The Lit Maven

Archive for September 2010

Technology has opened up a lot of new ways to read.  Since Amazon’s Kindle exploded on the market in 2007, the art (or science?) of reading has changed.  The debate continues, though:  Do I digitally read or do I read the old-fashioned way?  Will I miss that comforting feeling of physically holding a book in my hands, the feel of turning the pages, the joy of seeing a much-loved book on my shelves?  Will books “go away” all together, leaving heaps of Kindles and Nooks behind? Will libraries disappear only to re-emerge in the Virtual Universe?  In various industries, the pharmaceutical industry for one, they all but have.  I love my Kindle.  I love the portability (yes, I take a good dozen books with me on vacation), the contrast (able to read the device outside at high noon as well as in very low light), the convenience (WhisperNet, I love you!).  Not only has the digital book industry grown over the past few years, but so has the audiobook industry.  Statistics don’t lie – people are listening to their favorite books now.  Sales of audiobooks and audiobook downloads are up 17% in 2008 and 21% in 2009.  For nine years, I drove 45 minutes to work each day each way and began my love affair with the art of listening to books then.  Starting with audiocassettes about five years ago, I switched to CD’s when the technology changed.   And now?  MP3 downloads — the convenience, the storage on a small device, less clutter, better quality.  Audiobooks allow me to return to a time when Mom read to me.  There is a caveat, however. They must be well narrated.  Most authors are not very good at reading their own books.  Lisa Genova of Still Alice is monotone.  The anger and pain of the family watching their matriarch slide into Alzheimer’s are delivered in a drab delivery.  Better to read this one in book or in digital book form.  An exception is Paul Auster.  The Book of Illusions is a good narration by an author — moody, dark, well-toned — a nice listen.  Would Charles Dickens have narrated his own books?  Not sure, but to have missed the rich tones and facets of so many entertaining characters of Our Mutual Friend narrated by David Timson would be criminal.  British actor Jim Dale has been listed in the Guiness Book of World Records for voicing the most characters in an audiobook ever.  Throughout the Harry Potter audio series, he gives life to over 200 characters — each one unique.  Genius!  Recently, I became acquainted with Audie-award winner, Kathryn Kellgren‘s narratives.  Try out Austenland or the Bloody Jack series — pure paradise for the ears!  There are many companies that offer audiobooks for rent and for sale.  Some like Amazon’s partner,, have only downloads for sale.  Others, like The and Just offer CD rentals as well as downloads.  Can’t part with your cassette or CD players?  It’s difficult to find new copies of audiobooks on cassettes (and getting to be more difficult on CDs), but you can find used items on Albris, Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  What are the costs?  Competitive.  Most audiobook dealers have memberships via monthly or annual fees.  These fees will cost roughly $7.49 (for newcomers) to $14.95. If you buy annual memberships, each book credit will cost $12.50 or under.  There are membership perks as well.  I downloaded a wonderfully narrated, excellent quality rendition of A Christmas Carol read by Tim Curry as a gift from  Just recently, I received an email offer to buy three audiobooks for two credits.  All of the audiobook dealers I checked will allow you to download samples before  you buy.  I also recommend reading customer reviews. Customers seem to comment more honestly on vocal nuances and download quality much better than professional reviewers.  Your public library may have downloads for free as well – so check it out!  Warning: watch out for a site called  The last time a book was added to its collection was February, 2008.  They also hawk an MP3 book reader called Archos with 1000 books already loaded and is the size of a small truck.  Why would I want that when I have a Zune and the Reader on my iPhone?  Not only that, the books are not really free.  Check other sites for free downloads as well – you can get classics, but the quality may be poor.  For more information about the audiobook industry, check out the APA (The Audiobook Publishing Association) that sponsors the Audies each year – awards for the best audiobooks of the year.  Enjoy reading with your ears!
Recently, I became embroiled in a conversation about Microsoft Office 2010, Word in particular.  A very intelligent, multilingual IT Guy  could not figure out how to change the space between the bullets and text on his resume.  He had at least 1.5 inches — too much whitespace and, in someone else’s jargon, looked out-of-place.  "That’s the default," he said tearfully. "I can’t figure out where the custom menu is for bullets!"  Some in the room were speechless. An IT Guy who couldn’t find something on a computer?  Others shook their heads in agreement – the "normal" toolbar worked just fine in Word 2003 – if it ain’t broke, why upgrade?  Those of us who have gotten over the initial shock and dislike of the now-famous ribbon can identify a little.  I remember looking at this Fluent User interface thinking, "Great!  Another new thing I have to learn!"  But, learn I did – and quickly.  Aren’t we all accustomed to the rapid changes made on a seemingly daily basis in the computer industry?  The ribbon (or "tabbed toolbar") has been embraced by Microsoft and has been incorporated in the Office Suite as a staple since 2007.  A ribbon is an interface that places menu items side by side in tabs.  This technology did not originate with Microsoft.  Lotus and Macromedia, among others, pioneered this idea as early as 1999.  Microsoft is currently seeking a patent on the tabbed toolbar.   In 2007, an uproar over the ribbon began.  Some said that power users would take too long to master the ribbon.  If this is the case, these power users are working on minimum torque.  My cat, Todd, could learn how to use a ribbon with a little nudge to his furry side.  Okay, I get it.   You’re busy, no time to learn all the great features so that you can access all of the great features in Office products really quickly.  My advice:  Take The Time.   Flustered by the ribbon?  As always, Microsoft provides help online, offline, within the product and from your next door neighbor.  F1 still works!  Click on each tab and take a look at what is in there.  Click on the question mark on the upper right hand corner of your screen.  Take a look at the ribbon tutorials offered by Microsoft for Office 2007.  Some things have changed in 2010, so if you have the product or if you are planning to install it, visit the Getting Started with Office 2010 then choose your poison in the left hand frame.  You can also find some videos on this page.  For example, you can learn how to use the ribbon in PowerPoint in under 2 1/2 minutes!   Who knows?  You may even learn how to place your bullets properly!