Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Harry Potter and the Audacity of Hope

I have to make a confession, I've started listening to books on tape. Now put down your tar and feather, drop the stones, and please lower your pitch forks and let me explain. There are times/activities that preclude taking a book with you. Riding a bike is difficult if you're trying to read a hardcover, and if you drop a softback (though I don't know why people would buy those) in front of your lawn mower...well at least it's a mulching mower.

With that as my justification, I periodically deny myself the tactile and olfactory (tell me you don't love the smell of new or old books) experience of books in favor of the book on tape. Well the auditory experience is in some ways disappointing in comparison, there are books that I've never been inclined to read that I'll listen to. This has led me to some truths from books I've recently listened to that I want to share with you:
1. Dune was a really bad book. I know it's a classic of Sci Fi and I do appreciate the elements of Islam that Herbert integrated into the book, but by and large it's much harder to listen to than it was read.
2. Tolkien included way more elvish and poetry in the Lord of the Rings than I remember from reading it. I'm guessing I must have skipped those sections. They're much harder to skip when you're listening.
3. Terry Pratchett is one of the funniest pseudo-science fiction writers I've ever read. His Bromeliad was a wonderful kids book and I have yet to listen to a discworld book of his that I haven't liked.

4. You always pronounce proper and place names differently in your head than the way the "authorized" audio book pronounces them.
5. CS Lewis's (yes that's the correct way to make the possessive per Strunk & White) writing style is a lot of fluff with a periodic gem of wisdom that blows you away.
6. and lastly...If Barrack Obama is anything like his book he's got my vote.
Okay so let's focus on the last and then I'll get to Harry Potter. I just finished Obama's Audacity of Hope. First I must make this confession, I've never read/listened to a politicians book before. I think I used a Warren Christopher book in a report on the Balkans in college but that's as close as I've come. So "like a virgin" I listened to Obama. Now the book was like most books of this ilk in that it was short of specifics and long on rhetoric.

Two things stood out though that make it noteworthy. The first is that it lacked the polemics one has come to expect in the modern American polis. Instead of vilification of the conservative Republicans, Obama makes the ghastly admission that they have gotten some things right over the years...I know I was surprised by this too. Indeed he spent the better part of several chapters discussing why the democratic approach to faith, education, and unions was lacking or just plain wrongheaded. I was amazed and found candor and sincerity moving.

It is this sincerity that stood out as the second noteworthy thing in his book. He comes off not as a pompous pontificator pointing proudly to the problems of political partisanship, but a reasoned problem solver willing to work with and listen to others.

Now this might be pure rhetoric for all I know. Certainly his book talked in high terms of all sorts of goals without giving specifics of achieving them, but its nice to have someone talk in high terms again, we haven't had anyone do that since....and this pains me, Reagan. (Stop yelling at the computer Dave, Clinton was hamstrung by the GOP hostility to him from the beginning.)

And onto Harry Potter. I finished the Deathly Hallows four days after it came out. Don't be impressed with that, it's actually very slow for me and that genre of books. I won't really say much here about it since some of you might not want the ending ruined. I can say that I was pleased in the ending and the beginning, she lost the pacing of it a bit in the middle but otherwise it was well written. It was nice to see a book series where the individuals actually changed over time. I can give you a list of a dozen or so other series where the characters never evolve, and the best that can be said of the protagonists is that they become caricatures of themselves. It was also nice to see a series where death was not always a bad thing...but that would give away the ending.

Now here's a video that I hope only took one take. This is from the band Low, their song Breaker.


Roy @ CNM said...

Now, when you say "book on tape," you mean mp3 on your ipod, right? I can't shake the image of you with a walkman and parachute pants after reading this entry...

Appreciated the book reviews. Summer's on Harry Potter #1, and I'm swooning for Obama again.

dastew said...

mp3 on my iRiver mp3 player actually...I just can't justify buying an IPod for myself. I don't know why but it just seems too expensive.

Although my parachute pants are comfortable.

Ethan's Mom said...

I've tried to read several of the Discworld series and have been really disappointed. Maybe there is something about hearing them read aloud that makes them flow better.

Alissa said...

we listened to some hilarious book by david sedaris last year on our road trip...also the painted house. this year was The Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency... which matt really enjoyed, strangely.

Just the 5 of us! said...

I can't blog more, I'm too busy playing with my puppy =)

La Yen said...

I maintain that the only way to read Absolom! Absolom is on tape. And I found an edition of Grapes of Wrath that had me sobbing at the end with the beauty of it--and I have read it a million times before. And for a long car trip, listen to Fannie Flagg or David Sedaris.

Coops said...

You know me, I'm an avid fan of audio books, I am not a particular fan of Harry Potter, but as Noelle is, I have listened to all of them including the latest. Noelle decided to listen to the most recent one before reading it, we still went out to buy the book just after midnight though! I have noticed that there is a much greater choice of unabridged audio books in the US than the UK. This is the first year that the Harry Potter UK version audio book has come out the same day as the book release, whereas they have all come out the same day in the US since at least book 4. I am not sure what the increased availability of audio books in the US implies about American readers. But I love audio books for big drives which I do a lot of. I was listening to Artemis Fowl - The Opal Deception on my return trip to Wales earlier this week. Not sure that I could listen to a political book or biography that though.

dastew said...

the reason Americans listen more is simple. most of our country doesn't know how to read. take our president for example, he can't even find the US on a map. In fact I have it from a good source the reason we invaded afghanistan and iraq had nothing to do with 911 or oedipal desires but because he didn't like the burnt sienna color national geographic used to mark those two countries on the map. look out burkina faso, belize, and belarus...they used the same colors for you...

Mr Jo Bloggity said...

*Podcast addict
*Audiobook freak
*80GB iPod

Life is good.