Special to The Windham Eagle
I just finished reading my 100th* book of the year.
That achievement* isn’t quite as impressive as it seems. Almost 40 of the books I absorbed in 2021 were read to me. I began listening to books on tape during my daily commute after my longtime carpool got torpedoed by the pandemic.
Being told stories while motoring has been a godsend. Not only has it allowed me to explore different genres of literature, it’s made me into a far less aggressive driver. In the past snarled traffic on I-295 would enrage me, but now such situations just give me more time to immerse myself in whatever I’m listening to.
A skilled voice actor can make a story come alive far better than I can when I read the traditional way, by sitting silently inputting the words into my brain. For me, listening to Billie Jean King share her fascinating recollections in her own voice is far more engaging than reading the very same words on the pages of her recently published autobiography, All In. The same can go for certain fiction. Garrison Keillor reciting Pontoon in the same understated tone that related the News of Lake Wobegon to untold numbers of listeners for more than four decades on NPR’s “A Prairie Home Companion” is still capable of eliciting out-loud laughter and genuine sorrow within the same tale.
But not all audio books are as good as their printed counterparts. An example: the person who did the spoken-word version of Yogi: A Life Behind the Mask, Jon Pessah’s impeccably researched biography of Yogi Berra, was probably chosen because he could speak with a cadence similar to the one Yogi himself did. But knowledgeable baseball fans know how to correctly pronounce the last names of Vic Raschi (RASH-shee, not RAH-shee), Pete Reiser (REESE-er, not RISE-er), and Red Schoendienst (SHANE-deenst, not SHONE-deenst), and the person hired to voice this particular audio book quite apparently did not.
In the past I’ve gone entire years without reading anything. Delayed maturation and a touch of willful ignorance played a part in that, but there was also a more understandable reason for my aversion to books. Staying inert has never been one of my strong points, and when I was taught to read, sitting still was one of the prerequisites for doing so.
All this reading has reaffirmed my preference for non-fiction. A week after finishing a novel I rarely remember the title, or anything about the plot. One exception: The Nickel Boys. If Colson Whitehead wrote it, I recommend it. The same goes for anything authored by Carl Hiaasen or Leonard Pitts, Jr.
This year’s best non-fiction was How the Word is Passed. Clint Smith’s “reckoning with the history of slavery across America,” features exhaustive research and eloquent prose that describes the author’s travels make the book an instant classic. It ought to be required reading in high school and college classrooms around the country, and with luck soon will be.
Years ago, if someone told me they had read 100 books in a calendar year I’d have nodded politely, hopefully resisting the urge to ask condescendingly, “Did you write them all down?” I’d have known for certain that such a person was a hopeless nerd who would never, ever have anything even remotely resembling a social life.
I guess it really does take one to know one. When I finished my 100th* book of 2021 last week (John Grisham’s The Guardians) I documented it on a master list I’ve been keeping all year, just like I did with the previous 99*.
One ticket to Nerdville, please. <