Sensory Reading

SOUND: CONFESSION: I don’t listen to podcasts. (That’s a lie. I do listen to The Great Concavity, but I haven’t listened to the interview with Adam Levin yet for fear of spoilers. But that’s an unrealistic fear isn’t it? Why would he spoil his book to an audience of listeners who would want to read it?) And, I’ve only listened to maybe three audiobooks in my life, but they were all narrated by the authors themselves and I still purchased a physical copy and read them again after listening. It isn’t because of any aversion to aural learning; I’m just a much stronger visual learner. When I listen to an audiobook, I tend to space-out, my thoughts wander, and although that might be the goal of speculative fiction, I’m often lost in my own world rather than the world so carefully constructed by the author.

However, I was so eager to start Bubblegum, that I signed up for Audible, used my two free credits to download it and Infinite Jest (an absolute bargain at 1 credit) and then promptly cancelled my subscription.

SOUND: I listened before bed and cracked up! I hadn’t found a book this funny since reading Infinite Jest. I mean, I couldn’t hear the line “Shut your piehole-cakeface, gaylord,” said Jonboat” without cracking a smile. And despite having a full knee-slapping guffaw at “It’s pissing through a boner,” I still passed out, earbuds in, audiobook playing.

I woke up to a dead phone. Apparently, 30% of the book had played before my battery died. All I remembered was a ridiculous character named Jonboat and something about a slogan on a T-shirt. Suffice it to say, my memory stopped at about 14 pages in, not 30%. NEWSFLASH: osmosis doesn’t work even when you have a direct link from the book to your body.

SMELL: My copy of the book arrived a few days later. And yes, it smelled like Bubblegum. I thought it was a scratch-and-sniff until I read the previous blog, which explains that it’s heat-activated.

TASTE: I ate a piece of Bubblegum in earnest when the book arrived. It’s not as great as anyone remembers.

SIGHT and SOUND: I decided to pair listening with reading. Although I could probably read it faster on my own, the voice of Mark Deakin had become Belt Magnet to me. The two seemed inseparable. So, I kept my slow and steady pace, learning from my mistakes, and pausing to sleep at page breaks. That is, until I got to Part II.

Part II is where we agreed to stop for this week. As such, the remaining discussion doesn’t spoil anything about Part II’s content. It is, however, the point at which my listening/reading experience was spoiled. So, I invite you, dear reader, to share in my misery, or to stop here.

Page Break

SIGHT: Read on. Join me in my obsessions.

SOUND: In Part II, I heard something I couldn’t unhear.

I heard a short, almost indecipherable hiss and then the first word of every sentence cut off. So, let’s say a sentence started with “So” I would only hear a faint hiss and then “ooo.” Or, “Or,” the faint hiss and then “rrr.” And once I noticed it, I couldn’t unnoticed it. I reasoned that Deakin was pronouncing the whole word, like any good voiceover artist would, but I couldn’t shake the idea that I heard the audio edits. Now, I’m not actively trying to dis the quality of the recording. My intentions here, are not to turn readers against the audiobook. I’m simply looking for solidarity, understanding, and to communicate/articulate my experience. Easy enough ask, right? That’s why I started with a disclaimer.

Either I’m a terrible auditory learner, or I’m super-sensitive, but the point is, I’m pretty sure it’s me! Maybe my “gate is open” to these auditory distractions. Maybe I can hear things no one else can. Maybe I’m as crazy as Belt Magnet. All I know is that once I noticed this quirk, it completely distracted me. I couldn’t pay attention to what was happening, so I stopped listening. And believe me, I sincerely mourn not hearing Levin’s grammar and syntax enunciated, as my interior reading voice does it no justice. Even the humor of the novel falls a little flatter reading it on the page instead of hearing it out loud.

TOUCH: On a brighter note though, I am now devouring the novel at my own ferocious reading pace. It’s been a real comfort to return to my natural reading habitat–reclined in bed, wrists cracking under the weight of a sweet-smelling hardcover, eyes racing back and forth across the page. And now I have a new obsession–The page break. It reminds me of Braille. Obviously, the spots aren’t raised, but I’m glad to have rediscovered my preference for a tactile experience. After all, Belt must ‘touch’ inans in order to communicate with them, so maybe the novel works the same way for me.

*I hope I haven’t ruined the audiobook for those of you who are still listening, and I hope I haven’t discouraged anyone from trying it out. More than likely, I’m the crazy one.

8 thoughts on “Sensory Reading

  1. Daryl L. L. Houston May 18, 2020 / 10:06 pm

    I’m reading the hardbook rather than listening to the book, so I can’t report anything about my experience of this one, but I am fairly sensitive to the aural word. I’ve listened to a fair few audiobooks with my family, and there’s one narrator who does a good job giving the different characters their own voices without being hokey about it, but sometimes he slips into a voice that just grates on my eardrums as sharp and raspy and almost physically painful. It’s hard for me to listen to. And I can’t stand a bad reader. I’ll abandon a podcast within moments if it is voiced woodenly (or too chirpily). So I can’t share this specific experience, but I can at least share a general sensitivity to this stuff. Thanks for posting!

      • Paul Debraski May 24, 2020 / 10:41 pm

        What a coincidence. He narrates Galatea 2.2 which is a book I was thinking about reading.

      • Daryl L. L. Houston May 25, 2020 / 9:25 am

        Ah, for what it’s worth, I didn’t much like Galatea 2.2. I’ve read a fair bit of Powers and he has mostly fallen flat for me. I would like to try The Overstory, but with the exception of The Time of Our Singing (which is really good), I’ve been routinely disappointed by his work. Galatea 2.2 is at least brief.

      • Paul Debraski May 25, 2020 / 9:39 am

        I have has Galatea for about 20 years. I don’t remember at all why i bought it. It’s been sitting on my shelf, pixelated cover, silk this tinge. everytime i shift books there it is. When i saw he had written overstory i figured i should read Galatea. Maybe it will sit there for another 20 years.

  2. Paul Debraski May 23, 2020 / 11:26 am

    I don’t listen to podcasts either. This is essentially a survival mechanism because if I were to delve into this world it would lead to so many podcasts that I want to listen to that I would have no time for anything else. So, yes, there are certainly a bunch I should listen to (and I may have to dip into the Concavity).

    I do however, occasionally listen to audio books. Bronson Pinchot (yup, the guy from 80s sitcom Perfect Strangers) is the most incredible audio book reader I have ever heard. He has an astonishing range of voices at his disposal. [Check out the grimnoir chronicles for an adult book and Healy’s The Hero’s Guide for family appropriate stuff).

    My wife feels exactly like you do about audio books. We tend to listen on long car trips. I drive and she drifts off, most of the time missing an important piece of information. When she asks why something happened, the kids groan at her for missing it.

    My wife is also a very fast reader and the audiobooks are way too slow for her. Her friend has been listening to audible books at 1.5 speed, which I get but which would drive me insane at the lack of real voice.

    Many times I’m interested in hearing how a reader does something.

    For instance, I fell like I need to hear “shut your piehole, cakeface” at least once. It’s very funny in my head, but I think it would be even funnier hearing it aloud.

    I’m guessing the hiss is at the beginning of the inans speaking? I don’t think I’d like that. Although I am very curious about what it sounds like. I don’t think I know Mark Deakin, but I’m curious. I have found that some authors are terrible at reading their own books. And some have terrible voices.

    SMELL:
    My wife assures me the book smells like gum and I just can’t detect it. I feel unfairly treated.

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