The Official TBR Pile Challenge Returns! (Sign-Up Post) #TBR2022RBR

The Goal: To finally read 12 books from your “to be read” pile (within 12 months).
About: I am pleased to announce that Roof Beam Reader’s official TBR Pile Challenge is back for its NINTH YEAR! This challenge started when I realized I had some MAJOR issues with buying books but never reading them (not because I don’t read – but because I have such a book buying problem!) Year after year, books would sit on my shelf untouched, and I would end up reading newer ones first. I realized I was missing out on a lot of great books because I let them sit there gathering dust instead of reading them as I bought them.
Specifics:
1. Each of these 12 books must have been on your bookshelf or “To Be Read” list for AT LEAST one full year. This means the book cannot have a publication date of 1/1/2021 or later (any book published in the year 2020 or earlier qualifies, as long as it has been on your TBR pile). Caveat: Two (2) alternates are allowed, just in case one or two of the books ends up in the “did not finish (DNF)” pile.
2. To be eligible, you must sign-up with the Mr. Linky below. Link to your list (so create it ahead of time!) and add updated links to each book’s review. Books must be read and must be reviewed (doesn’t have to be too fancy) in order to count as completed. You can participate via blog, Instagram, Goodreads, Tumblr, etc.
3. The link you post in the Mr. Linky below must be to your “master list” (see mine below). This is where you will keep track of your books completed, crossing them out and/or dating them as you go along, and updating the list with the links to each review (so there’s one easy, convenient way to find your list and all your reviews for the challenge). See THIS LINK for an idea of what I mean. Your complete and final list must be posted by January 31st, 2022.
4. Leave comments on this post as you go along, to update us on your status. Come back here if/when you complete this challenge and leave a comment indicating that you CONQUERED YOUR 2022 TBR LIST! Every person who successfully reads their 12 books and/or alternates (and who provides a working link to their list, which has links to the review locations) will be entered to win a $50 gift card from Amazon.com or The Book Depository!
5. Crossovers from other challenges are totally acceptable, as long as you have never read the book before, and it was published in 2020 or earlier!

*Note: You can read the books on your list in any order; they do not need to be read in the order you have them listed. Audiobooks count. Graphic novels count. Poetry collections? Essay collections? All good! As you complete a book – review it, go to your original list and turn that title into a link to the review. This will keep the comments section here from getting ridiculously cluttered. For an example of what I mean, Click Here.

Monthly Check-Ins: On the 15th of each month, I’m going to post a “TBR Pile Check-In.” This will allow participants to link-up their reviews from the past month and get some recognition for their progress. There will also be small mini-challenges and giveaways to go along with these posts (Such As: Read 6 books by the June Check-in and be entered to win a book of your choice!) I’m hoping this will help to keep us all on track and make the challenge a bit more engaging/interactive. I started these mini-challenges in 2014, and I think they were a great success, so I am continuing them this year!

Chat: On Social Media, please use #TBR2022RBR

My 2022 TBR Pile Challenge List:

Image of book stack with 12 main choices and 2 alternates.
  1. Chicago Poems (1916) by Carl Sandburg
  2. Crush (2005) by Richard Siken
  3. Rimbaud: Complete Poems and Prose (2002) by Arthur Rimbaud
  4. Nature Poem (2017) by Tommy Pico
  5. Madness (2017) by Sam Sax
  6. When My Brother was an Aztec (2012) by Natalie Diaz
  7. A Book of Common Prayer (1977) by Joan Didion
  8. If Beale Street Could Talk (1974) by James Baldwin
  9. Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017) by Jesmyn Ward
  10. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974) by Robert M. Pirsig
  11. A People’s History of the United States (1999) by Howard Zinn
  12. A Poet’s Guide to Poetry (1999) by Mary Kinzie

Alternates:

  1. A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003) by Bill Bryson
  2. The Warmth of Other Suns (2010) by Isabel Wilkerson (not pictured)

Roof Beam Reader’s 2021 Year in Books

Welcome to My Reading Year in Review!

At the end of last year/beginning of this year, I told myself that I was going to slow everything down. I made plans to do another themed reading for the year, as I usually do, and maybe work on some of my Classics Club list. But that was it. I wanted to savor my reading slowly instead of rushing through. But, as it turns out, 2021 ended up being the year in which I read the greatest number of books I’ve ever recorded, at least since 2009 (the founding of Goodreads, which made keeping track of it all so very easy). Here’s how things went:

  • Number Of Books Read: 113
  • Number of Re-Reads: 3
  • Genre Read Most: Poetry
  • Best Book You Read in 2021?
  • A 2021 Book You Enjoyed from an Indie Press:
  • Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going to Love More?
    • The Fascinators by Andrew Eliopoulos (such a great premise, but…)
  • Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?
  • Book You “Pushed” The Most People to Read (And They Did)?
  • Best series you started? Best Sequel of 2021? Best Series Ender of 2021?
    • New Series: Dark Rise by C.S. Pacat
    • Sequel: Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
    • Series Ender: N/A
  • Favorite new author you discovered?
    • Viet Thanh Nguyen (fiction) and Sharon Olds (poet)
  • Best book from a genre you don’t typically read?
  • Most action-packed/thrilling/un-put-down-able book of the year?
    • Before We Disappear by Shaun David Hutchinson
  • Book You Are Most Likely to Re-Read Next Year?
    • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
  • Favorite cover of a book you read in 2021?
  • Most memorable character of 2021?
    • Fee from Edinburgh by Alexander Chee
  • Most beautifully written book read in 2021?
  • Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2021?
  • Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2021 to finally read?
    • Stoner by John Williams
  • Favorite Passage/Quote from a Book You Read in 2021?
    • “For a great many people, the evening is the most enjoyable part of the day. Perhaps, then, there is something to his advice that I should cease looking back so much, that I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day. After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished?” ― Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day
  • Shortest & Longest Book You Read in 2021?
  • Book that Shocked You the Most?
    • A Hunger by Lucie Brock-Broido
  • OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!):
    • Jack and Wilhelm from Before We Disappear by Shaun David Hutchinson
  • Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship of the Year?
    • All the characters from Fredrik Bachman’s Anxious People
  • Favorite Book You Read in 2021 from an Author You’ve Read Previously?
  • Best book you read in 2021 based solely on someone else’s recommendation?
  • Best 2021 debut you read?
    • Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen and The Sky Blues by Robbie Couch
  • Best World-building/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?
    • Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell and At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill
  • Book that put a Smile on Your Face/Was the most FUN to Read?
    • The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
  • Book That Made You Cry or Nearly Cry in 2021?
    • Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.
  • Hidden Gem of the Year?
    • Threshold by Joseph O. Legaspi
  • Book That Crushed Your Soul?
    • Letters to a Stranger by Thomas James
  • Most Unique Book You Read in 2021?
    • I Wished by Dennis Cooper and DMZ Colony by Don Mee Choi
  • Book That Made You the Maddest (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?
    • Apt Pupil by Stephen King
  • New favorite book blog you discovered in 2021?
    • Oops, I did it again. Forgot to explore!
  • Favorite review that you wrote in 2021?
  • Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog?
  • Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?
  • Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2021?
    • Publication of my poem, “Phantom” in Broad River Review, Volume 53.
  • Most Popular Post This Year on Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?
  • Post You Wished Got a Little More Love?
  • Best bookish discovery (book related sites, bookstores, etc.)?
    • There’s a used bookstore in a neighboring city that also BUYS books, and I’m really looking forward to visiting sometime soon. I only found out about it a week ago.
  • Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?
    • NOPE!
  • One book on your list in 2021 that you didn’t read but definitely will get to in 2022?
    • The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein and Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad
  • Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2022 (non-debut)?
    • Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuong!!!
  • 2022 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?
  • Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2022?
    • I can’t think of any right now. What am I forgetting??
  • Something you hope to accomplish in your reading/blogging life in 2022?
    • A more regular presence here at the blog seems like a good goal. I might have to slow down the reading part of things and spend more time writing.
  • A 2022 Release You’ve Already Read & Recommend to Everyone:
    • None. I’m out of the loop!

So, that’s it, my year in reading was really a grand success, and I’m not sure how I was able to do this much, except for the fact that, of course, I was basically stuck at home again all year. I think there was only one week where I didn’t read anything, and that’s when I went home to visit friends and family. Every other week, I read one or two books.

How was your reading year? Please share your favorites in the comments or let me know if any books in my review have sparked your interest.

Happy New Year!

In Search of the Divine: My Year of Reading Religiously

In Search of the Divine: My Year of Reading Religiously

Zen Wave, Sumi Ink and Pigment on rice paper, 2005, by Daniel Colvin.

Merry Christmas, dear readers, and Happy Holidays! Happy Hannukah, Happy Kwanza, a Festive Festivus, and a Sensational Solstice, too. Whatever you celebrate, or whatever you don’t, I hope the end of the year finds you happy, healthy, and rested.

It’s been some time since I’ve posted anything to the blog, and I apologize for that. It’s a combination of things that have kept me away, from simply being too busy, to being too tired, to being on a bizarre journey that took me to all sorts of unexpected places—spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally. It’s this last bit I want to share about today. (Don’t worry! I’ll be back again in a few days with my annual “Big Book Survey” to end the year.)

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, or at least for the last year, know that I generally establish a themed reading event every year, and the theme for 2021 was “World Religions.” The plan was to read six formative texts from six different major religions, and to post about them every month or two. I did the reading, plus lots more, but I only posted here about the first few texts, and there’s a reason for that. I could blame it on this second pandemic year and all its craziness, or on being too busy from picking up overloads at school due to faculty illnesses, and etc., but the truth is, the journey got a little bit personal. Since the plan was to read these texts from an historical and literary perspective, I wasn’t expecting it to take me offroad and into a spiritual place, a place of deep introspection and reflection, but that’s exactly what happened. And I wasn’t sure how to pivot my checkpoint posts into that kind of discussion, so I stepped away entirely. I do apologize to anyone who was following along and wondering what happened.

That being said, here’s what happened.

I’ve never been a religious person. Even as a child growing up in the Lutheran Church and going to Lutheran schools until the fourth grade, I knew it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t the spiritual side of things, per se, that bothered me, but the dogma, the prejudice against inquiry, the “blind faith,” that is valued in the Christian faith in particular, and the decidedly un-Christlike manner in which most people at those churches and schools treated me and my family. It all seemed so very hypocritical, and it turned me off, for a very long time, from wanting to know anything about anything to do with god, religion, spirituality, faith, and the like.

The thing is, though, I’ve always been a spiritual person. Despite my lack of trust in any organized religion—a feeling I maintain to this day, even after this remarkable year of discovery—I have known that there’s something more to this experience we call life than what can be seen on the surface. I spent years studying Humanism, then years studying Stoicism, followed by the last couple years studying Buddhism. George Harrison said once that we’re all living in the “material world,” and unlike Madonna, he didn’t just mean this world of things, but our own corporeal existence. This state of being in a body, with its senses, all of which are there to help us experience what it is to be human, to be alive. After this year reading from Christianity, Daoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism, Hinduism, and Atheism (or Humanism, as it turned out), I’ve come to align myself rather closely with Harrison’s interpretation. In fact, I might go so far as to see he’s become a kind of ancestor guru for me.

Here’s what I mean. This year, I re-read the New Testament, which I’ve read many, many times, and the Qur’an, Buddhist scriptures, Tao Te Ching, the Analects of Confucius, the Analects of Zhuangzi, the Holy Vedas (as well as an ancient Indian epic called The Ramayana), the Talmud, and Religion for Atheists, which turned out to be a kind of humanist perspective. I also added A Brief History of Thought, which turned out to be another advocate for humanism, as well as George Harrison on George Harrison, which of course relayed much of Harrison’s spiritual beliefs that center on Hinduism, though he wasn’t exclusive. In fact, after my year of reading religiously, I was shocked by the serendipitous conclusion he and I both seemed to come to about these great world religions in general, which is that they’re all the same. Really. At the core of each of their messages is a simple concept: Love. They’ve just tried to explain it in different ways.

I used to be obsessed with kindness. I spent much of my college years, and beyond, trying to get to the root of kindness, trying to understand why some folks are kind and others aren’t, why some are naturally compassionate, and others seem to lack empathy altogether. After this year of deep reading and reflection on spirituality, I’ve come to think that compassion, and kindness, come both from a person’s current life experiences and those they’ve built up from experiences past. In a way, I guess that means I believe in reincarnation of a sort, which brings me close to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity. They each argue that reincarnation is fact, though Hinduism and Buddhism suggest that it’s the spirit, only, that experiences many lives, while each body only lives once. Christianity, on the other hand, suggests that each person lives just one life on Earth—body and spirit—and then, if they’re a true believer, their body and spirit will be resurrected in Heaven.

I don’t follow that last logic, as I don’t believe that Christ’s resurrection was a literal one. To me, the resurrection story reads like a beautiful metaphor. Instead of Christ dying for our sins, which in my opinion lets people off the hook a bit too easily, I believe Christ’s sacrifice is the lesson. He dies for love. He is willing to give up his earthly body and all its senses and experiences, to ensure that love will continue, that the message of love lives on and inspires others. In this way, I think it comes incredibly close to the concepts of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Humanism, which suggest that we are all part of the same grand oneness, that there is divinity inside every one of us, and it is this which we recognize in one another. There’s a related mantra that suggests, “the way out is in,” which means that if we can touch the divine inside of us, we will learn to see it in others, and we will ultimately make our way out of this human condition and into the freedom of pure spiritual existence. Therein lies the road to love, to peace, and to ultimate transcendence, in whatever form you want to imagine it (heaven, nirvana, etc.)

This reminds me of that belief I mentioned above about compassion and kindness coming from a place of lived experiences in our current and past lives. It seems to me that the sensitive ones, the compassionate ones, those who hurt when others hurt and who literally cannot bring themselves to do harm to others, are the ones who have come closest to that state of ultimate transcendence, because they’ve experienced what they need to, to understand the divine and what it means to be human. What separates us from every other living creature on the planet, and what connects us to one another. All life is sacred; all are equal.

George Harrison said, and I’m paraphrasing, that “I am not Christian or Muslim or Hindu or Jewish, I am all of these.” It’s true. All of these are trying to get to the heart of the matter, and the heart of the matter is you and me. God, if that’s what you want to call it, is not, for me, a single entity, a deity in the classical sense, watching over us and making judgements, or even meting out karma (one of many places where I diverge from Buddhism and Hinduism, though I find much of their belief systems amenable). It’s that divine spark inside of us that feeds our conscience, that teaches us joy and how to give it, that lets us know what a smile is for and when to share it.

Thomas Paine wrote, “the world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.” There are lessons in so many religious texts about the dangers of false idols, though I think we’ve sometimes mistaken those lessons as advocating for competition among religions or the various gods. There’s only one god—one essence of divinity, I mean—which is everyone, and it’s lost when we play the game of favorites. Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh puts it this way, “We are all the branches of the same tree. We are all the waves of one sea.” To me, the road to joy is found by honoring the essential sameness in every one of us, that sacredness that makes it profane to harm, hinder, ignore, enslave, or take advantage of another. We can find that road by doing away with false idols; I don’t mean the golden calves of the Old Testament, but the other things we hold up as sacred that divide us—flags and nations, political parties, and yes, religious affiliations.

“I am he / As you are he / As you are me / And we are all together.” It’s a simple kind of message the Beatles were trying to get across, and one that is shared by virtually all the major religions of the world. It was remarkable to me to read, this year, how very close—sometimes literally down to the characters and narratives—these supposedly diverse theologies are to one another, and it was reassuring. After all, if over the course of thousands of years, all the worlds’ greatest thinkers, from virtually every region and religion on the planet, have come to the same conclusion, that love is the way, then I feel remarkably good about being a disciple of love.

It’s because of love, I think, that I’m filled with spirit every Christmas season, despite not being “a Christian” (but, like Harrison, I am that, and all the rest too, and none of them at all.) I’ve adored Christmas music and Christmas movies and all the warmth of the season for as long as I can remember, and not because I feel particularly connected to the birth of Christ (Christos; Krishna…how about that, eh?), though I’ll be the first to admit that I am in many ways a follower of Christ; who wouldn’t be, when it gets down to the philosophy of it all? It’s not nostalgia, either, which is what I assumed for most of my adult life that it must be. It’s the connective sensation of it all. The “vibrations,” as some have put it.

This connective sensation is something I’m starting to understand much better, now. This idea of the divine in all of us, and how it’s worth seeing—it needs to be seen, and I need to see it. It’s love, these connections, whether we call it friendship or nostalgia, or warm memories, or whatever. “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34 KJV) The way out is in, but that doesn’t mean we’re supposed to isolate ourselves. We need to reach in and touch that divine essence inside ourselves so that we can know it, and love it, and learn how to share it. That’s why, when we see it in others, we feel good. Less lonely. A little bit fuller. And when we all get to that place inside ourselves, we can start making better choices, especially about how we treat others, which might be the only thing that will lead someone else to change for the better, too.

The more we can do this, the closer we come to the divine. The more of us do this, the closer we bring all of us to peace. Heaven, Nirvana… these concepts of attainment that require, first, a soul that is at peace, having thought, spoken, and acted rightly. It’s not given to us by anyone, as far as I’m concerned. Christ dying on the cross was not a gift, in my mind, it was an instruction. If you want your soul—your energy, your spirit, your essence—to live forever, you must give your all to that which is good and right, always and no matter what.

The magic of Christmas is that it reminds me of all this, every year. I’ve always felt it, but it wasn’t until this year’s journey through world religions, and into the depths of my inner self, that I began to wonder about what I was feeling and where it was coming from, and why. My answer might be convoluted, it might even be wrong, but it leads me to love. And love is the only place worth being.   

“There’s only one rule that I know of, babies . . . you’ve got to be kind.” – Kurt Vonnegut

2021 Religious Works Read and Consulted

  • Tao Te Ching (Daoism)
  • The Buddhist Scriptures (Buddhism)
  • The Holy Vedas (Hinduism)
  • The Ramayana (Hinduism)
  • The Talmud (Judaism)
  • Religion for Atheists (Humanism)
  • The Qur’an (Islam)
  • The New Testament (Christianity)
  • The Analects of Confucius (Confucianism)
  • The Analects of Zhuangzi (Daoism)
  • A Brief History of Thought (Western Philosophy/Humanism)
  • George Harrison on George Harrison (World Religion, Hinduism, General Spirituality)
  • The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (in progress)

Giveaway: Edinburgh by Alexander Chee

Here’s one of those exciting times when my screw-up might result in your benefit.

A week or so ago, I ordered what I thought was one copy of Alexander Chee’s Edinburgh. Apparently, I must have accidentally put it in the virtual shopping cart twice because I ended up receiving two copies. It wasn’t luck, though. I went back and checked my receipt. Oops!

Anyhow, I’m only about half-way through the novel, but I’m enjoying it. I think the two words I’d use to describe it are “beautiful” and “devastating.” Perhaps, thinking about the way part two begins, I might also add, “surprising.” I’m confident this is one I’ll end up recommending, so rather than hold on to the second copy, I’d like to offer it up as a giveaway. YAHOO!

Rules:

  1. Be a follower of this blog, either by email or WordPress account.
  2. Live in the United States. (Sorry! My last giveaway was international, and it cost a fortune.)
  3. Leave a comment on this post saying you’d like to be entered in the drawing; include contact email in case you win. (To avoid spam, do thusly: roofbeamreader (at) gmail (dot) com)
  4. All names will be entered into a Rafflecopter and drawn randomly. Winner will be emailed and have 72-hours to respond with name & shipping information before a new winner is chosen. I’m not responsible for items damaged or lost in the mail.

Good Luck!

Also, I’m looking for a second job and need some help.

Student loan debt is killing me, and I’m eager to get out of this hole. So, rather than spending twenty years paying the minimum, I’m trying to find a second job whose income I can use to pay directly toward the student loans and get it taken care of in half the time. I haven’t been having much luck, though, so if you happen to know of anything, please get in touch!

I’m looking for full-time or part-time, and it likely needs to be fully remote/from home. I’m not sure what an academic is qualified for these days, but I was thinking along the lines of general tech support, call center/customer service, proofreading or editing, data entry, etc.

I’m not particularly interested in tutoring or teaching since I do that full time already.

Thanks for any leads!

P.S. If you’re interested in donating to the blog/coffee fund, my details:

  • Venmo: @AdamBurgess83
  • Cash App: $awb1031

Seeking Austen on Audio: A New Appreciation by Jorie

Seeking Austen on Audio: A New Appreciation

by Jorie @ Jorie Loves A Story

(jorielovesastory.com | @joriestory)

My pursuit of Austen has been a lifelong journey – as originally outlined during a previous year of Austen in August, hosted by Adam @ Roof Beam Reader. However, that particular journey has expanded and become quite more inclusive of her after canon stories as writ by writers who are undertaking bridging us back into Austen’s settings, world and characters’ lives as only they can write them. My joy of listening to audiobooks is also a fairly recent pursuit, if you consider, until 2016 I was still a traditional reader who only read books in print – the switch to off-setting my readings in print into audio was an intuitive choice on my behalf as I had a premonition my migraines might become more debilitating in future years. (2018-19 were the worst by far!)

Listening to stories in audio was a bit of a hit/miss with me at first as I had to sort out a passageway for me to both listen to the narrator and to find a way to see the world within their narration come alive for me visually through my imagination. It was a slight disconnect whenever I would listen to a story without doing something else – what worked best through that experimental process were three things: a) whenever I coloured as I listened, I gained a very intimate experience of the story and the narration as if I had lived those lives; b) if I played solitaire online I could trick my mind into hearing the story without wandering afield; and c) if I knitted, I found the same Zen I had listening to audiobooks as I had with colouring; though of the three, colouring is my top favourite choice!

When it comes to my appreciation for Jane Austen’s canon and her after canon selections, I am a bit of a purist as I like to find writers who are honing in on her legacy and her essence but still finding new ways to tell those stories with originality. I’ve also started to entertain a few writers who are re-writing how to genre bend their after canons with a likeness of Austen or with a sentimentality of Austen’s flavour for the craft as well. In other words, these years on – I am finding myself more ‘open’ to exploring new territory of how an Austenesque stories can be explored in different points of entrance.

This was quite true when I listened to the first three novels of the Jane Austen’s Dragons series by Maria Grace. The first titled as “Pemberley: Mr Darcy’s Dragon” (see also Review) and quite cleverly eludes to the kind of world your going to pursue inside this series which beautifully re-alights us into a world we fell in love with within the pages of Pride and Prejudice but respins it into a fantastical world full of dragons! Yes, dragons and I was the hardest one to sell on that idea initially as – how daresay would that work out? Yes, indeed! And, I was the one who was pleasantly surprised as I followed Ms Grace down that rabbit hole as she truly held me captive as a reader and listener – though I credit this a heap to Mr Fife’s narration.

            If you haven’t read Pride and Prejudice in a long while this is a wonderful re-visitation of the story – as Maria Grace aligns you so wholly true to where Jane Austen took us into her novel. The added benefit is the secondary arc wherein the dragons reign alongside the ton and country society the Bennett’s have become renown. As you take this journey each new corridor of the original story is re-explored and re-heightened by the presence of Grace’s dragons. It is hard not to spoilt what you will find within this new series because of how readily true she has written her world into Austen’s and vice versa. You almost question which of the world’s came first – even knowing the answer and that is a mark of a wicked good storycrafter who has given those of us who love Austen a new experience of her stories!

You can follow my adventures and impressions into this world through my next two reviews: “Longbourn: Dragon Entail” (see also Review) and “Netherfield: Rogue Dragon” (see also Review).

This year, during the last weekend of Austen in August, I happily stumbled across a new series of Regency inspired stories set within a dragon world by Stephanie Burgis – titled: “Scales and Sensibility” of which I’ll be discussing during my Saturday book chat (@SatBookChat) on Twitter, on the 6th of November! I was quite gobsmacked to learn another author took a chance on re-exploring how dragons & Austen inspired stories can walk hand in hand! I have not read this story (as it is not yet released) but I have very high hopes for it hence why I jumped at the chance to interview the author & discuss both the story and the forthcoming series it is attached too! All are welcome to join us.

And, yet, I have a classical approach to seeking stories of Austen in audiobook despite the appearance of being contrary to that long held passion I have for Austen’s canon. I might be under-read in her canon but her after canons have tucked themselves into my life bit by bit and this was the first year, I re-attempted to read “Persuasion” which has grown to be far more challenging than I originally predicted it would become! (see my tweets from the weekend to see my bit of angst with the beginning chapters) despite the fact I am in love with Mike Read’s style of narration! This was an audiobook I first discovered on NetGalley (as I only joined the site last year when audiobooks were first introduced as I do not read ebooks due to my chronic migraines) and have continued to listen to it via Scribd. Read has a way of illuminating this text for me in a way that both breaks it down into more palatable layers and in entertaining me with the notion that surely the whole story cannot be as droll and slow moving as it first appears!? Or perhaps I have a singular ill reaction to Persuasion?

And, yet, whenever I picked up a listen from The Quill Collective – as my first experience of their novella and short story collections on behalf of Austen was through the release “Rational Creatures” (see also Review) turnt the tables on how I believe Austen’s collective works can be re-seen through a new generation of writers. They gave my Janeite soul a renewal of joy in seeing how those stories can become alive again and how you can pick up new threads of insight through the stories their crafting together for us to find. Even in the stories you know dearly well become anew through their vision of them.

These writers (of whom I was blessed to interview and converse with during a 2020 @SatBookChat conversation) write authentically truthful canonical re-visitations of Austen’s characters & settings in such a way, it re-aligns you rather directly back into where Austen left off with her own stories. And, I love them for it!

            The best bit about this opening section of the collection is how much all of us have in common when it comes to reading Jane Austen – either her original canon of stories, the letters she’s left behind or the happy niche of stories inclusive to the realms of the ‘after canon’; each of us who self-identifies as a #Janeite or an #Austenite can attest to a mutuality of interest in seeking out the stories which honour the writer we all are passionately celebrating, championing and continuing to read these many centuries after she lived and published her originals.

I had to concur with the observation that Ms Austen would appreciate this collection – as it was written as a ‘fan fictional’ account of her characters, a part of me felt she would embrace the collection as she wasn’t a high brow reader. Meaning, she did not shun different literary genres and points of interest as she was very well read and also read for the strict pleasure of the hobby rather than always astutely seeking knowledge or a higher level of literary agency. She liked to read the fluffier bits you see and also have a bit of cheeky fun with the stories she picked up to taste and see what the fuss was about over them. In many regards, she would have understood book bloggers (today) and after canon story-tellers because she truly celebrated book world in all its lovely tangents of following a story one is passionate about seeing published.

I wrote this about the Introduction within “Rational Creatures” – as I felt the piece offered the best entrance into the collection itself. The narration of Ms Riley truly captured my attention as well – as I had this to say about her style:

My goodness – such a treat for the ears and the listener alike to hear Victoria Riley narrate this anthology! She has one of those kinds of voices you could simply listen to for hours on end and never feel that you’ve heard enough of her narration! I am half of mind to see if she has narrated other Jane Austen stories – either in the classical sense or in the after canon niche market? I believe she is fast becoming one of my favourites for these kinds of stories – which is a wickedly delightful discovery for me.

How we attach to a narrator’s voice and narration style is subjective to each of us who listen’s to an audiobook. Some voices feel cosy comforting to us and that is a natural progression as we seek out more audiobooks. For me, narrators who have accents and are either from the UK or Australia tend to be my favourites as there is something about their intonation and diction which strikes my fancy as I listen to the stories their narrating. This isn’t to say I don’t listen to American narrators but overall, most of my top favourites on both my shortlist and long list of narrators are from overseas! You might be surprised by which ‘voice’ relates to you as well.

On that note – as soon as I heard Elizabeth Grace narrating another anthologist collection of Austen’s stories by the Quill Collective, I was beyond charmed with her immediate connection to those stories and to how they were waiting to be heard. The collection is entitled: “Elizabeth: Obstinate Headstrong Girl” (see also Review).

Her articulation of the words is top notch and her ability to recite monologue is amongst my favourites out of all the ones I’ve heard save Jake Urry and Kim Bretton who are her equals. Whilst it is how she can shift voices and accents – between characters and give you this representation of a wider world beyond the scope of how each story is rooted in step with Elizabeth Bennett. She gives you the impression this is an ensemble cast not a one woman performance and that in of itself is also a benefit of her experience as both an actress and as a narrator; as not everyone can pull this off at this caliber of a deliverance.

The ways in which she punctuates the characters voices gives you full merit of having the whole cast playing in your mind’s eye and of seeing them not just ‘hearing’ them as they go through their entrances and exits in the stories themselves. I cannot speak higher on behalf of her performance!

Except to say, this Elizabeth was bourne to bring Elizabeth Bennett to life!

As you can see – I’ve found a hidden niche of love for pursuing Austen in Audio whilst appreciating the journey I’ve taken thus far along. I have more to seek out and more to listen too. For those of us who love Austen as much as we all do as a community of Austenites and Janeites, I do not believe we can be satisfied until we exhaust all avenues to find her and find remnants of her style being re-explored by today’s writers.

If you are finding my new appreciation for finding Austen in audiobooks intriguingly curious – I hope you’ll visit with me on my blog under these reviews and showcases to let me know which one you felt was a wicked good listen for you, too! If you’ve regularly have sought out Austen on audiobook – either of her original canon or the after canons, kindly leave me notes on this post on Adam’s blog as I’d delight in the joy of finding new narrators and stories to give a listen too!

Whilst it should be said, all the audiobooks I’ve spoken about today were given to me courtesy of either the publisher, author or narrator attached to them in exchange for an honest review as I was hosting their stories either on a blog tour or a non-blog tour review. Without being a book blogger, I know I would not have been able to expand my horizons into such wicked wonderful directions and I am truly blessed for the journey I’ve taken these past eight years whilst curating my own literary route of bookish and readerly joy on Jorie Loves A Story.

Now, I turn the conversation to you – what kinds of Austen stories would you seek out on audiobook? And, which kinds of after canon stories tickle your fancy to read or listen too as well? Are audiobooks your jam as much as they are mine or do you find them a bit daunting or off-putting? I respect that if its the case as not everyone finds them agreeable but trust me, even I find narrators who just aren’t cutting it for me and I realise that sometimes like in traditional reading, you’ll find what you love and what you dislike. Give audiobooks a chance if you’ve not yet found the narrator whose voice bewitches you with intrigue!

See Jorie’s previous guest post on Austen for Roof Beam Reader’s 2017 Austen in August event.