Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I give up listening. Again.

I give up on audiobooks all the time. I listen in my car for 30-40 minutes and if the book isn't instantly compelling, but not so much that I drive into a lake, I eject the disk and go on to something else.

If I feel that the book deserves more time, because of its popularity or reputation, I might give it up to 2 hours before deciding to break off the engagement. It's rare for a book to lose me in that first half hour then get me back an hour later.

Often it's the actor doing the reading. I just don't want to listen to some people talk. Like maybe their performance doesn't match the way the words form in my head. Like I'm trying to listen to the author tell me a story, but this other person just keeps getting in the way with that voice. That often happens if the reader is using an accent.

But David Sedaris is great to listen to. Who'da thunk, with that voice of his? And Stephen Colbert, awesome. Some writers are just destined to perform.

The latest book I've given up on is Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. But in this case, although I'm trying to blame the performer for his somewhat Southern or genteel manner he attributes to some characters, I realize that I just don't care about vampires. I don't care about them so much that even the prospect of a great and bloody war with them can't keep me from ejecting the disk and re-inserting some music. I believe you kids call it rock and roll.

Spoiler Alert.

So when this happens, I have to go online to find out if I'm going to miss anything really good by ejecting the book. And luckily, Wikipedia has pretty thorough summaries of many books and movies. And when I read the plot for Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, I realize I've made the right decision to abandon it. Thank God for libraries and all that free lending.

This is what convinced me:
"Lincoln follows a slave buyer and his new slaves back to their plantation and discovers to his horror that the buyer is a vampire - the slaves are to be used not for labor but for food. Lincoln writes in his diary his belief that vampires will continue to exist in America as long as they can easily buy their victims in this manner - to end slavery is to end the scourge of vampires."
And that bothers me. I agree with the first three paragraphs from the Wikipedia summary, so I'm guessing that they got this part right, too.

So in this book, Seth Grahame-Smith decides that slavery is bad because of vampires?

Earlier, a few escaped slaves attempt to steal Lincoln's boat, but he fought them off only to learn that they were trying to flee from their vampire master. And I could sense Lincoln's guilt at keeping them from gaining access to the craft for their escape even if it meant they might have taken his life in the process.

But to write an alternate history to say that the African slave trade expanded and that the Civil War was caused by vampires is kind of dumb, if not offensive.

The lesson we are supposed to learn from slavery and the Civil War is that we are all capable of great evils.

But even when the story attempts to fix this confusion about the causes of the war, the author tells us, "Lincoln decides that the best way to defeat the vampires is to eliminate their food source and starve them out- to that end, he announces the Emancipation Proclamation and encourages the slaves to fight back against slave owners and vampires alike."

Starve them out? Their food supply? The only reason slaves were the preferred food supply is because they could be purchased, eaten and killed without raising any alarms because no one cared what happened to a slave, which was simply a person's property.

Without slaves, there would still be many poor white farmers and laborers, even Native Americans, who could be eaten. And because this part of the story seems so ill-thought-out, I'm tempted to advance to that part of the book to hear what and how that really plays out. (But not so tempted that I'd actually do it.) It just doesn't make sense, so maybe the Wikipedia entry is oversimplifying things. But I guess I'll never know.

Anyway, this is not an actual review since I admit to only listening to a small portion of the book. But it was enough to help me decide to move on to something else. Maybe The Hunger Games. Although I also tried to listen to Gregor the Overlander (the same author), but gave up on that after 20 minutes. I wanted away from that story pretty much as soon as I started it.

But that's the difference for me between audiobooks and print books. With print, I can flip through the pages very quickly and scan ahead to see if maybe there's a part where I can jump back in. I took a speed reading class in school and used a machine that projected words on the wall and I could dial up the speed to 1200 words a minute. And I remember every book I read after I learned to read faster. For example, The Red Badge of Courage begins, "cold earth fogs liquid feet hostile hills." It's a story about a jogger or a marathon runner, or something.

With an audiobook, I can only advance then listen. Advance, then listen. It doesn't help me to find a good spot to get back into the story. So I quit. If only I had speed hearing, but sound travels so slowly.