Writings about Macs, music and more by Kirk McElhearn




CD Review: The Essential Shakespeare Live, by the Royal Shakespeare Company


During my recent Shakespeare week, I spent a bit of time browsing in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s shop. They sell books, DVDs, programs, mugs, pencils and posters. But they also have a handful of audio recordings. They have several of the Arkangel full-cast Shakespeare recordings, and some sets by Naxos Audiobooks, but they also had […]

Review: The Complete Arkangel Shakespeare on CD


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“We might be better off with public readings of Shakespeare,” says Harold Bloom in Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. “Ideally, of course, Shakespeare should be acted, but since he is now almost invariably poorly directed and inadequately played, it might be better to hear him well than see him badly.” Not being able to judge the quality of current Shakespearean performances as the erudite Bloom, I suffer more from a dearth of Shakespeare here in the French countryside.

While we cannot always find such public readings, we can listen to recorded, dramatized versions of the plays, as with this set of Shakespeare’s 38 plays. With a cast of hundreds, most actors from the Royal Shakespeare Company, these works come alive through a skillful combination of reading, sound effects and music. As radio used to do when dramatizing works, the Arkangel set gives you the acting and the atmosphere. While one may be a bit irked by the “original” music, a sort of Coltrane-inspired Elizabethan music–why didn’t they use actual music of the period, including that composed for Shakespeare’s plays?–the overall production quality is about as good as it gets.

Marcel Proust in Audio


A la recherche du temps perdu, in audio, on 111 CDs (in French)

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I’ve long been a fan of Marcel Proust, author of A la recherche du temps perdu (or In Search of Lost Time, in English). Last year, a French publisher released a complete audio recording of this extraordinary novel, on 111 CDs, read by 6 well-known French actors. It clocks in at just over 148 hours, and I have been enjoying listening to these recordings in recent weeks. I’m not listening to it all at once, but rather one section at a time. The length and complexity of this work is part of the charm that makes this one of the pillars of French and world literature.

Since most of my readers don’t speak French, you might want to check out an English version, such as the 39-CD abridgment by Neville Jason. This is a good start, while waiting for Naxos (the publisher of this audiobook) to release a complete version in the near future.

If you’ve never read Proust, you might want to try the only part of this epic novel that is really a stand-alone section, Un Amour de Swann. In English, you could start with Swann’s Way , the first volume of the series. This is a great novel of decadence and passion, written in an inimitable style.

For some biographical information–after all, Proust’s novel was, to a large extent, about himself–you could try the excellent biography by William C. Carter, or an interesting audio biography by Neville Jason (included in the 39-CD set mentioned above). Finally, Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life is an unexpected approach to this dense work, while Roger Shattuck’s Proust’s Way: A Field Guide to In Search of Lost Time is a more conventional introduction and guide book to the novel. No matter where you begin, though, Proust is the kind of author you may end up adopting for life.

Digital Audiobooks: Taking Them to the Next Generation


In addition to being an avid reader of dead-tree books, I’ve succumbed to the audiobook habit. While I read several books a week, I also listen to audiobooks on my iPod, each one generally over a couple of weeks and in short doses. Audiobooks are interesting: they give you a different perspective on reading. Instead of being active, you are passive; you allow the text to enter you instead of working to ingest it. Good readers can bring out the subtleties in a text, and the nuances in characters. (One excellent example that I’ve listen to recently is Matt Dillon’s “performance” of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, which brings this book alive in ways I hadn’t expected.)

Digital audiobooks make listening much easier than books on CDs. With quick downloads (from Audible.com or from the iTunes Music Store, you can find a book and start listening now, instead of waiting for the package to arrive with the CDs. No changing discs and no being near a CD player and having to change discs every hour or so; just pop it into your iPod or other digital music player, and start listening.

There are all kinds of audiobooks available digitally: from fiction to history, from science to mysteries, Audible sells more than 30,000 programs (including books, radio shows, interviews, magazines and newspapers). However, there are a few ways that digital audiobooks could be improved, and they are really simple…

Learn How to Work with Audiobook CDs


My latest Macworld article, Ripping and Playing Audiobooks, looks at working with audiobooks you get on CDs rather than by download.

“Audiobooks have become increasingly popular as digital music players such as the iPod have become commonplace. While it’s great to listen to music while commuting or exercising, you can use some of that time to listen to your favorite author or the latest non-fiction best-seller. You can download digital audiobooks from the iTunes Store or Audible, but you can also buy audiobooks on CD and add them to your iTunes library. Here’s how to best deal with those CDs.”

Importing Audiobooks in iTunes


If you listen to audiobooks, and purchase or borrow them on CD, you’ll probably want to import them into iTunes so you can listen on your iPod, or your computer. It’s so much easier to listen to audiobooks on digital devices; you don’t need to carry around all the CDs, and you can stop listening whenever you want, yet still keep your place. Using an iPod–or another digital music player–for this is easy, and with iTunes, you can import your audiobooks in the format you want, and prepare them for listening with very little work.

However, you need to be aware of certain settings, and there are a couple of tricks that can make listening to audiobooks on an iPod much easier. Read on to find out how to do this.

Audiobook review: Molloy, by Samuel Beckett


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I have long been a fan of Samuel Beckett’s works. I first discovered him when I was in my early twenties, and soon became an avid reader of his fiction, which ranges from very short works to plays and novels. I was intrigued by the fact that this Irish author, who moved to France where he consorted with James Joyce, among others, decided, after World War II, to write in French. This prompted me to refresh my high-school French in order to read his works in the “original” language.

But Beckett’s choice of language went much further–he translated most of his own writings from French to English, and, when he later wrote in English again, translated those works into French. (Molloy is one of the rare exceptions: Beckett did not translate this novel into English on his own, but worked with Patrick Bowles, who rarely gets credit for this today.) Molloy was Beckett’s “breakout” novel, written in a style that would become his trademark: stark, minimal, even dark at times. Written in the same period as Waiting for Godot, Molloy started Beckett’s career as one of the world’s leading authors of fiction in that post-war period; it was followed by two other novels that are considered to be parts of a trilogy: Malone Dies and The Unnamable.