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The Book Buzz

Enjoy explosion of audio books

By Nancy Harris
December 19, 2010

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Dyslexia is a reading disorder caused by the brain’s difficulty with recognizing and processing graphic symbols. It is a specific information-processing disorder, and today is widely recognized and diagnosed in otherwise healthy children with above-average intelligence.

Unfortunately for Louise Alibrandi, owner of the Face Place and Spa in Hanover, this was not the case 50 years ago, when she was in elementary school. Few, if any, people understood the problem then or knew how to help her.

She clearly remembers a wonderful second-grade teacher who told her parents that Louise is “very bright and extraordinarily inquisitive, but she simply can’t read well.’’

The solution? She was placed in a “remedial reading’’ class for her most of her early education that did little to help her but instead caused her to suffer from both classmates’ teasing and her private feeling that she “just wasn’t smart.’’

But Louise was determined. She spent years teaching herself ways to compensate for the processing difficulty and eventually became a solid reader. She had a breakthrough when she was 12 or 13 and sat for hours reading Nancy Drew stories to a bedridden 17-year-old girl, who patiently listened and corrected Louise as she read aloud.

Today, this successful business owner, mother of two, and grandmother of four remains a determined woman who, in addition to working full time, travels as much as she can and is actively involved in raising money to buy soccer uniforms for Ugandan children.

But she admits that reading still takes a lot of effort and work, and over the years, she has turned more often to listening to audio books. She frequently encourages people, not only those with dyslexia, to experience the joy of listening to books. And one of the best resources for these CDs, she says, is the public library.

Years ago, when books on tape first hit the market, the choices were limited. Most were self-help books or autobiographies by celebrities such as Shirley MacLaine and Jane Fonda.

But the range of audio books has exploded since then, and Louise recently took advantage of today’s array of choices to listen to a book in one of her favorite genres, historical fiction.

The novel was Geraldine Brooks’s “People of the Book,’’ which involves the journey of the Sarajevo Haggadah, one of the earliest Jewish books to have been illuminated with figurative paintings.

The main character is an Australian rare-book expert, Hanna Heath, who in 1996 gets the dream job of analyzing and preserving the priceless manuscript. In the laboratory, Heath manages to extract four tiny artifacts: the fragment of an insect wing, a white hair, a wine stain, and salt crystals.

From there, Heath begins her own journey through time to retrace the steps of these small artifacts, from the manuscript’s creation in 14th-century Spain, through perilous eras like the book burnings of the Inquisition in the early 1600s and the Nazi sacking of Bosnia in World War II.

Should anyone fear that this is a dry, historical documentary, the novel also has the very human components of Hanna’s conflicted relationship with her neurosurgeon mother; her romantic involvement with an assistant who is a widower and whose infant son is profoundly injured in war; and her internal obsession with the ancient texts.

Louise, who has traveled to Bosnia, felt a personal connection to the book. While some readers may see only the haunting and recurring suffering that mankind has inflicted on itself over the course of history, she focused more on the voices of extraordinary people, who suffered themselves to protect this book.

Louise says the “voices of the past come through poignantly in ‘People of the Book,’ and this novel filled me with hope that we’re making progress in becoming more humane.’’

Nancy Harris can be reached at dr.nancy23@gmail.com.

‘People of the Book’ By Geraldine Brooks

Viking; 372 pages

Penguin Audio; 12 CDs