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June 23, 2022
This month is Pride and Audiobook Appreciation Month. Kate and I are reading (listening to) Marlon James’s Moon Witch, Spider King, the second in his Dark Star trilogy. We did not intentionally decide to listen to a book by a gay author, but we are.
Notice that I said we are reading the book yet we are listening to it. If you are one of those people who think listening to a book does not count as reading, I beg of you to change your mind.
As established readers (though there is a ton of merit to using audiobooks with struggling readers, but this is not the platform for that) we are not reading to practice phonics. We are not proving ourselves to teachers. We are exploring foreign lands, making connections, learning about the world, escaping and growing. It is not the actual reading that is challenging us. It is the thinking.
Audiobooks get a bum rap.
But they are delicious, especially the ones recorded in the last 2 decades. These are actors reading the book. They make each of the characters come alive through different voices or inflections.
The readers of Marlon James’s books are amazing. While listening, I sometimes remember that it is only one person reading all of these characters, so many characters, Marlon, and I am impressed all over again.
Audiobooks layer another form of art on top of our favorite form of art, fiction.
Once you can swallow that listening to audiobooks is actually reading, you will be freed. Seriously. You will suddenly realize that you have time to read because you can read while you are driving or walking the dog. You can read while washing the dishes or while your partner is asleep in the bed next to you. You can read just about all the time!
Sure, sometimes you space out and daydream while you are listening. Maybe I am alone in this (nah), but that happens during reading also.
I will say there are two things I hate about audiobooks. 1. I keep and display all the books I read. I love looking at them and remembering. I love people to ask me about them. 2. I like to write in my books.
However, I have come up with solutions to those problems. 1. I design my own book jackets around books that I find at yard sales for cheap. I decorate and paint and write on a piece of paper. The book jacket is essentially my book report, and then I put it on the bookshelf.
If it is a book I want to write in, I will buy the book and after each listening session I will go to it and make my marginalia. Problems solved.
Besides anything written by Marlon James here are some awesome books to listen to:
Milkman by Anna Burns
The Dutch House by Ann Patchet
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Miracle and Wonder by Malcolm Gladwell (only available on audio)
No One Goes Alone by Erik Larson (only available on audio)
February 18, 2022
December 11, 2021
Full disclosure: I am a huge Paul Simon fan. Huge. There is a good chance I teared up the first time I saw him live. Love him.
But I do not think you need to feel this way to enjoy Malcolm Gladwell’s new audio (only) book Miracle and Wonder. You definitely need to be able to tolerate Simon’s songs; bits of his songs are played throughout, sometimes live and sometimes the recorded tracks.
Gladwell starts the book off by informing his listeners- this is not an autobiography of Paul Simon, rather this is a look at his music and what makes him a great songwriter. This book will not talk about Simon’s falling out with Garfunkel, his marriage to Edie Brickell or his childhood. Though each is mentioned, it is only in service to understanding Simon as a musician.
What makes this book so fun, so interesting, is Gladwell’s storytelling. Another disclosure, more of a confession: I have never finished a Gladwell book. I typically make it halfway through and then feel like I got his message. I am sure this is untrue; I am just not a non-fiction lover. But despite having never finished a book of his, I have always marveled at his extensive research, how he does not only research the topic, but topics adjacent to his topic. How he weaves all this research together into a fascinating narrative to prove a point. He is a fantastic writer.
And Miracle and Wonder is no different. Gladwell, in his journey to discover the birth of Simon’s greatness, references greats of other disciplines, including LeBron James. This part of Gladwell's writing reminds me of Krakauer’s Into the Wild. As a way to understand why Chris McCandless gave up everything and went into the wilderness, Krakauer looks through history to find others who did the same or similar things. Gladwell does this as well.
But it is not only the research that makes the book great. Paul Simon is there with him for the whole book, so we hear snippets of their conversation. This creates a very intimate experience for the reader, not just with Paul Simon, but also with Gladwell because we get to see him in action. There are times when after hearing Paul Simon discuss a song or a memory, Gladwell analyzes those words, tying them back to what Simon has said previously. We really get to see Gladwell’s process and how he comes to his conclusion about Simon’s greatness.
You do not have to love Paul Simon to enjoy this book. Music lovers, Gladwell readers, authors and anyone looking to be inspired can find enjoyment within this book. And no matter who you are, you will likely come out on the other side of this book with a greater appreciation for Paul Simon, and Gladwell.
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