Saturday, July 18, 2009

Spoken Word

I recently embarked on a road trip down south, some 1200 miles each way, from my home up north in Montreal to a retreat in North and then South Carolina to read, write, hike, connect with my husband, and just relax and renew. We decided to drive... to save money, to see the landscape, and to really feel the change from one place to another, the distances, and because we enjoy the intimacy of the capsule of a car, where we are alone together and no one can get in there with us--unless invited. We also felt the need to ease into the retreat and vacation state of mind and driving for three days allowed for that, rather than, well, just landing.

Hey! What about the kids? Off in camp for a couple weeks. (It's practically a Jewish tradition, send the kids away for a spell, so you can catch a break.)

To prepare for our trip, we visited the Jewish Public Library as well as the Grande Bibliotethque in our fair city, in search of books on tape.

Armed with a half-dozen spoken tomes, a mix of classic and contemporary, we set off on our journey.

What a new and unique pleasure this was, enjoying the view of pastures and farms in Pennsylvania, give way to extraordinary mountain vistas in West Virginia and on the Blue Ridge Parkway, while being told an enveloping story. And what talent it requires for the reader to act out and differentiate each part, without any visual cues, and what concentrated focused attention it demands to really listen and follow the characters and story, more challenging I found, than reading, perhaps because I read for several hours every day.

We kicked off with The Devil's Feather, by Minette Walters, read beautifully by the British actress Saskia Wickham. It's a political and Feminist thriller, well written and of course suspenseful. Wickham did a fantastic job on the characters, both female and male, to her credit.

Next up, one of my favorite novels, The Idiot, by Dostoyevesky. This one was a disappointment because clumsily abridged, and though actor Michael Sheen did an admirable job on the male characters, all of his women sounded like old crones, even the young beauties. (Of course, we should have been suspicious of The Idiot in three short discs;"abridged" was written in microscropic type.)

Perhaps the greatest pleasure was to listen to A Tale of Two Cities, read by yet another Brit, Frederick Davidson, recipient of a well-deserved Golden Voices award. My husband and I both count Dickens as one of our favorite authors, enveloping, moving, funny, delicious, and brilliant, always large-spirited, an extraordinary creator of unforgettable characters. A genius. And who cannot find the spark of recognition in that gorgeous opening sentence: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times"... in fact, the entire opening paragraph is luscious in its language. This book was not abridged and I confess we did not complete the dozen discs. A pleasure to look forward to--on our next road trip!

1 comment:

Leo said...

Books on 'tape'. So old school!

Seriously, you are a rare individual indeed who finds solace in the intimate, metal-and-plastic capsule that is a car.

Me, I find it suffocating, tiring and I won't drive far unless I absolutely have to. I am still waiting for intelligent highways - just point the vehicle in the right direction, program the destination into a computer, and let it take you where you want to go. While it's driving, I would swivel the seat around to face the back and, martini in hand, read some of those books you took the pains to find on CD.

Actually, the talking book idea is not a bad one. On any longer trip, we always seek out CBC radio, or NPR, as they have content on that is more engaging for the mind than commercials for sofas and cars and music that doesn't quite meet your criteria for listening pleasure. We also read newspaper articles out loud. That way, we are all kept up to date with the latest missives in the media. And lastly, depending on the car we have, we plug in the iPod. What a great invention to be able to take your own music on the road with you. Just plug it into the car stereo and you can listen to YOUR music at YOUR rhythm. Freedom from car and sofa commercials at last.

And another thing, if I were to drive 1200 miles, I might not want to come back. I may want to just keep going, south through Georgia, then swing west through Alabama and Mississippi and on through Texas and New Mexico and around again and maybe, just maybe, come back in about two months having actually seen something.

But that's another story, and another set of CDs no doubt.