Tuesday, September 6, 2016

"Speaking Out... Courageously"

I do not like the way they are treating P.D. James.

And they say I don’t take stands on anything.  That I infuriatingly straddle the fence, rationalizing my refusal to come down on one side or the other by my oft-professed opposition to adversarial conflict, no matter the issue in dispute.

I never oft-professed my opposition to adversarial conflict, no matter the issue in dispute?  Oh sorry, I meant to.  I wonder why I forgot?  Oh yeah.  It would get me in trouble.  With both sides.  For not backing either of them up.  Do I actually need that?

Today, however, I am eschewing my signature even-handedness to boldly stand up and be courageously counted.  You might think the issue-at-hand minimally consequential, but consider it “baby steps.”  Quoting a line from The Mary Tyler Moore Show (albeit not entirely accurately), concerning an unprincipled character demonstrating momentary backbone:  “When an elephant flies, you don’t complain that it didn’t stay up that long.”

Where do I start here?

(Allowing the writer “breathing space” to figure things out.)


I listen to “Books-On-CD” when I am walking on the treadmill.  Barring vacations – when I read I lot – I rarely otherwise read standing still.  Or sitting down in a chair.  Or reclining comfortably in bed.   If weren’t for reading while walking on the treadmill, I would know nothing about subjects I can confidently claim I instead now know almost nothing.  Which is better. 

Sometimes a lot better.  A tidbit of information can make you look really smart at gatherings, especially if there are no follow-up questions exposing your paper-thin understanding.  Did you know, for example, that between 1846 and Lyndon Johnson’s election in 1964 no Southerner had won the United States presidency?   

I amassed that shining historical nugget listening to the fourth of Robert Caro’s quintilogy – which my computer just told me is not an actual word; either that or I spelled it wrong – a five-book biography of Lyndon Johnson entitled The Passage of Power, a 27-disc slog filled with often meaningless (to me) minutia, leaving me hungry for an alleviating antidote, an “interesting read”, minus the manipulative arm-twisting and the berating of underlings while sitting on the toilet.

Enter – The Murder Room by P.D. (Phyllis Dorothy) James (a book suggested by crime-novel appreciating Dr. M.)

12 discs.  A welcome breather from the grueling 27.  One preambling quibble, however.  Though no expert on crime novels, I am impatient with the story’s elaborate construction.  I am already on “Disc 4” and there is no sign of any homicide.  I know the English aren’t ones to rush into things, but come on!  Enough “Setting the table.”  Kill somebody!

Anyway, this is not a day for personal complaint; I speak for P.D. James, and the inferior manner in which penguinrandomhouse.com is treating her.

Consider for the sake of comparison, the difference between the “Economy Class” treatment of James’s The Murder Room and the sumptuous presentation accorded Robert Karo’s The Passage of Power.

Each of Passage of Power’s included 27 discs comes encased in an individualized, windowed envelope. 

The Murder Room?

Two nondescript slabs of cardboard, each with sufficient slots for the book’s twelve, envelope-deprived discs to be slipped into.

The Passage of Power opens with an appropriately presidential-sounding (presumably original) musical theme, by played a substantial orchestra at the beginning and the end of each disc.

The Murder Room?

No music, (original or otherwise),  not at the beginning of the disc, and not at the end.

And not just “No music.”

At the end of each disc of The Passage of Power, a voice different from the reader’s – in this case it is a soothing woman’s voice – comes on to announce:

“This is the end of ‘Disc 23.’  Please turn to ‘Disc 24’,”

The Murder Room?

Nobody says anything.  The disc abruptly comes to an end, followed by complete silence.

That’s unacceptable!  You do not have to hire a different announcer.  You slip the reader a twenty and it’s done.  I mean, he’s already there, so why not?  At least then you would know when each disc has been0 completed.  Otherwise, it’s like you suddenly went deaf.  (Or require a replacement disc player.)

I know.  Robert Caro’s a big deal.  But so, in her genre, is P.D. James.  How dare they treat her so shabbily? 

Two slabs of cardboard?  “Death Valley” at the end of each disc?  The woman’s a superstar.  Give her individualized envelopes!  Write her an original score!

(Do you see me taking a stand here?  I admit it – it’s exhilarating!)

P.D. James passed away in 2014, avoiding this gratuitous slap in the face.  If she hadn’t and the head of penguinrandomhouse.com had died under mysterious circumstances and they were looking for suspects…?

What I am saying is…

Never underestimate the wrath of a writer who’s been CD set has been slighted.

Particularly one specializing in murder.


That was so liberating.

1 comment:

Lord Lillis said...

Oh Dear! Did someone at Groundwork accidentally slip you regular coffee instead of your customary "decaf"?

I'm afraid the answer to your question is somewhat prosaic. Certainly not worthy of such an energetic diatribe. The key clue (a word I use since you are listening to a mystery) is the phrase "Books-on-CD". My first thought was "who listens to books on CD anymore?". My second thought was "Earl Pomerantz, you big dope!" (I'm my own worst critic). Hardly anyone uses the CDs for their "Audio Books"; they listen to audio files on whatever electronic device is handy. This could be their smartphone, MP3 player or even watch. The lack of frippery on the P.D. James books is not an affront to her - it because you're listening on the "wrong" medium. There wouldn't be an audio cue for the next CD because, for most people, there isn't a next CD. The audio introduction is stripped because a) some places that sell these "audio books" put their own intro at the beginning and b) it costs money. "Books-on-CD" are so passé you might as well be putting your ear to the Victrola "his master's voice" style.

That said, you have excellent taste in material! I haven't gotten to the Cato's LBJ book yet but his book on Robert Moses was really good (and it wouldn't be 27 disks, either). The great P.D. James is one of those great writers who's so great you don't know she's a great writer. She's entertaining but a few days later you're still thinking about the book.

I like this new "Speaking Out" thing but I do have a question. What's the difference between the "speaking out" Mr. Pomerantz and the "crotchety alter-cocker" Mr. Pomerantz? (asking for a friend).