Audiophile Files: Literate Housewife

There is, quite likely, no other blogger out there more dedicated to audiobooks than Jennifer Conner of Literate Housewife. Winner of last year’s brand-new Audie Award for Blogger of the Year and mastermind behind the Armchair Audies, Jennifer is a go-to resource for all things audiobook.

I called Jennifer recently to talk about books that are better in audio, her favorite narrators, and whether or not listening to an audiobook counts as reading.

[Judy Oldfield] Let’s start by talking about the name of your blog, Literate Housewife. You’re not actually a housewife, correct?

[Jennifer Conner] No, in my dreams only. Actually, I think I’d probably go crazy. It was actually my husband who came up with that name. It just stuck. I guess it became part of my identity.

[JO] It’s catchy. You focus a lot on audiobooks on your blog. Why are audiobooks so important to you?

[JC] Having kids and having a commute I was trying to figure out how to get more reading time in. I had been adverse to audiobooks, thinking it’s not really reading. When I realized I could get more reading in with audiobooks I decided to give it a try. Also, my kids weren’t going to sleep very well, and I was laying in their room for an hour a night and I could [have been] reading.

I read a couple and they were all right, and then I picked up The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Simon Vance was the narrator, and something over the course of the audiobook clicked with me. If I were to describe it, all of a sudden my eyes opened and I’m like, “Oh, now I understand the power of audiobooks.” How it added a dimension to a story. And ever since then, audiobooks have become my passion.

I think it’s ironic, as someone who started [off] thinking they didn’t really count as reading.

[JO] What do you tell people who say, oh that doesn’t count as reading?

[JC] I would try to find a book that we’ve read together, that they’ve read in print and I’ve read on audio and say here’s the story. I can hear the language that they use. I hear the way they structure their sentences and they write and it’s gorgeous no matter what. Plus, stories began as an oral tradition. I’m not going to force my opinion on anyone, but I’d argue that I get just as much, maybe even more out of a book than they might.

[JO] Tell me about the Armchair Audies. How did you decide to start doing nothing the Armchair Audies?

[JC] Every year they have the Audie Awards, which is kind of like the Grammys or Oscars of audiobooks. There are 28 categories with four to six audiobooks nominated in each.

Really it was just the overwhelming amount of audiobooks. Because I’m really super geeky about audiobooks. And there were a couple other bloggers who were always on Twitter talking about audiobooks. They announced the nominees one year and I’m like, how in the world can I listen to all of these audiobooks? Because you know that I wanted to fill out my own little Oscar Ballot but there’s no way. So just through the course of chatting with [bloggers], we had the idea of picking at least a few categories and coming up with our own. So, we asked a lot of other people who were interested and we created a ballot based on our picks.

[JO] And can anyone join the Armchair Audies? Or is it just for bloggers.

[JC] Oh, anyone really. I would be happy to host people’s reviews if they’re interested. You don’t have to be a blogger. You just have to love audiobooks. And at least write a paragraph about what you liked, what you didn’t like about them.

[JO] How did you do last year? How many were right.

[JC] My picks are never right. A few people have done well. But I picked Euphoria in the Literary Fiction category, and that won. And actually I was at the Audies, because I won a trip, and it was really neat to see Simon and see them win in the award and be in the room.

[JO] You went as Audiobook Blogger of the year. That was new, right?

[JC] Yeah, it was the first year and I was so excited to have won. My blogging has not been terribly consistent lately, because I’ve taken on new position at work and I started doing a boot camp to get fit and lose weight, so I just don’t have the time to write that I used to. So I didn’t really think that I would win. Just because other people are so prolific and always on Twitter. I wasn’t as visible. But it was an honor to have won.

[JO] Well, you are a great blogger and you do so much to support audiobooks, so I was not surprised at all when I saw your name come up.

[JC] Well thank you.

[JO] So what are some of your favorite audiobooks?

[JC] Well, the whole Stieg Larsson Millennium series are among my favorites.

Recently, Fates and Furies I thought was a really good audiobook. Dietland. That was fun in audio.

[JO] What are some books that are better or were enhanced by listening on audio?

[JC] Memoires. Especially when you’ve got an author [narrating it]. Born with Teeth by Kate Mulgrew. That was just fascinating to me. Her whole life was fascinating. I’d seen her on Voyager and Orange Is the New Black, so I was familiar with her as an actress, but she’s an outstanding audiobook narrator. So not only are you getting her life story, but you’re hearing it in her voice.

Any book that has a lot of foreign words, like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. That has a lot of Swedish words in it. I get frustrated as a reader when I can’t pronounce words.

There’s a book called Paul Is Undead, Simon Vance narrated it. And I’m not a big fan of zombies, or anything gory or gross, but there was so much humor in that book, and the way Simon narrated it, it was a lot of fun.

[JO] Are there certain narrators that you’ll say, oh, I’m going to listen to that book even though normally, in print, that is a book you wouldn’t pick up?

[JC] Oh, yeah, well, Simon Vance is definitely [one]. Cassandra Campbell and Katherine Kellgren are examples of narrators that I would pretty much follow anywhere. Mark Bramhall. Will Collyer. He’s a fairly new narrator, he does a lot of work for Hachette Audio. Schroder by amity Gabe was the first I listened to by him and I listen to everything he puts out. The Killing Kind . . . it’s about hitmen. A hit man who goes after other hitmen. And whereas I would never pick up that kind of book to read it in print, I picked it because Will narrated it. I enjoyed it and he did a great job with it.

Follow Jennifer at @LitHousewife to keep up with the latest audiobook news.

Audiophile Files: Beth Fish Reads

Book bloggers are the core base of online book communities. They’re often the first to tweet book news, the brains behind book memes, and of course, the first to review new releases. I called up Candace of Beth Fish Reads, a blog covering both books and audiobooks to talk about blogging and her favorite types of books.

[Judy T. Oldfield] What got you into book-blogging?

[Beth Fish Reads] Most obviously, a love of books. I am a freelance book editor by trade, and I was interested in freelance reviewing. I felt like I should have a platform to practice on first. I had no idea when I started that there was a whole book-blogging community and that I would make friends.

[JO] How did you land on “Beth Fish Reads”?

[BFR] Well, first of all because I’m an editor, and my clients are all publishing companies, I wanted to be able to review books and have a reliable voice. I asked my editing friends about how they handle freelance reviews when they’re also an editor. A lot of them said they use a pen name. Even though I know that I would never review a book I worked on, and I know as a freelancer that whatever I say about a book (even if that publishing company is a client) has no effect on my own income or career, I wanted to create some kind of barrier between me as an editor and me as a reviewer. Because I didn’t want anyone to question the integrity of my reviews.

So that’s why I picked a different name to begin with. But Beth is my middle name and the fish comes from the fact that my editing business is called The Word Angler. So I just carried the fish theme along.

[JO] And because you are a professional editor do you think that you have a more critical eye than the average reader?

[BFR] I probably have a more critical eye to the language. Maybe plot, structure, and things like that. But I’m not that experienced in lit crit, so I don’t feel like I have a more in-depth insight than someone who has studied literature for a living. I do sometimes review books based on some things that bother me in terms of editing, which is probably unfair to the authors, but I can only bring my own experience to my reviews.

[JO] You explore theme a lot in your book reviews.

[BFR] I do like to explore theme when I read. I think of books in terms of theme. Like, oh, that’s a Paris book, or that’s an Africa book, that’s a book that’s a family saga, that’s a book about friendship.

I like books that explore how a person’s life can change in a moment. You know, you think you’re living your life one way and then through an accident or something maybe totally out of your control your life completely changes. And I like that theme for some reason. People, characters, forced into new situations. Maybe that’s also why I like dystopian fiction. How would you cope when the world suddenly changes?

[JO] Yeah.

[BFR] Those are things that I like a lot. I don’t read a lot of women’s fiction, which are about relationships and friendships, although I do enjoy them. I like a little more down-to-earth conflict.

[JO] And character development!

[BFR] Yes, I’m very much a character-driven reader. Although, also, as I said, I’m very attracted by setting. I’ll read a book just because it’s set in Africa, or Scotland, or a place I used to live.

But it’s interesting. A lot of people will separate their bookshelves by fiction or nonfiction or publication date but I have mine separated by theme.

[JO] You review a lot of audiobooks on your site, which must be very different because you spend so much time editing words on the page. Must be a little bit of a relief to listen to audiobooks. What do you look for in an audiobook?

[BFR] I’ve been listening to audiobooks since the 80s. I’m a big audiobook fan for just those reasons that you mentioned. I look for the very same things I look for in a print book in terms of picking a book. So you know, if I’m in the mood for a mystery or dystopian or a biography. So that’s my first step in an audiobook. The story itself. And then I listen, if they’re available . . . I listen to samples to make sure that the narrator, in my mind, fits the story or my own taste. Not every performer has a voice I would like to listen to for eight hours or thirty hours. So it’s a two-step process. I go story first, and then narrator second.

[JO] Do you ever reread or relisten to books?

[BFR] Yes, but not very many. I read and/or listen to the entire Hobbit and Lord of the Rings about every five years. And I have both read and listened to the Outlander series more than once. But generally no, I’m not a huge rereader. Not as a habit. I don’t reread or relisten.

[JO] How, besides just blogging, do you participate in the book blogger community?

[BFR] Well, I have been involved over the years in various things. You know, the book-blogging community has many things. For instance, there’s an audiobook week in June, which is audiobooks month. I’ve participated in some of those activities. There’s the readathons [where people read for 24 hours], in which I have participated in the past. There are on-going memes, weekly events, and I’m an active participator in some of those. There are other social media, like Twitter and Instagram, and I’m active on both of those.

I’ve been blogging since 2008 and I think that participation comes in waves, where you have more time and enthusiasm—and I see this in other people as well—and then you take a step back and have more private time. So, I think, currently, I’m in a more pulling-away stage than I have been in the past. But I still talk about books. I can’t stop talking about books, whether it’s on Twitter or on my blog.

[JO] When I emailed you I said we wanted to interview you because we wanted to interview bloggers. We’ve interviewed some writers, and some narrators, some booksellers, and an educator, and we really wanted some people who are book enthusiasts, book reviewers, bloggers to join our conversation. So if you could pick someone for us to interview next, who would you suggest?

[BFR] So, anybody who’s involved in the audiobook world in some way?

[JO] Yup.

[BFR] Hmm, that’s a good question. You know what, have you interviewed someone who is a producer?

[JO] No, we’ve not interviewed a producer!

[BFR] That, I think would be fascinating. That is something that I wish I knew more about, is the, how the producer, what they do to prepare the performer, how do they pick a book, I don’t know anything about that aspect of audiobooks at all.

That would be my suggestion.

You can often find Candace tweeting about her latest book haul. Follow her and don’t be shy to shoot her a bookish question.