Friday, September 14, 2007

Comfort for My Ears and Soul

A couple of days ago I went to the library to turn in a recorded book I had just finished and hopefully find a new one. My new car does not have a tape player, so I am limited to the books on CD, which number many less than the selection on tape. Anyway, I was excited to find a new offering by Tony Hillerman, who writes a series of mysteries involving two Navajo tribal policemen.

I've listened to nearly all of them and really enjoy a good mystery. They are simple, no complicated metaphors or deep thoughts, just a good mystery involving recurring characters. But the main recurring character is the wonder that is the Four Corners area of the U.S., the area where New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado meet. I have been in all four of those states, though never actually visited the Four Corners area, but if you know me, you know that New Mexico is one of my favorite places on earth. There is something mystical and spiritual about the high desert country around Santa Fe and Taos that just literally feeds my soul. I'd live there in a beautiful adobe house in a perfect world. But I digress.

Hillerman weaves into these mysteries much detail about the culture and religion of the Navajo people, their history, their customs, their struggles. I have found it fascinating and have a tremendous respect for their dignity and their peaceful way of coexisting with the Earth. And though these books are not particularly world-changing and I don't have revelations about the meaning of life, I am transported to my favorite place and I have read so many I feel like I know these characters. And really, that's what reading is all about, you know? A way to feed your soul and mind, to entertain, and to escape for a little while.

I worked in Dallas for six years and listening to recorded books was my sanity-saver during all that time in traffic. I developed a preference for books by Recorded Books, Inc. and have my favorite narrators among their stable of performers. Well, my very, very favorite is George Guidall, who happens to narrate all the Hillerman books. I have not listened to one in quite a while. When I popped the first CD in, and his deep, warm voice came on, in the particular tone and speech pattern that he uses to evoke Lt. Joe Leaphorn (the main character of most of the books), I just felt like I had a warm, cozy blanket of comfort and familiarity wrapped around me. I actually smiled and sighed audibly, it was such a pleasure. Like coming home to a warm fire and a cup of hot coffee and a cozy couch.

That sort of feeling is the reason I got so hooked on recorded books. The added pleasure of a theatrically-trained, really talented narrator "acting" the book for you, while at the same time you still exercise your imagination on what the story "looks" like, is the best of both worlds for me between books and movies. I get totally lost in the story, much more than I do when I sit and read a book. I know many friends who don't enjoy recorded books, but for me, a well-acted recorded book is just a huge treat. Great narrators don't just read the book aloud, they inhabit the characters, creating different voices for each one, voices that you begin to recognize even when they are not immediately identified as to which character is speaking. It's like having a professional theater actor act out the story right in the privacy of your own mind.

I used to struggle with feeling like if I listened to a recorded book, I couldn't really say I "read" such and such book. But it really is my favorite way of digesting a novel, and I find that I remember the story much more clearly that way. I suspect it is because I am an auditory learner, but I am no longer apologetic for being a "lazy" reader. I just don't have as much time in the car to listen anymore, but I have begun listening while I walk. Great incentive to walk, as I get to hear more of the story, so it gets me out the door. See, I'm NOT lazy . . . I'm multitasking.

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