Sunday, November 10, 2013

Reading Adventures 2013

I'm sure I have read more books this year than in the previous couple of years, because, in fact, I'm not reading them, I'm listening.  A year ago, my family gave me an iPod.  I knew buying CDs was really old school, and began downloading music that I had been wanting to hear, but the iPod's real draw has been as a vehicle for audiobooks.  In the past, I enjoyed books on CD in the car for my many trips to Saratoga and Schenectady. Nowadays, the library offers a far greater selection of downloadable audiobooks.

I started out with "fluff" books like Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen, about a modern young professional woman who had been raised Mennonite.  It was fun to read about her visits home to her parents, and her perspectives on her childhood and the Mennonite way of life.

In no time, I branched out to popular new books: Susan Cain's Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a world that can't stop talking; Anna Quindlen's, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake; and Maya Angelou's Mom & Me & Mom.  Being able to hear someone like Maya Angelou read her own work gives her writing even more meaning.

Those highway trips on the Northway and Thruway flew by.  I was a little disappointed to read in the newspaper, however, that listening to books is a greater driving distraction than listening to the radio, although it is still way below talking on the phone.

Fortunately, my reading is rarely high action, and I hope that I am not so distracted as to lose my driving focus. Years ago, I took out the book The Accidental Tourist on CD and the shock of hearing the sounds of squealing cars coming from the car speakers as sound effects scared me for the rest of the day. I don't expect to encounter that experience with my current books.

Since Bill has been bringing the New York Times home from work for the past few years, I find that fitting in the Albany Times Union and the daily New York Times takes all of my reading time. And then there are the environmental publications I receive and want to read: the Adirondack Explorer, magazines from the Sierra Club and The Nature Conservancy; the list goes on. Often, I would look back on a year and see that I had read very few books. 

With my new iPod, I made random choices for a few months.  Then, I began to think about what I really wanted from audiobooks.  I generally read non-fiction, but had always thought that audio would be the perfect way to read those literary classics that I had skipped over the years. As an English major and lifelong reader, I had read quite a few classics, but there were still many on my list that languished.

I chose to listen to Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. My sister-in-law and I like to visit historic sites in our area, and had talked about going to Wharton's home, The Mount, next Spring. I should read the book, I thought.  I remembered seeing the movie years ago. The making of it had been a big deal in the Capital Region, when filming took place in the historic areas of Troy to capture the look of 19th-century New York City.

I was part way through Age of Innocence when the July heat wave struck. As I tossed and turned in front of the window fan,  my mind thought of everything but sleep. Those weeks I became addicted to my new take on bedtime stories.  In darkness, with my eyes closed, I could listen to a chapter of my book, change my thought patterns, and relax enough to fall asleep. I was swept into the late-Victorian New York social scene with its side trips to Newport. Audiobooks can be great soporifics! And later that month, after I finished the book, I watched the old 1993 movie, borrowed from the library.

Finally, I took on the big guns. For years I told myself that I should read Charles Dickens' David Copperfield. Copperfield particularly interested me because it was Dickens' favorite work, and because he considered it largely autobiographical.  I had put it off because the book is long and a major commitment.

Then I hit a snag--the Upper Hudson Library System does not have it on audio. Not to worry, though. Bill set me up with the New York Public Library.  Just about anything on my wish list is available to me now.  I downloaded all 36 hours of Copperfield.

It has taken me a couple of months to listen to David Copperfield over many trips to Saratoga and Schenectady, and on a bus ride to New York City. For weeks, I have been caught up in the huge number of characters as they weave through one another's lives in London and Falmouth.  Although wordy by today's standards, the writing style did not seem tedious at all as I cruised our local highways.

I was nearing the end of the book, when I had a symphony week with rehearsals in Schenectady every night. Would Copperfield last through the daily commute?  No problem. Those remaining chapters took me through the week and then some.

Now, I need a little break.  Copperfield was pretty consuming, and deserves some off-time to digest. Maybe I'll get the DVD of the movie from our library.  For now, I'm listening to music on my iPod when I'm on the road.

Meredith sent me a list entitled, "30 Books You Should Read Before You're Thirty."  I'm glad to see that I have read many of them, and, truth-be-told, I'm a year or two over thirty. Nevertheless, there are some books on that list that I should have read. One of these days, I'll see what's available on audio to download.  Here's to lots of great listening in 2014.