For Further Reading

Stuff I wanted to read but didn't get to. Maybe this weekend...? 


Search for: "The Untold Story of *"

In writing yesterday's post, I did one of my cheeky searches in the Audible catalog for "The Untold Story of" and discovered 243 untold stories that, saints be praised, were now told.

A search of Amazon's Books area yielded 5,000+ untold stories.

And a Google search for "the untold story of *" returned over 32 million hits for untold stories.

It seems we love stories. Especially untold ones.


Do Audio Books Count As Reading? | Literary Hub

James Tate Hill's essay is a fascinating memoir of how he went from sighted, sporadic reader to visually impaired omnivorous reader of audiobooks. 

He also examines various facets of the essay's title: do audio books count as reading? Are they instead a performance? Is the physical smell, heft, and tangibility of a book -- beloved by so many sighted writers -- the essential part of the reading experience? We have the same debates about ebooks, he notes.

When I was recovering from a detached retina in the fall and winter of 2003, I was for a couple of weeks unable to watch TV or look at a computer screen comfortably. Reading was out of the question; the page swam in front of me and I experienced vertigo. Audiobooks became my lifeline. I "read" The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance  and Stephen King's On Writing. Many hours of recuperating and resting went by more pleasantly having a good long narrative in my ear, taking my mind away from my troubles. When the reader and the material align, the trance I go into with an audiobook is the same as when I read a physical book. 

For myself, I find that non-fiction audio books go down easier than fiction, and I prefer books read by the author, if possible. They know how they want the story to sound. Alan Bennett's diaries simply have to be read by Alan Bennett to be truly savored.

A satisfying audiobook is made or broken by the reader. I tried recently to listen to The Picture of Dorian Gray and simply had to stop after Chapter 4. Part of it was that this philosophical, talky novel became a closed, airless world I simply did not want to live in anymore. Another was that the reader would read something like, " 'Stop,' he cried," so languidly that I got irritated. The text is telling you how to read it, man! Put some life into it!

I'm trying another novel now: Edward Herrmann reading John Updike's Villages. Herrmann does an excellent job as the omniscient narrator or in close-third person, and manages Updike's stylistic flourishes beautifully. But I have trouble discerning vocal differences between his characters when in conversation. Odd, given Herrmann's skill as an actor.

Despite my occasional ups and downs with audiobooks (and with "real" books; not every papery book is a masterpiece for the ages), I will not give them up. I think we live in a wonderful time when there are so many options for people to take in the stories they need.

For further reading: Hill mentions a book that smells a bit like a Ph.D. dissertation dressed up for the mainstream: The Untold Story of the Talking Book by Matthew Rubery tells the story of audio-recorded literature, including its social impacts and controversies. Available from Amazon and, as one would hope, Audible.




Tom Hardy on The Sanity of Actors

“A performer is asked to do two things,” [the actor Tom Hardy] tells me. “To be disciplined and accountable, communicative and a pleasure to work with. And then, within a split second, they’re asked to be a psychopath. Authentically. It takes a very strong human being to sustain a genuine sense of well-being through that baptism of fire.” Then: “Drama is not known to attract stable types.”


International Eye Test Chart (1907)

Another wonderful discovery from the Public Domain Review: an eye test chart from a 1907 San Francisco optometrist George Mayerle. It not only featured international text and symbols, it had a positive and negative side.

   [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="1024.0"]<a href=""><img src="" alt=" George Mayerle’s Eye Test Chart (ca. 1907) " /></a>  George Mayerle’s Eye Test Chart (ca. 1907) [/caption]

Lower your voice to calm down

This is a useful tip I've handed out since it was given to me years ago.

At the time, in my 20s, I was excitable, jabbered on and on when talking to people, and was concerned -- given my job at the time -- about the impression I made on people. 

A mentor advised me to lower my voice when I talked. When we're nervous, our heart rate goes up, we breathe faster and more shallowly, we talk faster, and as we talk faster, our voices rise in pitch.

So when I caught myself talking fast or feeling nervous as I talked, I reminded myself to lower my voice. The change in attitude was almost instant. 

As my pitch fell, I could feel my voice's center move from my head down to my chest. Lowering my voice slowed my speech, which slowed my  breathing. I could feel my shoulders relax (I hold a lot of tension in my shoulders).

And I could feel my mind slow down too. My thinking evened out, I took my time, and I usually felt like I was now consciously participating in the conversation, not flailing like a fire hose.

Notes to Myself

I stand 6'3" (1.91 meters) and wear size 15 shoes.

At the movies today, as I stood to move into the aisle and down the stairs, it hit me again that the world does not quite fit me, or maybe I don't fit into it. 

I unfolded myself, stepped carefully around the seats and railing, arranged my feet on the stair, and then deliberately started down. The little people all around me had no trouble navigating the cramped space.

Left to myself, I stay up late and get up late. But I live in a world where I must go to bed by a specific time so I can get up to go to work by a specific time, leave by a specific time, or otherwise adapt myself to other people's or group's schedules.

What would my own personal world look like, if I were the Dungeon Master?

There would be room. I could move freely without bumping into things. There would be space in my calendar to move freely without crashing into someone else's constraints.

Note: I am aware, of course, that physical reality demands honoring appointments and deadlines, paying our taxes by April 15, etc. I accept that. I just didn't feel like accepting it today.


Eight Books, Audiobooks, Comics

Encounters With an Enlightened Man by Linda Quiring. Of the three books written by Quiring about Sydney Banks, this is probably the best. It misses the freshness of the first two books, which were written in the early 1970s when Banks started sharing his enlightenment experience, but it tells a beginning-middle-end story and paints a more complete picture of the place and time. Of interest mainly to people interested in the history of the Three Principles and Banks' personal history. I am drafting a bigger post that takes a look at all three books.  

Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film by Patton Oswalt, read by Patton Oswalt. A memoir by Oswalt of the movies he compulsively watched during his first years in Los Angeles. It's a story of being in the grip of a mild obsession well-known to those of us with a geeky/nerdy bent. His girlfriend at the time asks him to walk her out to her car from the theatre, and his first, absolutely natural, response is, "But I've never seen the start of the next movie and I don't want to miss it." Exit one relationship. 

Parallel with his obsession is the evolution of his standup, writing, and acting career and how he tries to juggle that with the nightly movies shown at the New Beverly. The most chilling and haunting story to me is of a long-ago standup comrade who imposes on Oswalt for a shot at becoming a star; Oswalt has already become a character of fiction in someone else's movie. He introduces and returns to the idea of special, sometimes dark, moments that propel one forward in life or work. He wrote this before the death of his first wife, so listening to those passages struck me as especially poignant.  

The Correspondence by JD Daniels. A collection of laconic essays and two short stories that originally appeared in The Paris Review. Here's a passage from a short story: 

She'd gone to school for years to study library science. He didn't see how it could be so complicated. It seemed like a hoax. 

All the essays and both stories have that terse, dry flavor; the humor is almost an aftertaste. A rather short book, too -- I read one essay or story a night in about 30 mins or so. 

Jacob T. Marley by R. William Bennett, read by Simon Vance. Bennett finds a loophole in Dickens' story to spin a tale with 19th-century flavors, coincidences, and voices. It's a clever reworking of the original material that exploits unexplored nooks and crannies, though he does get a bit bogged down as the spirits explain the metaphysical mechanics of the afterlife and what is required for Scrooge's reclamation. Though, if I heard the story right, it's Marley's sacrifice that redeems Scrooge rather than Scrooge's own change of heart. If so, that makes Dickens' story subservient to Bennett's, which does not sit well with me.  

Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote, read by Michael C. Hall. I had never seen the movie nor read the book so this was new to me. It is very much a book of the 1950s -- rather gray and  naturalistic, the secondary characters all stagey and one-note -- except when Holly explodes into the narrative with unnatural color and life. Holly is clearly the most interesting character and the mysteries surrounding her are the ones I cared about the most. Hall's reading was fine though I didn't care for his expression of Holly's voice. For further reading: an excellent Open Letters Monthly essay compares and contrasts Sally Bowles and Holly Golightly.

Just Keep Going by Jeanette Stokes. Disclaimer: Jeannette is an acquaintance we run into at random cultural events here in Durham. The book is part of her ongoing memoir series; this one focuses on how her relationship to writing, art, and creativity marked key passages of her life. A compact memoir with a good collection of basic advice and resources for the new writer and timely reminders for the experienced one.  

Tales of the Batman: Alan Brennert, Archie Goodwin (Comixology). Archie Goodwin had a long career in the comics industry and was a much beloved writer, editor, and mentor. His Batman stories in this volume span the years 1973-2000. They tend to the pulpy and the "well-made." He also seemed interested in expanding the canvas on which Batman stories could be told; many of the stories delve into character histories and motivations -- with lots of exposition -- making Batman almost a secondary character.  

They're good meat-and-potatoes Batman stories that color in unnoticed areas of Batman's universe (who did design the Batarang and Batmobile?). The highlights for me are the six or so Manhunter stories that ran as backup to the main Batman series and that I still remembered from when I was a kid; so glad they've been collected at last. Goodwin's updating of the 1940's Manhunter character to the cynical modern-day prefigures work that Alan Moore would take to another level a decade or so later. It's Walt Simonson's artwork that made these stories instant minor classics. 

Alan Brennert has been a successful writer in many media: stories, novels, TV, even the book for a Broadway musical. He only wrote nine stories for DC, his first in 1981 and his last in 2000. Yet they include some of the most interesting takes on the Batman mythos, mixing the pleasure of nostalgia with the character development he used in his scripts and novels. For me, his stories pay the best dividends every time I re-read them. I remember buying these comics back in the day and noticed even then how different his stories were, how he pulled out details or emotional colors that I did not see elsewhere.  

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Brennert had a particular fondness (as do I) for the "golden age" or "Earth-2" Batman and my favorite story of his -- maybe one of my favorites of all time -- is the Earth-2 Batman teaming with Catwoman to hunt down the nefarious Scarecrow ("The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne"). Joe Staton and George Freeman drew the chunky Batman from the '50s, a style that instantly evokes the light-hearted adventures of that era. But Brennert adds a moment that stops that feeling dead in its tracks.  

Batman removes his shirt so Catwoman can attend to his wounds. She gasps at the scar tissue covering his back; it's key that we see only her horrified reaction and Batman's stoic response. That scar-tissue detail is so unexpected in the context of a "retro" Batman story, yet such a common-sense detail considering his life of fighting, that I am still amazed Brennert was the first to conceive of and use it. It's a telling detail that's now accepted as a given and enshrined in the movies.

Brennert had that freedom of approach -- perhaps from his work in other media -- to give his characters time to breathe amid the action and feel the weight of emotional moments. That's not something you see in comics very much, and it's always appreciated when it happens.  

For Further Reading

Stuff I wanted to read but didn't get to. Maybe this weekend...?