When I’m stressed or nervous about something, I often listen to radio or a book to get to sleep at night. It has to be words, not music—something to get me thinking about something else than what is making me nervous. I purchased several audiobooks while I was driving across the country last December, and listened to them via the Audible app on my smartphone. So when I was looking for books to listen to at night, I thought, “Why buy a new book if I’m going to be sleeping through most of it anyway? Why not listen to the books I already have?”
That’s what I’ve been doing. I start a book at the beginning, and hear maybe a half hour of it before falling asleep. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and listen to 10 minutes or so before falling back asleep, and other times I sleep straight through. I wake up eight hours into the book and listen for another 10 minutes before getting up for the day. And if I have my smartphone in the car, I hear another 20 minutes as I drive to work and 20 minutes going home.
The next night I start with Chapter 2 or 3, and the night after that with Chapter 4 or 5, and so on. It is a fascinating way to experience a book. It is not what the author intended, of course. But if there is one thing I learned from deconstruction courses in college (and it’s probably just the one thing), it is to be free from the tyranny of the author!
These are the books I have listened to in this way:
- The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough
- The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown
- Pacific, by Simon Winchester
- Alaska, by James Michener
- She Got Up Off the Couch, by Haven Kimmel
- The Time-Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England, by Ian Mortimer
- The Adventure of English, by Melvin Bragg
- One Summer: America, 1927, by Bill Bryson
A few of these books are episodic—Pacific, Time-Traveler’s Guide, and One Summer—and these are perfect for kaleidoscopic listening. I go to sleep to the Babe and Lou Gehrig, and wake up to Sacco and Vanzetti. I miss the ending or beginning of a story one day, to pick it up the next—“Oh, so that’s how the Sydney Opera House finally got built!”
Other books are linear, but episodically so—The Boys in the Boat, She Got Up Off the Couch, The Wright Brothers, Alaska. These I read straight through, either before or after listening to them. However compelling the stories that make up the progression (and the stories in She Got Up Off the Couch are particularly entertaining on their own), the progression itself is an important element.
The Adventure of English was a book in which the progression of the book was the story. There were fewer stories that stood on their own. I spent a significant amount of time puzzling out what century we were in—not conducive to sleep!
What I have not (yet) done is tried listening to a book of ideas this way, or poetry, or short stories. Often in these works there is, not a progression, but a subtle structure and flow. What would be lost, and would anything be gained, in listening to such a work kaleidoscopically? Would it be like looking at a picture or work of art kaleidoscopically? Here’s a picture I took on a trip to Nova Scotia a few years ago:
And here is the kaleidoscope version (yes, there is an app for this!):
Here is a picture of my Dad when he was a young boy (Happy Father’s Day, Dad!):
And here is that same picture kaleidoscoped: