Public Domain Audio Books: Librivox

Audio books account for a small but significant part of the market for books and with the rise of the mp3 player the opportunities for listening to literature are ever expanding. If you want recent books then the decent thing to do is pay for a copy and keep the writer in business. But for out of copyright work Librivox could be the way to go. Librivox offers free public domain audio books. One of the great things about the project is that it is all done by volunteers and the work is shared.

Hugh McGuire, founder of Librivox, had this to say in an interview on the Creative Commons website:

The immediate reason was practical — I was going on a long drive and I was looking for free public domain audiobooks on the Net; there weren’t very many, and I thought there should be.

But other than that practical need I wanted to address, LibriVox came out of a few conceptual strands. The first was the idealism of the free software movement, and it’s pragmatic success. Here was a parallel system (to the proprietary software system) built almost entirely out of volunteer effort, and hugely successful to boot. I was very interested in how free software ideals and methodologies could be applied to non-software projects: could the same sorts of ideas be used in the real world?

Here’s the link to Librivox.

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Links we liked for July 28, 2007

Here are a few links you might have missed in the last couple of weeks:

Sue Bursztynski’s review of HP7 for January Magazine was one of the most balanced I came across in a week when J.K. Rowling’s final Harry Potter novel broke sales records around the world and for a while even competed with the weather for the attention of British news journalists. That’s how big it was. John Crace provides a digested read: “Harry knew he was up against it this time. A favourite character from an earlier book had been killed off within the first 80 pages. That Rowling woman meant business.”

On a not unrelated subject, as anyone who waded through HP5 will testify, Salon had an excellent article on the unsung heroines and heroes of the literary world: ‘Let us now praise editors’.

The BBC covered the problem of literacy with a rather sad piece about parents who struggle with reading to their children. Here’s the shocking statistic:

More than 10% of the 1,000 parents asked had struggled to understand some words in the stories they had read to their five to 10-year-old children.

Looking at it more positively, at least they are reading. Here’s the link to the BBC article.

Would Jane Austen get published by Penguin as a new author in 2007? Here’s the answer.

And finally, from Language Log, intellectual cereal packets. I insist cereal packets taught me to read. I’m not sure how that might have worked if Martin Amis and Immanuel Kant had featured. Here’s the link.

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Romanian Summer Diary 4

Sunday 22nd July–The summer school runs for two stretches of nine days and this weekend is a working one. Some children’s attitude to conversational English on a Sunday verges on the cavalier, but those who turn up do want to talk; airing opinions in British company is an opportunity not to be missed.

One of the older boys had witnessed an accident: woman munching burger hit by boy-racer on zebra crossing, he described it, in near-perfect British journalese. Doctors had her down as sixty; she turned out to be seventy-six; the driver was twenty-one. More than anything it was the shock of seeing the little everyday items – a shoe, her shopping, the chips – scattered along the street. Bringing this all up was not about displaying proficiency in English, but sheer shock.

We know of thousands of deaths: why should this one so affect us, our Sunday student wanted to know. Was it the banality of the woman’s shopping bag? The randomness of the choice of victim? Whose choice? Would anything change had it been a tramp? Or a model run over by an old dear on the way to church? Would watching violent films have prepared us for it? Or Titus Andronicus? Or Aeschylus, for that matter?

Monday is another day.

Cristina Pascu-Tulbure.

British-Romanian Connections has been operating in Romania since 1991, and each year Cristina organizes the summer schools staffed with young British volunteers. She says the fascination lies in watching British and Romanians alike teaching and learning, as well as seeing the yearly changes in attitudes, the vernacular, and the home-grown notion of what it is to have achieved the Romanian Dream. It’s a heady mix of old culture, second-hand Western ideals, slight embarrassment about one’s history, and variations on a theme of European unity. Cristina is in Romania with a party of girls from Wirral Grammar School.

Romanian Summer Diary 3

Wednesday 18th July, The Anglo-Romanian Dream I.

The summer school is in full swing and truth is in the mouths of children, I’m told. The ten-year olds are pouring their hearts out to their British ‘Miss’. Crisps have been banned in school from September next and the cosmopolitan crisp connoisseurs are ready to take on the world and the offending school vending machines.

One of the older boys witnessed an accident. It’s almost a British journalist’s account: woman munching burger and speeding boy-racer collide on zebra crossing. ‘You call it roadkill?’ Someone had covered her face with a napkin. I remembered teaching Mid-Term Break, and the open box, and thinking this is how we too say our goodbyes, not sealing off our departed, simply treading carefully.

Cristina Pascu-Tulbure.

British-Romanian Connections has been operating in Romania since 1991, and each year Cristina organizes the summer schools staffed with young British volunteers. She says the fascination lies in watching British and Romanians alike teaching and learning, as well as seeing the yearly changes in attitudes, the vernacular, and the home-grown notion of what it is to have achieved the Romanian Dream. It’s a heady mix of old culture, second-hand Western ideals, slight embarrassment about one’s history, and variations on a theme of European unity. Cristina is in Romania with a party of girls from Wirral Grammar School.

The Book of Hopes and Dreams

Dee Rimbaud made contact recently about The Book Of Hopes And Dreams, a charity poetry anthology, published to raise money for the Medical Aid (Afghanistan) appeal of the Glasgow-based charity Spirit Aid, (an entirely volunteer run organisation, headed by Scottish actor and director, David Hayman).

As a volunteer organisation, Spirit Aid are able to ensure that 90% of all the funds they raise go straight to the projects they are involved in (unlike most of the bigger charities whose admin and advertising budgets swallow huge percentages of all donations).

The Book Of Hopes And Dreams, which is a celebration of the human spirit (even in times of great adversity) has captured the imagination and hearts of some of the greatest living poets of our times; all of whom have freely contributed work to this anthology. There are contributions from Margaret Atwood, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, John Heath-Stubbs, Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage, Tony Harrison, Alasdair Gray, Edwin Morgan, Penelope Shuttle, Anne Stevenson, Jon Stallworthy, Alan Brownjohn, Ruth Fainlight, David Constantine, Moniza Alvi, Cyril Dabydeen, Elaine Feinstein, Vicki Feaver, Michael Horovitz, Tom Leonard, Robert Mezey, Lawrence Sail, Jay Ramsay, Charles Ades Fishman, Geoffrey Godbert and Ian Duhig, amongst others.

The book costs £9.99 and can be ordered in all high street bookstores in the UK. It can also be bought outside the UK via the publisher, Bluechrome or from UK Amazon. Not only is it brimming over with the work of award winning poets, its message is resoundingly positive and optimistic in outlook, which many will find refreshing, given the zeitgeist for poet-modern irony, ennui and despair.

More importantly, royalties from every copy sold will go towards providing mobile clinics, doctors, nurses and medicines for the people of the far flung, mountainous region of Baglan in North East Afghanistan, where the population hadn’t received any medical care whatsoever for 25 years, until Spirit Aid raised funds for their first mobile clinic.

Dee writes: ‘I hope you will consider buying this book, because it really will help to save lives. It will also help to improve the quality of peoples’ lives. And who knows, with its uplifting tone, it may even improve the quality of your life or inspire your own writing endeavours. Mike Matthews, one of the contributors wrote me recently and said: "The anthology is fantastic, and it has served as a major inspiration for me to continue to write every single day, for the poetry in it is genuinely high quality and uplifting. I have not been able to stop writing since it came out, and I carry it around with me everywhere, opening it before every writing session."’

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Romanian Summer Diary 2

17 July 2007–‘Fresh knickers!’ was the unilateral shout heard last night in Grill 66 as exultant girls flung aside their half-eaten pizzas to celebrate the arrival of their delayed luggage from Amsterdam, and with the prized sous-vetements came coloured card, felt tips, glitter paint, and lesson plans bristling with the latest in brainstorming. This morning, a hundred-odd (some very odd) children in the playground disappeared swiftly into classrooms and re-grouped around tables that had only been privy to the pains of history and maths tests. Some wanted to improve their English skills; others, I suspect, were wanted out of the house; some elder ones were evidently more interested in British flesh than British small-talk, while yet to discover that the latter can be a very useful route to the former. It was a suitably merry, enthusiastic, and slightly shambolic start.

*

Over the past four days I have seen three sets of identical twins dressed in identical clothes. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but it makes me glad that that kind of thing still happens. Perhaps Romania just hasn’t learnt to be wary of clichés…

*

One of the pitfalls of conversational Romanian – blessed are the Brits in their singleness of purpose – is the difference between the second person singular and plural forms. The French have tu and vous; the Romanians have four. Beware the wrath of the self-respecting young lady addressed as ­tu; beware also if she is a woman of the world and appalled by the stuffiness of dumneavoastra. Which ‘you’ does one use for one’s former teachers, or for an elderly newspaper seller? How does one address the waiter? What if it is a waitress? Worst, how can you explain treating your mother-in-law as a multiple entity? Over a good and substantial pint, some of the British contingent wanted to find out just that. Some upper-class French couples, we learnt, address each other as vous all their married life; the semantics that can cope with mothers-in-law has yet to be invented.

Cristina Pascu-Tulbure.

British-Romanian Connections has been operating in Romania since 1991, and each year Cristina organizes the summer schools staffed with young British volunteers. She says the fascination lies in watching British and Romanians alike teaching and learning, as well as seeing the yearly changes in attitudes, the vernacular, and the home-grown notion of what it is to have achieved the Romanian Dream. It’s a heady mix of old culture, second-hand Western ideals, slight embarrassment about one’s history, and variations on a theme of European unity. Cristina is in Romania with a party of girls from Wirral Grammar School.

Famous Poems as Limericks

Boing Boing, the self-styled “directory of wonderful things” posted a link yesterday to a collection of limericks based on famous poems. This kept us entertained for quite a while. Here’s my favourite:

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

There was an old father of Dylan
Who was seriously, mortally illin’
“I want,” Dylan said
“You to bitch till you’re dead.
“I’ll be cheesed if you kick it while chillin’.”

And here are two we prepared earlier:

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

There was an old man of the sea
Who stopped wedding guest number three
And told him a tale
Of a bird and no gale
That left the poor chap on his knees.

My Last Duchess

The ambassador said “Well, you know,
The Duke has put on quite a show,
But you look at her picture
And suddenly it hits yer:
She’s charming, but where did she go?”

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Romanian Summer Diary 1

Sunday 15th July – one whole hot afternoon and several minutes neatly taken down by my friends before the start of the sixteenth English summer school in Piatra-Neamt. The afternoon is made suddenly intriguing with news of luggage still in Amsterdam while the Wirral Grammar girls have touched down in Bucharest. Rumour has it they had been drawing lots on who’s to shower first; the prospect of drip-dry hair-shoulders-and-other-parts is interesting. The minutes are less so: cold rather than hot milk with cornflakes in the canteen in the morning; explain to the cook that vegetarians are not ‘get thee to a nunnery’ types; sufficiently pink and strong loo rolls; still or sparkling mineral water; is the night watchman to lock the girls in after midnight?

The town is in celebratory mood. Romania’s EU accession (assumption or ascension in local parlance) and the new mayor have let loose the winds of change from the Aeolian EU integration bag: new pavements nicely patterned and half finished; polished Teutonic cars with several more decibels’ worth of song; gypsies begging in a combination of traditional wear and second-hand evening dress; expensive fresh roses spilling out of corner shops; and stray dogs scratching with greater self-esteem than last year in the summer dust. The orphanage children got their volunteer Brits last night and are basking in the knowledge that tomorrow there will be ball games, hugs and the perpetual ‘what’s-your-name?-what’s-your-favourite-colour?’ volleys. The town’s sixteen-going-on-seventeens are milling by the school gates – ‘Have the girls arrived yet?’

Cristina Pascu-Tulbure.

British-Romanian Connections has been operating in Romania since 1991, and each year Cristina organizes the summer schools staffed with young British volunteers. She says the fascination lies in watching British and Romanians alike teaching and learning, as well as seeing the yearly changes in attitudes, the vernacular, and the home-grown notion of what it is to have achieved the Romanian Dream. It’s a heady mix of old culture, second-hand Western ideals, slight embarrassment about one’s history, and variations on a theme of European unity. Cristina is in Romania with a party of girls from Wirral Grammar School.

Recommended Reads: Poppy Shakespeare

Poppy Shakespeare bookI have just finished reading Poppy Shakespeare by Clare Allen. Set in a North London day hospital, Allen draws on her own experience as a patient in the psychiatric system. It focuses on the lives of two characters, N, who has been a patient at the hospital for thirteen years and Poppy Shakespeare, a newcomer who is certain she isn’t mentally ill and is desperate to return to the outside world. Clare Allen explains:

‘What interested me in writing Poppy Shakespeare was the idea of taking a ‘normal’ person and landing her bang in the middle of this ‘upside-down’ world.’

The ‘upside down’ world which Allen describes is a place where the attempt to get better becomes overshadowed by the need to conform.

‘In the common room to be ‘abnormal’ was normal. Which is to say our normality was more or less the opposite of what might be considered normal in the world outside…so long as conforming meant being mentally ill, it made it a very difficult place to get better.’

Allen’s frustration with the system that surrounds her characters is felt throughout the story. It reasserts itself at every point, effectively causing the reader to share in this emotion. The helplessness and desperation can draw you in and drag you down, but Allen is also interested in exploring the way in which words cope with extremes of emotion and experience.

Through my work reading with dementia patients as a project worker for Get Into Reading I have become particularly interested in the way in which words and stories connect on a deep level, even when individuals have lost sense of their own personal story. Allen echoes this notion in speaking of her own experience.

‘When I arrived at the day hospital… My life had shrunk to a series of seconds, each to be somehow survived. I got through by walking, constantly walking, reciting poetry over and over to keep the thoughts from my head.’

In reading this book I was struck by the resilience of individuals, whose experiences seem unimaginable and impossible to survive. That they do survive and keep going despite this is a stark reminder of human strength, our ability to endure. That it stands so close to the contrasting frailty of a system which threatens to destroy this resilience once and for all is strangely paradoxical. And this in itself helps create the sense of claustrophobia which dominates the novel.

Get Into Reading Gets Into TV

Book Quiz

Get Into Reading‘s Ridgeway Library group will be appearing on BBC 4 tonight in a brand new literary show.

The Book Quiz is hosted by David Baddiel. Tonight he oversees as Joan Bakewell and Richard Herring face John Simpson and India Knight in a battle to see whose literary knowledge reigns supreme.

You can catch the reading group members at 11pm tonight, or when the show is repeated on BBC 4 on 7th August at 8pm. For more details click here.