Although I tend to pick many in this genre to include in my own canon, you can just pick one if you want (or can). Here's the one's I pick--Elf, The Santa Clause (I could care less about the sequels), The Polar Express (which could be considered an animated also), The Grinch, Christmas Vacation, and Love Actually (which isn't explicitly a Christmas movie, but it's set during Christmastime, so it's good enough for me). There are plenty more (and new ones come out every year) then these. If anything, turn on the Lifetime or Hallmark channels (or ABC Family) during the season, and you will be barraged with thousands of made for TV modern Christmas movies (many are cheesy and predictable though, just to warn you).
6. Lastly, A Christmas Story: If you have not seen this movie, you have obviously lived a terrible, deprived childhood. If you've seen it and didn't like it, I encourage you to give it another chance and don't watch it for an explicit plot or moral life lesson. If you're telling me, "Look, Mattie, no matter how much you plead, I am not going to like this movie!" then I am sorry for you. If you have already made up your mind, then there is no way I can convince you. Go watch "A Christmas Vacation" or a few Hallmark/Lifetime Christmas movies to make up for the gaping hole in your Christmas movie canon. For the rest of you, this movie is an American Christmas classic. It is silly, hilarious, and just all together enjoyable for the whole family. It completes any Christmas movie canon.

And with that said, it completes my Christmas movie canon. How is yours shaping up?