Apr 29

Listener questions, a discussion about diversity in publishing, and new books from TaraShea Nesbit and George Saunders.

Accents, and audio quality

We have two questions from listeners this week:

Crystal wants a recommendation for an audiobook version of Macbeth with a narrator who has a Scottish accent. Can any of you help here? I listened to a BBC Audiobooks version a million years ago, but I can’t seem to find the exact record. We’d love to know if you have a favorite audio version of Macbeth. Please leave it in the comments so that others can see your recommendations. (Receiving this by email? To leave comments on this episode, head over to this episode’s show notes at the blog, and click the “comment” link at the top or bottom of the post.)

Terri in Quincy, MA commented that the applause from our live Booktopia author talks is too loud. Honestly, we try to modulate the volume differences, but our equipment at those events is less than professional and it’s very difficult. Still, we’ll work on it for next time, and try a few things to see if we can even out the volume.


audiobooksAudiobook of the week (07:52)

Unbroken Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, narrated by Edward Hermann is my pick for this week’s Audiobooks.com Audiobook of the Week.

Special thanks to Audiobooks.com for sponsoring this episode of Books on the Nightstand.

Audiobooks.com allows you to listen to over 40,000 audiobooks, instantly, wherever you are, and the first one is free. Download or stream any book directly to your Apple or Android device. Sign up for a free 30-day trial and free audiobook download by going to www.audiobooks.com/freebook


Whitewashing literature (10:45)

There’s been quite a bit of controversy about BookCon this week, especially since two weeks ago we talked up BookCon and encouraged you to go. The recent controversy came in two parts: first, the fact that one of the first announced Young Adult panels consisted solely of white men. Then, as the rest of the schedule was released, it became obvious that every author but one was Caucasian, and the one that wasn’t Caucasian was a cat. This resulted in a lot of concern and discussion about diversity in the publishing industry.

A recent article in Entertainment Weekly, “Kid Lit’s Primary Color: White,” addresses the topic in terms of the diversity in children’s book publishing.

We bring this up because we think it’s important to discuss, even though we don’t have any answers, and we know that it’s not always easy to program a diverse event. However, in the case of BookCon, which is aiming to be a leading industry event, has major publisher support, and is located in New York City, there should be no excuses. Let’s hope the conversation about diversity continues, inside the industry and among readers. As for us, the books we talk about and the events we program, we’ll try to do better, too.


Two books we can’t wait for you to read (22:12)


Wives of Los Alamos   Congratulations, by the Way


Oh, how I love The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit! It’s written in a very interesting manner — the voice is first person plural (“We…”). The story of the women who were displaced to a top secret location in the desert while their husbands worked on the Manhattan Project is intriguing, and Nesbit’s style makes evident that each woman had her own story while sharing the universal experience that all of these women lived.

Congratulations, By the Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness, by George Saunders, is based on a graduation speech that Saunders gave. It’s a short, inspiring book, slightly expanded from the speech, that Michael knows that he will regularly re-read.  While it’s ostensibly aimed at an audience of new graduates, it’s really a book that everyone should read.

  • Robert Zimmermann

    After listening to this episode, I have another book to add to my wishlist. (In the last week, I’ve been going through old episodes and have a long list to buy. I’m almost at episode 60 now.) The Wives of Los Alamos sounds great and very different. The first person plural is always a rare thing to run into and I can’t wait to see how Nesbit uses is here. I think the only book I’ve read that uses the first person plural is Ayn Rand’s Anthem. The use of “we” in that book is for somewhat different reasons though, from what I gather from The Wives of Los Alamos.

    One more thing. I think I’ll go and check out the Unbroken audiobook as well. Once you mentioned that Edward Herrmann was the narrator, I was sold. I only know him really from Gilmore Girls (my all-time favorite show) and it’ll be interesting to hear him narrating a book.

  • Alan Cumming’s performance of Macbeth is available on audio.

  • Alice


    I laughed when I was listening to the Shakespeare bit of the podcast as it reminded me of a couple of other things I have heard lately. On a Frank Skinner podcast (my other favourite podcast) last week, Frank (a British comedian) had been to see a ‘Scottish’ version of Macbeth – you can listen to hear his comments (the relevant section is from 19 minutes to about 24 minutes – there is a couple of minutes of discussion and then a listener’s reaction two minutes later) – the podcast can be downloaded from http://www.absoluteradio.co.uk/podcasts/Frank-Skinner-on-Absolute-Radio/2013-04-20/20130420132209/

    Also – our very own Dame Helen Mirren has similar views to you, Ann, on introducing children to Shakespeare – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/william-shakespeare/10784084/Dame-Helen-Mirren-says-children-under-15-should-be-banned-from-reading-Shakespeare.html

    I love the podcast – I always look forward to downloading the next edition every Wednesday

    Kind regards from London

  • Carol Kubala

    A few thoughts on this morning’s podcast.
    A brave conversation this morning about whitewashing literature. This topic is never easy to talk about. Ann’s statement (not a direct quote) about NY being a city that ought to be able to provide diversity seems a good one. I honestly didn’t notice the lopsidedness of this until you mentioned it. I don’t know the answer but the conversation can’t hurt.

    About a week ago, after finishing TaraShea Nesbit’s Wives of Los Alamos, I had to think what the name for this type of narrative was called. I should have waited until today. First person plural. I’m glad you mentioned some additional titles using this technique and I look forward to hearing Ms. Nesbit’s decision to write her novel in this voice. I believe Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka uses the First Person Plural, We style (loved this BTW).

    My husband, like Ann’s, enjoyed listening to Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
    by Laura Hillenbrand. He talks about it to this day.

    Lastly, Michael you are very kind already but I love the sound of the book you talked about – Congratulation, By the Way, Some Thoughts on Kindness.

    Thanks for a wonderful podcast.

  • KittyWren

    I applaud your choice of audio book this week, but must warn listeners that if you listen while driving you may on occasion have to pull over to the side of the road as the tears falling from your eyes will make it almost impossible to drive in a safe manner. The difference in listening to an emotionally charged novel is you cannot pass over or speed read through parts you may be tempted to if your were reading the novel. I “read” UNBROKEN in audio version while on my daily commute to and from work and while running errands and can tell you I cried hard, more so than in any other book I read or listened to. Laura Hillenbrand is a master at her craft.

  • E. Erazo

    First time commenting here, but I really appreciated your conversations on whitewashing literature. I think one thing which may help our views and conversations on this topic would be to intentionally read writers of color. Have you considered making one of your goals for next year to make sure at least half of your reading selections (or all!) come from people of color? You may even be able to combine this with your reading of works in translation.

    I think we have to overcome our fear of “tokenism” and just realize that sometimes, since people of color are at an institutionally disadvantage, we HAVE to step up and be purposeful about searching out their voices among the many. I mean, if you include someone on the panel just because they are a minority, yes, its tokenism. But if you read a book by a minority and then include them in the panel because they wrote a good book, that’s not tokenism. You just have to be purposeful about finding those works.

    Starting places could be Junot DIaz, Daniel Alarcon, Ishmael Beah

    • Very good thoughts, E. In fact, the people of color that we have had at our Booktopia events were authors of books that we had read first and loved. While I don’t think I’m going to make a percentage rule, I am being more intentional about seeking out and reading books by people of color. Taking it further, however, I’m seeking out books about differences in experience from my own.

    • Nancy

      Yes, to everything you said. I went through my goodreads books last December and made a shelf for authors-of-color. I then did the math – 92% of my books were by white authors. Horrified, I made a New Year’s Resolution that at least 25% of my reading must be by authors of color. One of the few resolutions I’ve managed to stick to and enjoy. Thanks for the recommendations – I haven’t tried any of the authors you mentioned so I’ll be sure to add them to my list.

      • E. Erazo

        Fantastic! Any recommendations you can share? My focus tends to be more on authors of hispanic origin, since I am studying Spanish in college, but I would like to expand more into other areas as well.

        • Nancy

          My focus is on African lit so we should exchange recommendations! Chinua Achebe is always a solid bet. He’s most known for Things Fall Apart, his response to Heart of Darkness, but my favorite of his is A Man of the People. It’s a short novel about a young Nigerian man developing a political relationship with a powerful man. It illustrates Nigerian society in a post-colonial world of corruption and clashing interests.

          I just finished Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the book that just won the U.S. National Book Critics Award. It’s an incisive look at race in American society and immigration in the US and UK.

          Other books by African authors that I’ve read and enjoyed include Mariama Ba’s So Long a Letter and Ousmane Sembene’s Xala, a satire of a man cursed with impotence after taking on a third wife.

          I also read plays and have enjoyed August Wilson, Ntozake Shange, and Henry David Hwang. If you like comics, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is good.

          Do you have any good recommendations of authors of hispanic origin? I haven’t read much.

  • tcheer4life

    My husband, too listened to and really enjoyed Unbroken.

  • Susan Albert

    Thanks for the recommendation of Wives of Los Alamos. I find it to be an interesting topic. I read Buddha in the Attic and after a few chapters the first person plural seemed easy to read. I hope this is the case with this book.

  • Laura Brennan

    Alan Cumming’s Macbeth is very good, and based on his one-man-show of the play. But for my money, the James Marsters recording is a better introduction to the play because it has a full cast – super helpful if you’re not sure what’s going on. http://www.audiobooks.com/audiobook/macbeth/129576

    The tragedies are good intros into Shakespeare for kids because, well, swordfighting and death doesn’t need much translation! For the comedies, “Midsummer” is best – there’s so much going on, plus fairies – just be sure to go over the three subplots in advance. It’s easier to follow the language if you have a basic grasp of the plot. I use paperdolls – easy to make Bottom’s donkey head and have it stay on!

    • JanetS.

      Although I haven’t listened to it myself, I have been impressed with L.A. Theater Works which has the James Marsters version available as a download for $4.99.

  • Katie Noah Gibson

    So excited to check out The Wives of Los Alamos. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown is also written in first-person plural (the collective voice of three sisters), and it’s lovely. (Also Shakespeare-related!)

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