Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Reward & Punishment: American Hunger

since my office moved i've been listening to an assortment of library Books-on-Tape while filling orders. i've picked up a bunch at random, just whatever is on the shelf and i discovered i'm pretty picky. on our last tour, joaquin-the-roady & i listened to Crime and Punishment as read by some British dweeb. it was terrible (and annotated) and i knew it would be bad because i had already listened to the whole thing once-- on the spider and the webs europe tour--but on tour you get so sick of listening to each other talk that putting on a book on tape is sometimes the most effective way to achieve a moment's peace--so we endured it to the end and now i will never be able to read Dostoevski without hearing a British thespian pronounce Russian names in a snooty, over-dramatic accent! oh well, i have a tendency to dislike classics-in-translation but force them on myself as a regimen--still the audio book seems like cheating, if doing push up's on your knees is cheating--maybe it's just exercising different muscles?

well, this is all to say that all the audio books i have started have been insufferably bad and since i'm not in van-jail and have access to infinite pod-casts, radio shows and mp3 playlists, i haven't finished them. i did, however, check out a Book-on-CD of Louis Menand essays (which i don't recommend as an audio book) called American Studies and became intrigued by his piece on Richard Wright....I read American Hunger a few weeks ago, then discovered it is the second volume of a two-part biography that is now available in the revised-edition of Black Boy. American Hunger was censored by the Book-of-the-Month club. Wright was the first African-American novelist to have work available through the club, but when he submitted his autobiography for their consideration, he was told he needed to take out the parts about his involvement in the American communist party and that most of the sex would be censored--as a result, American Hunger (part 2 of Black Boy) was published as a separate edition, after he died. so I read the second part first and now am reading the first part second. i haven't read any of his fiction yet, but his life story is intense, as is his need to read as a means of psychic survival. the writing is pretty real, it will hit you in the gut. here's an example, he's writing about how his mother's early death impacted him:

"At the age of twelve, before I had had one full year of formal schooling, I had a conception of life that no experience would ever erase, a predilection for what was real that no argument could ever gainsay, a sense of the world that was mine and mine alone, a notion as to what life meant that no education could ever alter, a conviction that the meaning of living came only when one was struggling to wring a meaning out of meaningless suffering."

i highly recommend spending an afternoon or two on it if you haven't read his work yet.

so the lesson is, even though these Books-on-whatever format other than paper seem to suck, you can still discover cool stuff, so i guess it's worthwhile and i'm going to keep exploring the medium. but i am taking suggestions for audio books! i have had bad luck even with books by authors i know i like. i think it is its own particular format and needs to be thought of in that way. clearly that is the case. does anyone listen to them regularly? please advise.

1 comment:

saralibrarian said...

i don't listen to books on cd that often because i only ever listen to them in the car but when i do i only 'read' nonfiction. i can't concentrate on fiction when i hear it instead of see it. i do love it when the reader has an accent of some kind though. well maybe not an australian accent. i listened to ALL SIXTEEN cds of

"the great influenza: the epic story of the 1918 pandemic"

but i hated the guy's voice and only listened to it because i was facilitating a book discussion about it for work and couldn't get through the book without dozing off. i loved stephen colbert's

"i am america (and so can you)"

audio book and i liked listening to

sarah vowell

read her books as well. i listened to an extrememly sad autobiography called

"10,000 sorrows: the extraordinary journey of a korean war orphan"

by elizabeth kim that was read by the author that was pretty good...
the library also has a newish downloadable (audio book, music, and video collection) that you can check out here: