Voices from the ether

I find my job very interesting, not only because I get to do interesting things, but also because I get to spend a lot of time filling spreadsheets. You might be thinking that I am a lunatic, but I do find spreadsheet interesting (don’t you get that feeling of triumph when the formula you have concocted works perfectly?) and I love having long hours to listen to things. At first I used to listen to music, but I have to say I lack the talent (and patience) for playlists); I then tried to get into audiobooks, but I already expected it to be a failure: I struggle to keep my attention at the same level for so long, especially because I am working, and I need to be able to switch off and on without loosing a pivotal turn of events in the plot.

So, that’s why I have turned to podcasts. I made some research and started listening here and there…and now I am listening to so many I have decided I should share the list. Here you go, dear 25 readers, enjoy!

Narrative podcasts – stand-alone episodes:

  • The Truth: their slogan is “movies for your ears”. Every episode is different in plot and genre.
  • The Snap Judgement: part stand -up, part narration, part interviews. Again, the genre varies a lot. Each episode lasts about 1 hour and contains about 4 different stories.
  • The Heart Radio: real-life stories and fiction about “intimacy and humanity”. Sexuality, relationships are among the frequent themes of the podcast.

Mistery, Horror and Sci-Fi:

  • The Black Tapes: serialised docu-drama about the unsolved paranormal cases recorded on Dr Strand’s black tapes. Intensely gripping.
  • Tanis: twin podcast of The Black Tapes, this takes more a Sci-Fi angle. It takes slighly longer to get into it, but when it happens, well, you are lost.
  • Limetown: the research facility of Limetown, together with all the people living there, suddenly disappeared. Lia Haddock starts investigating about it out of interest, but soon discovers that she is much more involved in this mystery than she thought.
  • Archive 81: Daniel disappeared and has left some tapes to his friend Mark. Each episode Mark plays one tape, each tape is weirder than the previous one.
  • Ars Paradoxica: Doctor Sally Grissom accidentally invents time travel and finds herself in 1943. A lot of scientific jargon, but hey, what’s not to love.
  • The Bright Sessions: Dr Bright is a psychologist, but not the usual kind. She only treats “special” patients, patients with superpowers. Simply great.
  • The Bridge: in an alternate 2016, a transcontinental bridge connects Europe with America; it has been built, but also abandoned. The Watchtowers though are still manned, and Etta broadcasts folklore stories from the bridge…together with the traffic reports, because that is supposed to be her job.
  • Alice isn’t Dead: a road trip through America in search for a wife which might or might not be dead.

General Culture Podcasts:

  • The Moth: top quality stand-up narration by stellar speakers.
  • Lore: how has folklore from the Old Continent adapted to America? Listen to this podcast to find out.

Here you go. I am sure I have forgotten some, but these are the one I listen to on a regular basis.

 

Happy 2017 🙂

 

Edit:

I realised I had forgotten 2 podcasts!! Shame on me.

  • Life After: what if there was a social media which reproduces the voice of the loved ones you have lost?
  • The Message: 70 years ago we received a message from outer space, someone is trying to decipher it, but this is not without consequences.

 

Annunci

Burial Rites – NLBC February 2015

If you were wondering: yes, I skipped one month. January’s book was Georges Berec’s A Void, and unfortunately I haven’t got much to say about it. I tried to read it quickly before the meeting, but although it is not a massive volume, I could not manage to finish it in time.

On the other hand, I finished Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites in less than a week. Here is what it is about and why.

The story is set in Iceland in 1820s and is inspired by the story of the last woman to be executed in the country, Agnes Magnúsdóttir. The author concentrates on the months preceding her death, when she is allocated to a local farm, to spend her last time helping the family. The story is told through different points of view, among which Agnes’ and Toti’s, the priest she has chosen to guide her before her death. At the beginning, silence is the the most conspiuous element: the silence of Icelandic landscape, the stubborn silence of Agnes, who is convinced that everyone would twist her words if she decides to speak; the suspicious silenece of the  District Officer Jón Jónsson and his family; the embarassed silence of reverend Toti, who feels inadequate for the task. However, the story slowly unravels as Agnes and the inhabitants of the house start getting used to her presence in the house. The family will learn that nothing was as it seemed to be, and they will need to learn how to live with their own judgement.

At first, I was a bit skeptical about the book. It was presented to me as an introspective crime novel and I have to confess that it was not entirely enticing. As I read through thouh, I resigned to change my mind.

First of all, I am very passionate about Iceland; having been working for months on a project involving the Sagas of the Icelanders and Norse mythology, I found myself thrilled at the discovery that the story is based on true events. I made some basic research, and stumbled upon a list of the records of the last women subject to capital punishment in Europe; I read it with unexpected interest (did you know that the last woman to be sentenced to death in Licchtenstein was a thief called Barbara Erni in 1785? Criminal punishment was to be abolished two years later). Sadly, I found very little about Agnes’ true story. I suspect that I would benefit from Icelandic classes, but for now I will rely on Kent’s writing.

Second, the characters are multifaceted and relatable: each one of them has its flaws and weaknesses and I could not be completely partial to anyone because different actions made me feel contrasting feelings.

Third, the plot is interesting and gripping. Although you already know how it is going to end (unless you decided not to google Agnes), the story is a journey into the past, into the complex reasons the lead the woman to her actions.

For this reason, the book maybe suffers the lack of dramatic plot twists or turns of events, having those happened before the narration, but I believe it has other good selling points, as I already described.

In addition, the portrait of Icelandic daily life is convincing, detailed and sometimes even cruel: Hannah Kent definitely knows what she is talking about.

Finally, Agnes is a female protagonist with strong dignity and self-consciousness, even when she faces the other characters filthy and soiled after months of detention. I could not always relate with her, but I feel I respect her and I felt her more human than other fictional characters with historical pretension I read in the past.

I would definitely recomend the book to the lovers of Iceland, of introspective fiction and historical fiction. If you are all three, you will certainly be satisfied.

We Are All Completely Behind Ourselves – NLBC October 2014

K. J. Fowler’s has chosen a surprisingly long title for her book, I have to say, but a witty one. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves  was the North London Book Club choice for October 2014, discussed in front a good meal and a glass of wine in West Hampstead.

The book, shortlisted for this year’s Manbooker Prize, was presented in most of the reviews as a family drama, which I have to confess was not very appealing to me. Most of the time, I tend to prefer fantasy, historical and weird over literary fiction. As I am going to explain soon, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves might have won my first reluctance towards literary fiction.

The story is about Rosemary’s family and how the relationship with her siblings have changed and shaped her. She starts her tale “in the middle”: she is now a student at UC Davies, struggling with her studies and with interpersonal relationship. We are told that she once spoke a lot, to the point she could be annoying to others, but now she is very reclusive and tries to talk about her family the least. When she meets Harlow, a boisterous drama major,  a series of flashback are triggered, and we start understanding where her story started and, above all, where it it is going.

The plot construction is very lively and clever: the progression of the story and the flashbacks together feed the reader with small bites at a time, so that (s)he keeps feeling somehow tricked out of the complete context. The book is well written, and generally flows smoothly.

The only flaw I can find, and here I agree with my friends of the book club, is that Harlow is not a well developed character as she could be. I have come to think that her sole purpose was to bring Rosemary’s true personality on the surface during their first meeting. However, considering that she stays around for quite a long time, maybe something more could be said about her (like detailing a bit more the reason why she keeps lying about her family and her life), but I think I am just being overcritical here.

The story mainly revolves around family bonds, especially brotherhood and sisterhood: the most important events in Rosemary’s life are the disappearing of her sister Fern first, and of her brother next. These events have severe consequences in her family life, to the point that she represses some memories from that time. We Are All Completely Behind Ourselves is a beautiful story of self- (re)discovery and growth, which I warmly suggest to book lovers who like literary fiction and unexpected plot twists, even in apparently uncomplicated plots.

Because there is a great plot twist, but I am trying to write a spoiler-free review. Hence, read the book!

The Revenge of Snow White – Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle

During the last month comics and graphic novels have been piling up on my floor; while my boyfriend managed to go through most of them, I struggled to keep reading one book at a time. Now that we are finally moving house, I hope I can get them out of the boxes and finally do them justice.

However, this was not true about the Sleeper and the Spindle, which happened to be piled among the graphic novels and I desperately wanted to read before packing, being a Gaiman’s fangirl.

The audience should be already acquainted with the work of this golden duet, and, as expected, the book does not only contains a valuable story, but is also a very beautiful object.

The story is about a queen who fighting a sleep epidemic engendering her kingdom from the lands nearby. She leaves alongside the dwarves to the place where this epidemic started and the sleeping beauty lies amongst the thorns. But, lo and behold, nothing is as is seems to be.

Fairy tales with strong female protagonists are becoming more common these days, and I very much enjoyed that now I have a good one to tell my nieces; despite the lack of charming princes, the plot reassuringly draws from two of the best known fairy tales, so that it is oddly familiar but mostly defamiliarising (which, admittedly, is something that Gaiman seems to take pleasure from). The pivotal difference between power and responsibility is also in the limelight, and I find it an important theme to build a story.

I really liked Chris Riddell’s illustrations, and I think the dwarves might be one of his masterpieces: so vibrant and detailed! I found very elegant the black and white color choice, with splashes of gold.

It is a beautiful book, it reads swiftly, but it is also wonderful to brows among the illustrations. Highly recommended.

On a wider note:

If you want to read something else about modernised fairy-tales and you do not mind comics, I strongly suggest taking up Fables, or The StoryTeller.

Alternatively, you can start watching Once Upon a Time, which is not always brilliant, but has some high points and is generally enjoyable.

SYP Conference 2014 – Report

Hello everyone!

On Saturday I went to The Society of Young Publishers‘ Conference 2014. This year’s focus was “the perfect publisher”: what does this mythological creature look like? How do you become the perfect publisher in this era of transitions and innovation in the industry?

Since I enjoyed it a lot, I thought it might be a good idea to talk about it here, and take this opportunity to start a new series of English ramblings on my blog. I plan to do some maintenance soon and tidy up the layout, so that it will be easier to navigate among Italian and English posts (or maybe it will become even more complicated and I will give up blogging for good).

The event was organised in four streams revolving around different areas of publishing (Editors & Agents; Marketing, sales & data; Outside the traditional publishing house; Big ideas), and dedicated career workshops designed to provide practical support for aspiring professionals of the sector.

Being a wannabe-editor, I chose to attend the career workshop of stream 1 (editors & agents); I then attended Who decides what books we buy? The importance of reviewers, bloggers and literary prizes (stream 4, Big ideas) and Kill your darlings, the changing role of an editor (again stream 1).

The conference opened with the speech of Ursula Mackenzie, CEO of Little, Brown. Her talk focused on the role of a publisher in the era of the democratisation of publishing, amazon, and self-publishing.
The role of the publisher was meant to be invisible, she said, in order to put the focus on the relationship between author and readers. However, it is now pivotal that authors and readers understand the value of the publisher and how (s)he can improve the relationship between the two. The real challenge, in Ursula Mackenzie’s opinion, is to make clear that a professional publisher can be a value for the authors’ money and a comfortable place to be.
The digitalisation of books, on the other hand, is not engendering the “conservative” branches of the industry, according to the speaker: although ebooks represent the 27% of the sales of the sector (16% in the UK), the most popular vehicle for book recommendations, is getting to a bookshop and ask the staff; or asking friends. Much to my dismay, it seems that people tend not to discover new books online.

The first career workshop hosted Sarah Juckes, communication manager of CompletelyNovel, and Cathy Wells, HR Director for Hachette UK. The speakers talked about their career and gave very useful tips to apply for editorial jobs, such as commercial awareness, personality, passion, and the ability to read carefully the job add.

After the lunch break, I went to Who decides which books we buy?, with Lucy Pearson and Cathy Rentzenbrink.
Lucy Pearson, who works both for Bloomsbury and the Baileys Women’s Prize, is also a blogger. The decision of keeping a book blog has contributed to start her career in publishing. It was not easy, she told: at first, she got up every morning at 5.45am to read and/or write reviews before going to work. She has also become a proficient user of social media, which now constitute a substantial part of her work as social media manager and digital marketeer. Her talk was inspiring and pushed me to start using more consistently my blog.
Cathy Rentzenbrink is…well, incredible. She manages to be project director of Quick Reads, associate director of The Bookseller, run the BBC Radio Book Club, read a lot for work and pleasure, and, in the meanwhile, she also have a life and a family. She is the ultimate multitasker. For her role at The Bookseller, she needs to go through more than 200 synopsis per month.

Yes, more than TWO HUNDRED. Of course she stressed the importance of receiving clear and concise information about the books, so that she can do her job quicker and more easily. She reads an average of 16 complete books per month (if I remember correctly). She is my new hero.

After lunch, which I spent with some lovely young ladies, it was time for Kill your darlings, with Nick Davies (editor at John Murray Press), Sarah Savitt (editor at Faber) and Kimberley Young (publisher at Harper Fiction). The speakers, telling about their career, stressed once again the importance of the relationship between editor and authors, and how important is to develop mutual trust. The three also underlined that the work of the editor does not limit to edit manuscripts, but involves other varied tasks, aimed to commission and produce successful editorial products to be launched on the market. Among these tasks, for example, it is taking business trips to other cities in order to understand the specific trends of the areas. As a result, the audience had the clear idea that the editor needs to be a round professional, competent and willing to understand multiple aspects of publishing.

The conference concluded with a panel chaired by Alastair Horne, wrapping up the core theme of the conference, the Perfect Publisher. All the speakers had different opinions about the subject: according to Sara O’Connor, fiction digital director at Hot Key Books, the perfect publisher is where the readers are, is a brand, and is profitable; Jonathan Glasspool, managing director of Bloomsbury Academic and Professional, stressed the importance of digital and IT awareness for anyone aspiring to become a publisher; Gareth Howard, CEO and co-founder of Authoright, on the other hand, made the most controversial point of the panel, stating that the battle against Amazon is has already been lost, partly because some publishers claim the right to decide what people should read. This strong declaration divided both the speakers and the public, between those determined (or resigned?) to see Amazon as a partner, and those strongly rejecting the idea; those advocating for democracy, and those defending the quality standards of traditional publishing.

Personally, I still have mixed feelings about these matters. I have already expressed my doubts about some of the recently published substandard and poorly edited products, which I thought to be the legacy of some branches of the self-publishing market running wild. However, I am aware that without this possibility, many good writers may remain unknown to us. Many steps are being made for supporting self-published authors (see, for example, the already mentioned CompletelyNovel and Authoright), and those might become, given time, strong competitors for publishing houses.

The second point is even more disputable: when thinking about this “hot potato”, I do not want to forget that publishing is a business, and, as such, it needs to attune to the fluctuations of the market and the readers’ preferences. For this reason, saying that editors egotistically choose what we should read is in my opinion a necessary but not accurate generalization to raise a debated (and still unsolved) issue. However, being it a generalization, it might engender dangerous assumptions. I hence hope to be wrong.

As the ancestors said, in medio stat virtus.