I have never been a reader. I am more a (rapidly aging) “Child of Television.” Books are more work. With television, you’re passive; the information jumps right into your eyes. With books, you have to go in and get it. You also have to hold a book. You don’t have to hold a television.
I wanted to read hard things, but I wanted it to be easier. Maybe if the author read to me; that would be helpful. The problem was getting the author to come to the house. Especially, as with Crime and Punishment, Dostoyevsky was dead.
Now we have “Books-On-Tape”, and the problem is solved. (We also have other Kindle-type devices, but – surprise, surprise – I don’t know how they work. Besides, Kindle is reading. Just without the book. (Still an improvement, especially if you’re reading a nine hundred-page book, and you’re supporting eight pages (and the cover) in your left hand and eight hundred and ninety-two pages (and the back cover) in your right hand. Ow! My thumb hurts!)
I listen to “Books-On-Tape” when I’m exercising on the treadmill, which I do in a proactive effort to extend my life. I figure half an hour on the treadmill buys me, like, five minutes. Then I eat one French fry and I give it all back. It’s an interesting balance, trying to survive and eating something besides lentils at the same time.
I buy the “Books-On-Tape” and donate them to the local library when I’m done. I’ve tried borrowing “Books-On-Tape” from the library, but found them unlistenable because they were damaged, probably by people like me, who had donated them to the library.
As a result of “Books-On-Tape”, I have been able to experience the great classics I would otherwise never have experienced – the aforementioned Crime and Punishment, I, Claudius and The Iliad, to name three. I have also read many books on American history, about Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and the true story behind the Earp-Clanton shoot-out at the O.K. Corral. It turns out that latter event was less the Good Guys versus the Bad Guys than the Sharks and the Jets in Tombstone, Arizona.
I have written elsewhere that, other than having the opportunity to enjoy books I would otherwise never have accessed, there are definite advantages to “Books-On-Tape.” For one thing the experience-enhancing abilities of the reader makes all the difference.
A boring book can be energized by a lively reader; an engrossing tale can fall flat if the reader’s a dud. Best of all is a great reader reading a great story. Try Patrick Tull reading any of the Master and Commander series. Under Tull’s masterful spell, you are transported, feeling ships pitching helplessly in tempestuous seas, the imminence of a cannonball whizzing past your ear. And nailng the guy behind you.
“Books-On-Tape” were particularly helpful when I was lapping up that Swedish mystery trilogy, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and its lesser but still listenable sequels. If I were reading them, I don’t know if I could have withstood the onslaught of unpronounceable Swedish people’s names, the villages and the street names.
“In the idyllic hamlet of Pyernefarnyavernya, Bjorn Segespyernyer took a right on Fyernpyernenshringen, racing at breakneck speed for the Hernyabachmachbedarnyabarnyefarnye in the Lingenshpringenpyrnye.”
I would probably have given up. But the reader carrying the load, I breezed right through it.
There is only one recurring annoyance, and this only with some “Books-On-Tape” and not others. I recently completed a Michael Connelly crime novel The Drop (2011), which did not have the problem. But before that, I listened to Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue, which most definitely did.
What I’m talking about is this:
I have finished my exercise, completed my good deed for my heart. I have done twelve seconds of stretching. It is time to get on with the rest of my day (which, on most days, amounts to practicing the piano and working on this blog.) First, however, there is one final task to perform in the Exercise Room (containing a treadmill, an elliptical machine and assorted dumbbells I have not touched in years, located in an unheated room under our garage.)
Before I move on, I must find a propitious moment to turn off the “Book-On-Tape” (which I listen to on a Sony Discman, because I do not “download”, and own no technology beginning with the letter “i.”)
An “appropriate turn-off spot” generally means waiting till the reader gets to the end of a sentence. That way, when you pick up the story the next time, you’ll have an unbroken entry into the narrative.
This is all well and good if it’s Michael Connelly’s The Drop. Consistent with its “Tough Cop” mentality, Connelly’s style bristles with short, punchy sentences. This makes it very easy to locate an appropriate Discman “Stopping Point.”
Consider the following:
“Bosch’s phone started to vibrate in his pocket.”
And I’m outa the room.
Michael Chabon, on the other hand, is famous for extended, flourishy sentences. And I mean extended. A reviewer of Telegraph Avenue assails him for his “convoluted verbal gyrations”, citing, most egregiously, Chabon’s opening Part III of his novel, with what is, in its entirety, a 12-page sentence.
I like Chabon’s verbal improvisations. Especially when I don’t have to read them. However, imagine this:
I am standing in the Exercise Room, more than ready to have these daily exertions behind me. As I’m listening to the text of Telegraph Avenue, my right forefinger is poised over the “Stop” button of my Sony Discman, waiting impatiently for a “period.” And this is what I’m hearing:
(NOTE: You do not have to read the following; you can just look at it and you’ll get the idea. It’s fun writing, so if you don’t read it, you might miss something. But if you do read it, you are surrendering five minutes of your day you are never going to get back.)
“Eager to ascribe that painful sight to anything other than the fact that, in an access to hypnomania, he had convened – without consulting anyone, in the middle of a “transitional” neighborhood in a city that was largely black and poor and hungry for the pride-instilling economic gesture that the construction of a Dogpile Thang represented, however gestural and beneficial only to Our Beloved Corporate Overlords it might turn out to be – this motley gathering of freaky Caucasians united, to hazard a guess, only by a reflexive willingness if not a compulsion to oppose pretty much anything new that came along, especially if it promised to be big and bright and bangin’, in the process, creating and abandoning an unholy mess in his own kitchen, a mess that, his rapidly cycling brain chemistry began to whisper to him, was probably a metaphor, a prophesy of how this whole thing was going to turn out; hoping to forestall this realization, Nat sought explanation for Archy’s evident dismay in the picture frame.”
I’m standing there. And before I know it, it’s almost time to get back on the treadmill.