Pre-Election Thoughts and Praise of Audio Books

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The
New York Times recently ran a solemn-ass editorial endorsing
Kerry for president. With that endorsement and some thousands of
votes from blue-collar, non-Times-reading voters in Cleveland, Kerry
will get in. Maybe.

I
thought initially he had done nearly everything decent that a man
can do to lose. But perhaps he has been doubly smart. Don't commit
to peace, which might enrage AIPAC, but take advantage of the swelling
of the get-rid-of-this-awful-man-Bush sentiment. Is it really true
now, as Dr. Hunter Thompson says, that everybody can see that Bush
is a nothing, an embarrassment for all? It seems that the big, more
or less Zionist newspapers think so. The Washington Post
just went for Kerry. The AP reports a dead tie in their poll. I
say it's all spinach, and I say the hell with it.

That
a great nation is reduced to paying attention to the election folderol
our controllers have laid on for us is a scandal, and a goodly number
of people point that out on various non-conforming Internet sites.
But the mainstream punditocracy ploughs along humming and nodding
heads and eyeing the length of Laura's and Terry's skirts. We are
to believe that a remark by the Terry person about the Laura person's
job rsum is worth space in a major national newspaper or time
on a TV news program? It is all fantastically trivial. So much fiddling
while Iraq burns. I run out of metaphors to express disgust.

So
on to something pleasanter.

I
have lately taken up listening to audio tapes in my car when I go
around town on errands. I used to listen to NPR, but I expect I
don't have to explain why that got to seeming, like, OLD. (My car,
too is old, it is a 17-year-old two-door Corolla, and it gets pretty
good gas mileage. I just spent 900 bucks getting new valve seats
and other wonderful things. I propose to run it to 200K miles at
least, God willing. It's at 129K now. My other car is a mint-condition
Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. In a bid to protect the environment and
lessen the pressure on imported $50-plus oil, I keep it in the garage
under wraps.)

In
a mimetic bow to my LRC pundit-colleague Mike (in Tokyo) Rogers,
who tells us about great music CDs he likes, I'd like to tell you
of a few of my discoveries in re audio tapes (my Corolla doesn't
do CDs). Perhaps, if this God-awful political scene doesn't lighten
up after the election and offer some substantial peace measures
to talk about, I'll come back with other recommendations for diversion.

First
a general statement: I had thought audio tapes were for the disabled
or disadvantaged, people who for some reason couldn't read with
ease. Utter mistake. They are for people trapped in cars. Millions
of people have to take long commutes and sit stalled in traffic
endlessly. The audios are God's blessing for them, and they are
for me, too, going about here and there within a single city.

An
additional and unexpected discovery I made was that the readings
add a whole dimension you can't get from just reading a book quietly
in a chair. You get the advantage of skilled actors delivering multiple
voices (the major convention is that one reader does all the voices;
only rarely is there a recourse to multiple readers). Actors of
quality know a thing or two about projecting character via the voice;
I take off my hat to them.

I
am currently listening to Homer's Iliad
read by Derek Jacobi, a British actor with the fine classical English
speech we associate with the best British theater. I have tried
the Iliad a number of times in various translations and have
never gotten very far into it. Now, in this translation by Robert
Fagles, I see that it is indeed a vast thing out of the springtime
of the literature of the West and about the tragic madness of men.

I
forbear further efforts to evaluate the text (what needs my Homer
encomiums from me?), but I can give you my impressions as they relate
to our present times. It was women and treasure and turf that men
fought for then. It was no doubt manlier to fight for those things
than it is to struggle in a "democratic" election for
the power to send others to their deaths for profit. But you can
see that the same unchecked, raw human emotions ruled on the beach
before Troy as they ruled in the wars of Europe and the conquest
of the Americas, and as they rule today, ever uglier, in the American
Imperial conquest of the world.

Troy
fell. Achaean Greece fell. Rome fell. Spain fell. England fell.
You get the idea. History seems to be a record of serial cannibalism
among nations. We're next on the food chain.

I
think I'll mention two other audios and then desist for now. Oddly,
they are both about war. Some weeks ago I listened to Mark Twain's
Joan
of Arc
, that great book he wrote about the girl who was
called by someone, "the last great warrior of the West."
Joan was read by Wolfram Kandinsky, who did a beautiful job.
His was an American accent with a foreign flavor, with the many
French names rendered in what seemed to me elegant French. I knew
the book from reading it and writing about it years ago, but it
came newly alive in the dramatic reading, and I raised my estimate
of Twain's genius in writing it. I believe I have read that he considered
it his best book.

Joan
was lifting the siege of France by an invading army of English;
it was a just war, despite the dynastic aspect and the weakness
of the French Dauphin, for which Joan was sent to compensate. Her
own performance, under guidance from her "voices," is
one of the wonders of world history. And the whole story was set
down with precision by medieval clerks serving the court that tried
her. They made a detailed, factual record that forever condemns
the French traitors and their English overlords, who had rigged
the trial against her and burnt her. The sentence was reversed by
the Church when Joan was elevated to sainthood a quarter-century
later. Twain has it all in the book, and Joan emerges as one of
the finest women in history.

And
I have listened to two rollicking chronicles by Patrick O'Brian
of the redoubtable Jack Aubrey and his violin-playing intellectual
sidekick, Stephen Maturin, full-time doctor and surgeon, sometime
spy. The titles were Master
and Commander
(I have yet to see the movie) and Post
Captain
. I had heard about these sea yarns set in the Napoleonic
period for years but always discounted them as for light-weight
action addicts. Perhaps they are, but then count me as now among
the action addicts. They are superbly written, full of fantastically
detailed and accurate lore of sea and land, and beautifully read
by John Brown, who has an uncanny ability to keep the characters
of Aubrey and Maturin distinct, and true to the complicated psychology
that O'Brian has built into both. Of course the English win through
sheer indomitable Englishry, but you can forgive that in the interests
of adventure. And in fact the English did win that one. Some of
the most nostalgic scenes in the books are of the gentlemanly way
the navies of those days fought their wars.

This
may all be escapism, but I contend we have something to escape.

October
25, 2004

Tom
White [send him mail]
writes from Odessa, Texas. He is the author of Bill
W., A Different Kind of Hero: The Story of Alcoholics Anonymous

(2003).

Tom
White Archives

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