just one book

Confession time.  I love AMAZON.  Ok.  I do, and that’s that.  So let’s just clear the air right now.  I send money to the devil, and there’s little hope for me now.  I can tell you the seduction was very sudden.  It took me quite by surprise, and now that I am in so deep, I look back and wonder how come it took me so long to fall? 

Indulge me please in a little back story whilst I set this up because I feel I must explain this Faustian bargain I’ve gotten myself into with Amazon. And besides, this is the fun part to write:

I have a tenured position at a large community college in suburban Silicon Valley, but when I was offered this job straight out of grad school some many years ago, I was living in Shangri-La by the Sea.  An idyllic town nestled in a grape-growing valley encircled by ancient volcanic peaks, a college town full of artists, poets, and musicians who were all my friends and where I could ride my bicycle through halcyon fields and gaze out at the green-glass sea — all in the same day.  How could I leave this magical place for hot, smoggy suburban sprawl?  Well, I had to.  I would have sat beside Larry the Lech on a Greyhound bus bound for Yuma, Arizona if some prison warden there had promised me a tenure track job teaching parolees how to read.  So it was all Thanks and Wow.  I have a job!  which quickly turned into   a job in . . Silicon . . .Valley.  That little whimper lasted about two seconds, though, because you know me.  I’ve got my parachute packed whenever the mood gets glum, right, and I’m thinking Love that job, but how can I get out of living THERE?  And that was it.  I found a little studio apartment a block from the coast and have been driving over a treacherous two lane mountain highway into the traffic-choked valley — one hour each way — ever since.

For the past bizumpteen years I have been passing this time during my commute listening to radio programming: a little npr, some bbc news, local talk radio, even Howard Stern before he moved to cable.  And lately, as my hair has grown streaked with silver strands here and there and I feel more and more compelled to smooth out my wrinkles with peaceful passings of time, I gave up all the political cacophony in the car and began listening to Spotify, a miraculous jukebox in the sky that streams any song I could possibly want at the touch of my iphone.  I absolutely love it!  These 50 minutes or so in the car coming and going are the only time in the day I have to myself, and with Spotify I can listen to all sorts of commercial-free music or pick from one of the many playlists I’ve created to satisfy whatever mood I’m in and just mind wander my way to work.  The only thing that would make this journey better would be perhaps a little bit more glamor I guess, and I sometimes imagine myself slipping into a Burberry trench coat with the Times tucked under my arm as I hop onto a crowded commuter train — of course the fantasy involves tracks headed for an exciting metropolis rather than the perpetually rosy land of wide impeccably landscaped boulevards dotted here and there with chino-clad techies in business casual out for a quick burrito.  And I imagine I’d be able to read the paper or make it through that stack of books on my nightstand so much quicker with the click and clack of the train and all those people to watch.  Wouldn’t that be romantic and ever so productive?  Enter Amazon’s version of Mephistopheles with a promise I could not pass up.  Mr. Audible himself, holding out to me with a sly grin, the audio book and snickering:

Amazon hath no limits, nor is circumscribed
In one self place, for where we are is Amazon,
And where Amazon is must we ever be.

~ Christopher Marlowe, from The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus

I reached out my hand and took just one.  Just one, and I was hooked.  Oh, I know.  I know!  But it was free with a 30-day trial membership — how could I pass that up?  And it came with the promise of more, too . . . a virtual stockpile of books and all available with the click of a button whose pages I did not even have to turn . . . novels that have been languishing on my shelves for years suddenly brought to life in my car by some British character actor with a knack for voices . . . and I could “read” them on my drive to work!  How come it’s taken me so long to figure this out?  Needless to say I’ve been an Audible subscriber for less than a month, and I’ve already downed FOUR books on my way to work, crossing off title after title on my Classics Club 50 in 5 reading list.  And that, dear friends, is my big confession.

Listening to audio books has been a mixed blessing, I’ll admit.  I don’t like not being able to linger over passages or flip back to them as I unravel a plot or spark an idea for a blog post.  The language is ephemeral, and listening to a book rather than reading it makes the experience, for me, a temporary one, because I can’t remember favorite lines that made me smile or an image that touched me in some way.  The blessing in this is that perhaps I spend more leisure time than intellectual time with the books, letting them exist for pleasure and entertainment rather than critical reflection.  I’m learning to select audio books with this in mind, now, and have recently “read” two English satires: Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust and Edward St. Aubyn’s new novel Lost for Words, both of which you’ll just have to take my word for being wonderfully hilarious entertaining “reads.”  But I do miss the soft fiber and smell of paper and glue.landofsteady  Right now I’ve got a bound copy of Ted Thompson’s debut novel, The Land of Steady Habits, and as I read it I’m acutely aware of running my fingertips over its pages while I read and wonder each time as I do, has Little Brown got some secret supplier for this incredibly soft paperSome chemical cosmetic additive for us page strokers to insure we never abandon our books and thereby bring about the collapse of the publishing industry?  I mean, I never thought of myself as a literary sommolier, but there really is a distinct palate to this Little Brown paper that I just love.  And I suppose that’s why I could never fully hand over my library to Amazon’s Audible.  Swing from this one branch, yes, but only in the car on the way to work.  I promise.

Faustus: Stay, Mephistopheles, and tell me, what good will my soul do thy lord?

Mephistopheles: Enlarge his kingdom.

Faustus: Is that the reason he tempts us thus?



 waughStAubyn   audible

The nitty gritty:  To get started with Audible, visit their website and get a free audio book with your subscription.  I purchased a Gold Membership at $14.95/mo, which buys me a 30% discount and a one-free-book-per-month credit.  Hardly a bargain, I know, but what can I do now?


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