31 Oct


This is totally superfluous, unedited windbagging. Move on if there’s already a stiff breeze in your region.

I like to run along to recorded books–typically the kind of book I know I’ll never get round to reading and in a genre that I know will entertain and engage me, and that are good read-out-louders: usually spy or crime thrillers (the former have mostly been E. European or Scandinavian and the latter tend to be literate tales of washed out tough guys set in places like Florida), and sometimes fantasy (and sometimes a reading of a book I’ve already read).

I read most fantasy novels fairly quickly–even if they are loaded for bear most of the details are superfluous. Unless they’re really unique or thoughtful or uniquely thoughtful and, unless you still assess life risks and opportunities in terms of 20 sided dice, most fantasy doesn’t fall into those buckets. Earlier this year I picked up Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss from the library–his first bazillion seller in the series was really long and kind of windy but still a good story, and despite the length easy to breeze through (enough with the Rothfuss wind jokes). Same with the second, even though it felt like it had the same amount of editing as the latter Harry Potter novels. So I put the recorded version in my request queue, thinking it’d be nice entertainment and include some useful ideas about what sells books in bulk, plotwise. It showed up yesterday in a lunchbox-sized container of 36 CD’s.

When I borrow a book on CD from the library, I always burn it to my laptop, converting it to MP3 format that I can play on my itty bitty Sansa Clip (who I call Clippy, except when it, like the infamous ring, randomly unclips from my waistband and falls into the trailside bushes (I run in Forest Park when possible), always right at a good bit. I’m left there scrounging through the ferns dripping in sweat with earbud wires dangling like some sort of black saliva from my chin (sorry about the image–I couldn’t think of a less queasy or more original metaphor for useless dangling from the region of my head–take your best shot). And I’ll probably rip Wise Man’s Fear, too, all 36 discs, while I’m doing other work. But I have to wonder at the amount of audible data they decided was necessary to tell this story. Most big books require, at most, 20 discs or less. With Wise Man’s Fear, I’m concerned that they’ve swelled the story with Orwellian pauses that’ll cause me to trip over roots and follow Clippy into the brush (yes, I do believe in quantum collusion). Or that the reader will attempt to mimic some imaginary old style of speaking and elongate all the vowels (flourishing the i so it becomes eeee, and so on) and cause me to throw Clippy into the brush.

I tried simple comparative analysis, Just To See (a perfectly valid reason, perhaps the best, for research). The closest relative–marketing-wise, at least–is the George R.R. Martin series* (now bringing to the home screen, if the ads are correct, gorgeous Conan-like scowls, fur cloaks, mighty blades, mighty boobies**, and Loki-like villainy). I looked them up online in the Washington County library catalog and they, too, come in between 30 and 35 discs. Apparently read by the same reader or with the same sort of relish. I think the Rothfuss books are about the same page count, so it’s possible that the Spinal Tap rule was invoked to create an additional disc.

I can either rip them all to MP3*** and get around to listening later, maybe keeping, maybe deleting all 2 GB after 20 minutes like I deleted poor Connie Willis’s Blackout (not a bad book, just a poor reading and many discs worth of ripping), or rip one and listen while I’m working, and at least see if the reader’s competent.

Why would I borrow CD’s when I may be able to find them already as MP3 files in the library system? Because the latter are controlled by an artificial and clumsy checkout system, and the audio files come with built in DRM–they fizzle after 2 to 3 weeks, making it difficult to build a queue. I usually have several books worth of MP3 files queued–listening time doesn’t happen like clockwork–and I always delete them after listening, keeping the spirit of the loan agreement (and not denying anyone else access–copying them allows me to return them sooner).

Why am I windbagging (or windblogging) about this? Because I think there’s also plenty of opportunity in the publishing world to create easily accessible, easily importable audio book experiences–especially through libraries–that are device independent and fit user stories (how people really use and not forced into using audio books) before CD’s go away. A small percentage of authors release their own versions of all or part of their books–some, like Neil Gaimain, are terrific readers. Some authors (if they’ve retained audio rights) allow others to record and publish parts or all of a book–usually in a sort of Open Source readers community. Those results usually come off as well meant (like having dry toast shoved in one’s ears, but with just enough marmalade to show good intent).

Snarky imagery aside, no one should make fun of anyone who provides a free listening experience of a good book, whether its via the author, a community, or a library. It takes a lot of work to create a good reading and listening experience. Even if one is a proficient reader, the experience is full of errors: dry throat, stumbling over text, missteps in rhythm or word choice (our brains often choose words similar to those on the page with that same flexibility that allows us to get what you meant, not what you said).

I’m left with seeing a chink in the wall (simulated by these two outspread fingers) but unable to interpret what’s on the other side. A democratic Berlin? More woods?


* Which I will read or listen to Real Soon Now
** It’s premium cable and a “period piece”–there will be boobies.
*** Listen to the ferocity of syllables in that phrase: “Rip them all to MP3!” Muahahaha!