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Check It Out

Courier Article by Lucy Clem
Sunday, June 19, 2005

Libraries Now Offering Downloadable Audiobooks

Recorded book fans, EVPL recently made those your life simpler with downloadable audiobooks. Once you've created a free account at your neighborhood library, you can browse the collection and check out books using a computer with an Internet connection. Items are downloaded to the computer, where you can listen to them using Windows Media player—handy if you like to listen while you work, but a little cumbersome in the car, right? Enter the .mp3 player, a tiny device designed to store recorded music that works equally well for books. Plug it into your computer, transfer your downloaded books, and you're set for hours of uninterrupted listening. Drop it in your pocket, connect the headphones, and walk, jog, or sit on the beach. Plug an FM cable into the player's headphone jack and broadcast the book on your car radio! Initially limited to 500 titles, the library's downloadable collection is growing rapidly and includes such current bestsellers such as Dan Brown's Angels and Demons and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, along with nonfiction and classics. For a detailed explanation, how-tos, and an online demo, go to http://www.evpl.org/netlibraryaudio/. To see what's available, go to http://www.netlibrary.com/recordedbooks/, or check the library's catalog. EVPL has recently joined a consortium of Indiana libraries to provide audiobooks through an additional vendor, which will provide access to even more titles.

Since acquiring a sleek little .mp3 player, I've enjoyed seamless listening for weeks. My 1.5 gigabyte player has 6 full-length books stored with room left over, and weighs less than 3 ounces. No more trying to remove a CD from those pesky little sleeves with one hand. Facing a wait somewhere, I plug in the headphones and the book goes with me. Here are some of the titles I've enjoyed; I've included the number of cassettes and/or disks in the hard formats.

Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy (Houghton Mifflin, 1986) Read by Frank Muller
18 cassettes or 19 CDs, 22.5 hours

Narrated by Tom Wingo, an out-of-work high school coach recovering from a nervous breakdown, this is the story of his quintessentially Southern family. They are all damaged somehow, from suicidal twin sister Savannah to sweetly wacky Grandfather Wingo, a barber and Bible salesman. There are ominous secrets. What, for example, happened to brother Luke, who's dead in some unspeakably tragic way? Then there's "what happened on the island that day," the mystery at the heart of the story. An abusive father, a wonderful grandmother who flouts the conventions of the small-town south, and a beautiful social climbing mother are the other major characters in this complex family story. Don't skip the book because you've seen the movie; there's no comparison.

Among Schoolchildren by Tracy Kidder (Houghton Mifflin, 1989) Read by George Guidall
8 cassettes, 10.5 hours

Tracy Kidder gets inside his subjects, literally, by spending months observing. Chris Zajac teaches fifth grade in a poverty area of Holyoke, Mass., where Kidder spent a school year with her class. She loves her work and her students—even Clarence, who eventually is shifted to a special school for unmanageable kids. Her class is made up of pupils who are ill-fed, neglected, and/or abused, along with a handful from upper-class homes. Not surprisingly, the latter are not among the half of the class who regularly stays up past midnight on school days. Despite being written more than 15 years ago, the story has an immediacy that makes it timely today.

Native Tongue by Carl Hiaasen (Random House, 1991) Read by George Wilson.
11 cassettes or 13 CDs, about 16 hours

Hiaasen's anti-development agenda is clear as ever in this romp, where dedicated, demented environmentalists battle sleazy real-estate tycoons in the Florida Keys. The story opens with the Whelper family enroute to the Amazing Kingdom of Thrills when a rat is tossed into their rented convertible from a passing pickup. Not just any rat, this is one of the last two remaining blue-tongued mango voles. Part of a scam that involves a mobster on the lam from John Gotti and government environmental protection money, this is just a small part of "an irresistible convergence of violence, mayhem, and mortality"—not to mention hilarity.

Lucy Young Clem is the Tech Center Supervisor at Central Library, where she sandwiches reading book reviews between computer training sessions.