iTunes and Audiobook CDs

As iTunes has evolved, it’s gotten easier to import audiobook CDs for later listening on your iPhone. It’s especially handy for library audiobooks, freeing one from the overhang of a due date. This is a guide to one way of doing it that’s worked well for me over the years. It’s written for iTunes 12.

There are three tasks: rip the CDs, put them in a smart playlist, and fix up the metadata. We’ll go over each one. My example is Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, on 11 CDs.

Rip the CDs

Pro tip: library CDs tend to be mishandled, and sometimes don’t get read correctly. If that happens, try washing them. Warm water, a little dish detergent, rinse well, dry well, and try again.

1. Insert the first CD into your reader. iTunes will open it look up its metadata. Most audiobooks have metadata available, and some have more than one version. Choose the most likely-looking one if there’s more than one. We’ll clean it up later.

2. Select all the tracks, and choose the “Join CD Tracks” item from the Options menu, top right of the window. If you don’t see that item, try clicking the top of the leftmost column, the one with the track numbers in it, such that the tracks are ordered from 1 on.

3. Click the Import CD button, top right. You’ll need to choose Import Settings; I generally use the AAC encoder, and Spoken Podcast. Up to you…

4. Repeat steps 1–3 for the remaining CDs.

Create playlist

5. Once the first CD is imported, create a new smart playlist (File > New > Smart Playlist), with Album set to the album name, and a second criterion of “Plays is 0”.

Fix up metadata

6. When the CDs are first imported, they’re classified as music, so they’ll show up in iTunes’ My Music section, in case you need to track down any that (perhaps because of a bad album name) didn’t show up in your playlist. If the audiobook had no beta-data available in step 1, you’ll need to give them all an album name (the name of the book) first. Once everything is there, the playlist is where will be working on metadata.

7. Edit each ripped CD using Get Info on an individual CD, or for metadata that’s the same for every CD (like the album name), selected them all and then Get Info.

8. Metadata fields that should be the same (and correct) for all CDs: album (title of book), artist (author), composer (reader), genre (I use ‘audiobook’), year, track x of y (empty), number of disks. Uncheck the compilation box if it’s not already unchecked. If iTunes won’t let you edit one of these fields, do it on a CD-by-CD basis instead.

9. Metadata fields that are different for each CD: song name (I’ll name these “State of Wonder 1” through “State of Wonder 11”), and disk number. Use the forward button in the Info window to move from CD to CD.

10. Artwork. If iTunes doesn’t find the right artwork for the book, try Google Images. It’s generally pretty good at finding a usable image.

That’s it. Read books!

Nicholson Baker, on Killing

Last week, in a letter to the NY Times.

To the Editor:

Re “Pick a Topic, Any Topic. He Did” (Books of The Times, Aug. 13):

Michiko Kakutani, in her review of my book of essays “The Way the World Works,” says of me: “He even seems to suggest some sort of moral equivalence between the Nazis and the Allies.” I certainly don’t suggest that, and as I’ve repeatedly said in public, I totally reject the notion of moral equivalence as a way of looking at World War II.

Each murder, whether in war or peace, is a separate wrong: one of the things we have to do to get ourselves moving in the right direction — away from retribution, vengeance, payback — is to stop bundling deaths together and weighing them on a giant scale.

South Berwick, Me., Aug. 13, 2012

Mark Twain on autobiography, memory

Mark Liberman quoted these two passages from Mark Twain’s autobiography last month. Twain’s writing, especially in this mood, inspires in me a pang of fondness that finds an echo in my response to some of Vonnegut. Not so strange, I guess.

From Mark Twain’s autobiography

Like half of the U.S., I’ve been reading the first volume of Mark Twain’s recently-published autobiography. I’m sure that there’s some sociolinguistics in it somewhere, but for now you’ll have to be content with this rumination about discourse structure, which I present to you just in case you’re in the half that hasn’t bought the book yet:

Finally, in Florence in 1904, I hit upon the right way to do an Autobiography: start it at no particular time of your life; talk only about the thing which interests you for the moment; drop it the moment its interest threatens to pale, and turn your talk upon the new and more interesting thing that has intruded itself into your mind meantime.

Also, make the narrative a combined Diary and Autobiography. In this way you have the vivid things of the present to make a contrast with memories of like things in the past, and these contrasts have a charm which is all their own. No talent is required to make a combined Diary and Autobiography interesting.

And so, I have found the right plan. It makes my labor amusement — mere amusement, play, pastime, and wholly effortless. It is the first time in history that the right plan has been hit upon.

This is also the right plan for successful blogging, in my experience.

OK, one more quotation:

For many years I believed that I remembered helping my grandfather drink his whisky toddy when I was six weeks old, but I do not tell about that any more, now; I am grown old, and my memory is not as active as it used to be. When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying, now, and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the latter. It is sad to go to pieces like this, but we all have to do it.

True Grit, reloaded

I shiver with antici…pation.

TRUE GRIT The brothers Joel and Ethan Coen offer an alternate reading of the Charles Portis novel that was filmed by Henry Hathaway in 1969. Jeff Bridges steps into the role that won John Wayne his Oscar, as a broken-down United States Marshal hired by a plucky 14-year-old (Hailee Steinfeld) to avenge the murder of her father. With Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper.

William James: A religious man for our times

I call your attention to the introductory post for a new series in the Guardian’s “How to believe” feature: William James, part 1: A religious man for our times ; I look forward to the future posts.

William James bioI also wanted to mention a relatively recent (2006) biography, William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism. I picked up a hardcover copy from a bargain table in Minneapolis a year ago, and have been working my way through it ever since. It’s a reflection on my reading habits, not the quality of the writing, that a year later I’m only halfway through.

It’s by Robert Richardson, who won the 2007 Bancroft Prize for his work.

According to the Bancroft jury, William James is simultaneously an intellectual biography, and a biography tout court, of the James family, including William James’s father, Henry James, Sr., and his brother Henry.” The book “is a virtual intellectual genealogy of American liberalism and, indeed, of American intellectual life in general, through and beyond the twentieth century…the story Richardson tells is engaging, his research deep, his writing graceful and appealing.”

No argument from me. I’d put it at the top of the heap, along with Ray Monk’s most excellent Wittgenstein bio.

Robert Byrd crosses the bar

NPR’s Morning Edition concluded their remembrance of Robert Byrd with his reading of the end of Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar”. The poem has never been one of my favorites, but it was a nice touch.

Sunset and evening star,
   And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
   When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
   Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
   Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
   And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
   When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
   The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
   When I have crossed the bar

Roger Ebert: Why I Hate 3-D Movies

Roger Ebert. This sounds just about right to me.

Roger Ebert: Why I Hate 3-D Movies

3-D is a waste of a perfectly good dimension. Hollywood’s current crazy stampede toward it is suicidal. It adds nothing essential to the moviegoing experience. For some, it is an annoying distraction. For others, it creates nausea and headaches. It is driven largely to sell expensive projection equipment and add a $5 to $7.50 surcharge on already expensive movie tickets. Its image is noticeably darker than standard 2-D. It is unsuitable for grown-up films of any seriousness. It limits the freedom of directors to make films as they choose. For moviegoers in the PG-13 and R ranges, it only rarely provides an experience worth paying a premium for.

R G Collingwood

Andrew Brown points us to Simon Blackburn’s review in The New Republic of a new biography of R G Collingwood, quoting along the way this admiration.

“Although art as magic is not art proper, Collingwood accords it the greatest respect. He dismisses more brutally and contemptuously even than Wittgenstein the patronizing view, held by Frazer, Lévy-Bruhl, and other anthropologists of his time, that religion and magic simply amount to bad science, so that the “savage mind” is one lacking the most elementary knowledge of cause and effect. He also dismisses the ludicrous Freudian view that magic is a kind of neurosis in which the patient supposes that by wishing for a thing he can bring it about. Instead, Collingwood insists, surely correctly, that the end of magic is the raising and channeling of emotion: ‘magical activity is a kind of dynamo supplying the mechanism of practical life with the current that drives it.’ Its true purpose is not, say, to avert natural catastrophes, but to ‘produce in men an emotional state of willingness to bear them with fortitude and hope.’

“This attitude gave Collingwood an uncommon sympathy with religious ritual and practice, and a much more realistic understanding of its ongoing place in human life. He also enables us to see why the majority of people, including those like myself who have no religious attachments, are nevertheless embarrassed at the dogmatic contempt poured on religious practice by our more militant atheists. Every sane person recognizes at some level that dance, music, poetry, and ritual may be just what you need as you prepare to face a battle, or desolation, failure, grief, or death.”

Blackburn isn’t uncritical, though.

If Collingwood is as acute and interesting as I have suggested, how does it happen that he is largely a minority interest? He has his devotees, certainly; but I doubt if he is more than a ghost in the footnotes to syllabi across the Western world. The comparison to Wittgenstein might help. It is difficult to pick up a page of Wittgenstein without being seduced: whether you understand it or not, the sense is overwhelming that something of the highest importance is being addressed with a rare detachment and intelligence. With Collingwood, there is assertion and bravado instead of seduction. Wittgenstein shows that he is a wonderfully and originally reflective thinker; Collingwood cannot help telling you that he is. Wittgenstein is silent about his being capable of other things as well; Collingwood boasts of it. You can read all of Wittgenstein without knowing of his genuine heroism during World War I. One cannot help feeling that had Collingwood done anything like that, it would have cropped up on every other page. All this is off-putting, and Collingwood’s readers have to learn to shake their heads with a smile rather than toss the whole thing into the bin.

Authors reading their books

From time to time I remind you to listen to Michael Chabon reading his Summerland. This would be a good time to do it again, what with pitchers & catchers & all, but that’s not (entirely) why I’m writing.

graveyardbookcover.gifI just finished listening to Neil Gaiman reading his own The Graveyard Book. I won’t say a lot about the book itself. You can follow the link, or if you know Gaiman already, you’ll know it’s worth a read.

But, like Chabon and Summerland, Gaiman does his own reading on the audiobook version of Graveyard, and the result is just as wonderful. Obviously he knows the material, but he’s simply an excellent reader, with a collection of character voices that are just plain fun to hear.

While I’m on the subject of audiobooks, I’ve been meaning to mention that Steve Toltz’s A Fraction of the Whole (Booker shortlist) is a fine novel and exceptionally well read, not by Toltz but by two readers, Colin McPhillamy and Craig Baldwin, who are respectively the voices of a father and son, Martin and Jasper Dean, in more or less alternating chapters. Baldwin/Jasper starts off, and I was taken with the reading. When McPhillamy/Martin took over my first reaction was hey, I want more Jasper, but McPhillamy and Martin stole the show.

It’s one of the pleasures of audiobooks, the extra contribution that a really good reader brings to the party.

Quoting “William James”

Not long ago, Sister Juliann called my attention to this line, attributed to William James:

A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.

The attribution is all over the web, but with no source, and it doesn’t really sound like him, does it? Hard to prove the negative, but you’d think that someone would mention where he had written it, or when he had said it. The same source (again via Sr J) produced another:

“Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.”

Even less Jamesian, wouldn’t you say? But this time The Google was more helpful, and it turns out that it is Jamesian—just not William Jamesian. It’s from Clive James, q.G.

There are historical figures that seem to be (mis)attribution magnets: Shaw, Churchill, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde. James, not so much, I wouldn’t have thought. But there you are.

Overlooked movies

Via Jorn Barger yet again. Makes you want to go home and watch movies.

You Missed It: Most Unfairly Overlooked Movies Of The Decade


… These are the other guys, the great films you missed through circumstance or stupidity, through studio stumbling or simply bad timing. The best movies don’t always get seen, the best movies don’t always win the awards. This isn’t a list of critically acclaimed indies which didn’t do well at the box office, or films with huge fan followings which couldn’t get anyone else to turn out (sorry Serenity). Nor is this a list of movies which flopped at the box office but later found cult success. These movies fell between the cracks and never really found the audience they deserved. When you’re thinking back on the aughts, you won’t think of these films, but maybe you should. Consider giving these movies a second chance. Unique and strange, funny and weird, challenging and sexy; they’re the most unfairly overlooked movies of the past decade. …

A Fraction of the Whole

I’ve been listening to the audiobook of A Fraction of the Whole, with the intention of posting something about it when I’m done. However, it’s 25+ hours long (good!), and I’m not going to finish it for a while yet. And I found a review, Sue Arnold’s in The Guardian, that says it better than I could. Every word is true. I don’t doubt that the book would be a joy to read, but the readers here are so perfect that, well, you’ll see. Or hear.

(This is part of Arnold’s series on audiobook choices; I look forward to reading the others Real Soon Now.)

Five down, one to go. I’m slowly making my way through last year’s Booker shortlist and, unless Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture proves to be invincible, this extraordinary Australian debut novel about, well, everything really — families, crime, celebrity, philosophy, religion, sport, relationships, travel and above all the search for identity — will have been my winning choice. To give any of the plot away would spoil the surprises, and it’s full of wonderful surprises. The story is told alternately by Martin Dean – paranoid, intellectually brilliant, dysfunctional, achingly funny wannabe philosopher from a hick town voted the most boring in Australia — and his son Jasper, ditto. The frenetic action — prison revolts, serial killing, bush fires, exploding river barges carrying guns/drugs — swerves wildly between Poland, China, Australia, France and Thailand. Toltz’s wit is as good as Clive James’s, though maybe darker, and he can be lyrical, too: “the rhythms of the universe were perceptible in the way the boats were nodding at me.” Brilliantly read by both actors to make you mourn as much as laugh, this David Copperfield Down Under on speed with son is an epic in every sense, including length. But don’t be tempted, even if there is one, to get an abridged version. Every macabre detail, every chaotic incident, every wisecrack is an essential fraction of the whole. Heartfelt thanks to Whole Story Audio for getting this and half the other 2008 Booker shortlist out so quickly. To cut a single sentence would be criminal.

The Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley

I need to post this before I completely forget that it was Andrew Brown who pointed the way. He calls it an “Anglican blog”. I dunno; maybe. They have an Archdruid (or is there more than one? again, I dunno).

Anyway, meet the Folk, via the 5 statements of Beaker Belief.

Beautiful World
True liberalism oppresses
Knowing God means challenge
Better off with tea lights?

Hard to argue with that.

If you visit their blog (when you visit their blog), remember to vote on the Moon Gibbon; as I write there are only 240 days left to vote.

Update: Anglici sunt. And there’s a gibbon up there right now, so…

Get Surly

(I’ve flagged this post Local Interest (for the Minneapolis/St Paul area) and Arts for the obvious reason.)

I’m packing to go home after a week in the Twin Cities area. Like California (and no doubt lots of other places), Minnesota has some great craft breweries. The big one is Summit, and I’m always happy to resample their IPA (or in a pinch, as at Broadway Pizza, a mandatory stop, EPA (though they were tapped out the other evening)).

furious.jpgThis time, though, my sister introduced me to Surly Brewing, and in particular to their Furious, which I’d describe (lamely) as an aromatic IPA. Their words:

Furious — A tempest on the tongue, or a moment of pure hop bliss? Brewed with a dazzling blend of American hops and Scottish malt, this crimson-hued ale delivers waves of citrus, pine and caramel-toffee. For those who favor flavor, Furious has the hop-fire your taste buds have been screeching for.

It’s great stuff; don’t miss it.

Surly sells their beers in 16-oz cans. Not a bad idea, but you may want to find a bigger glass. The cans come in four-packs, which stopped me (this time) from trying their Coffee Bender for breakfast. Next visit, maybe.

Coffee Bender refreshes like an iced-coffee, is aromatic as a bag of whole beans as satisfies like your favorite beer. Utilizing the latest technology, the Surly brew team has developed a cold extraction process that results in intense coffee aromatics and flavor — bringing together two of our favorite beverages. Your only dilemma will be whether to finish your day or start it with a Coffee Bender.

Andrew Brown: The Queen of Fairies caught me

So, it’s Hallowe’en (and Samhain). Let’s give Andrew Brown the floor.

The Queen of Fairies caught me

Halloween was once a night of real fright, when the dead and the fairies walked close to us. How did that work?

And pleasant is the fairy land,
But, an eerie tale to tell,
Ay at the end of seven years,
We pay a tiend to hell,
I am sae fair and fu o flesh,
I’m feard it be mysel.

But the night is Halloween, lady,
The morn is Hallowday,
Then win me, win me, an ye will,
For weel I wat ye may.

Just at the mirk and midnight hour
The fairy folk will ride,
And they that wad their true-love win,
At Miles Cross they maun bide.”

This from the ballad of Tam Lin, which, if you don’t know, you should go and listen to now. Now while the song is running, there is no trouble believing the story, or at least in suspending disbelief. The defiance of Janet to her father is more vivid to me than almost anything any living woman has said. But at the same time I find that modern hallowe’en, the children’s festival with dressing up and sweets, not all of them poisoned, is wholly impossible to take seriously.

So why are witches and fairies real within the confines of the song, and absurd when children play at them? It seems to be an example of a more general question: why is the absurdity of other people’s beliefs immediately apparent to us and yet entirely invisible to them? (We ourselves, of course, hold no absurd beliefs, whoever we are. Anyone who thinks otherwise is dangerously deranged.)

The best answer that occurs to me is that the difference is made by participation – if you like, by playing along. Children believe in the particular game they happen to be playing. Of course, they understand, as we do, that the world could be otherwise, and the game might stop. Hence the delicious thrill of a game that breaks that rule, and becomes real. But the point that the world might be otherwise, and that the game might end, actually testifies to its reality while it lasts.

Giles Fraser once said to me, in an entirely different context, that all sorts of people who can’t bring themselves to say the creeds will sing them happily enough. He’s right. The two activities are profoundly different. The song is not the same as the lyrics read out loud, and this is true even if it has no accompaniment. Choral or just collective singing is different again – a point that’s obvious if we look at the completely secular activity of football chanting: on Saturdays the terraces of North London are full of otherwise respectable men singing things about opposing players that they would find literally unspeakable at work on Monday morning.

So the way to understand the spread of Halloween is not as a spread of beliefs, but of a set of games, or little dramas, if you will. To get hung up on the apparent content of the game is to make a kind of category mistake: year after year, a certain kind of evangelical will announce that Halloween is a festival of evil; year after year, they fail to understand that the child who plays at being a witch is much closer to becoming a Christian or to understanding any kind of religion than the one who never plays at anything at all.

But it’s not just evangelicals who get this kind of thing wrong. I do it myself all the time, most recently when mocking the Anglo-Catholics; for the answer to the question “How can they believe these ludicrous things?” is that they act them out. They feel their beliefs are true because they are embedded in a structure of ritual, both inside and outside church. Their words are given content by their actions. Without the actions, the words mean nothing. This sounds like a vaguely moral exhortation but it is just a plain fact. Without action, we couldn’t understand the meaning of any words at all.

When the Christian says they believe in order to understand, this sounds to the atheist like an abdication of responsibility. But in fact is is a recognition of necessity. There is a sense in which we can’t understand the beliefs we don’t act on. That’s why playing is so important. By pretending to act, we gain a sort of understanding — which is why I believe that Queen of Fairies will look at Tam Lin tonight and say “Had I known, Tam Lin, what this night I did see. I would have plucked out both your ey’en and put in two of tree” — at least I will believe it while the music plays.

(Tiend is tithe.)