“I can’t stop my children from arguing in the car,” a friend told me recently. “But when I put in an audio, it works magic.” So began my journey into exploring recent audio books that might please her children. Her daughter at 3 loves fiction and her son, at 5, is a nonfiction fan. That’s quite a lot of disparity in terms of age and interest, but made a nice spectrum for young interests. She agreed to take some audios on “test drives,” to see if they could shift her children’s moods from squabbling to shared pleasure.
I used to love a good long read. Fat books almost ensured a setting that claimed me, a character I cared about, an intricate plot and full descriptions along the way. Becoming a book critic changed me. I succumbed to the power of deadlines and the reviewer’s curse, “too little time, too many books.” Length was no longer a delight, but an obstacle.
I’m up in Ohio visiting my parents, who are getting along in years. I normally come up at the end of the school year, but I was summoned by my sisters because in the past few weeks the family dynamic has sort of ... uh ... “collapsed” would be a good word.
This is the story of a woman named Cora. She was the only child in her family, and love and affection had been lavished on her by her parents. Her parents were not wealthy, yet they continued to support her, even after she graduated from college. She did not work for a living.
My sister -- who shall remain nameless due to her behavior on the occasion herein described, but let’s just call her Susan -- is celebrating her birthday today, and she doesn’t want anyone to know her age (which is 60) because she’s just sick about it. Not about having a birthday, but did I mention that she’s 60? Not that I want to keep bringing up her age ... which is 60 ... but that’s what she’s having a fit about.
The long holiday week provided us with plenty of opportunities to sit with others and talk without the usual time constraints. Our paths crossed with people young and old, the long-term loved as well as new friends with whom we assembled over meals. As we departed from the final gathering of the holiday, I pondered the art of conversation.
Atul Gawane wrote an article for the New Yorker about a man named Robert Felton who was imprisoned in solitary confinement for many years. Felton was considered to be impulsive, incorrigible, violent and dangerous.
It’s graduation time, and I know all of you in the Class of 2014 are eagerly awaiting the moment when you are thrust into the world on your own, ready to tackle your dreams, excited to take on the responsibility of making your own way, making your own choices, making your own mistakes, making your own bed ... or not ... it’s up to you! And, let me tell you, it’s a blast out here!
Of course, unless you’ve already gotten a job in your chosen field (snicker) you’ll be heading home to Mom and Dad’s for a while as you send out resumes and “weigh all your options.”
Every year I judge the Audies, 29 awards given by the Audio Publishers Association for distinctive audio books. I only judge four to six books in Round 2 and feel grateful to those who listened and sorted through 20 or more audios during Round 1. This year, I judged memoirs and noticed a range of styles, worlds, stories that I might not have heard without this opportunity. Here are three of my favorites.
My unexpected favorite was Lawrence Anthony’s “The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild,” written with Graham Spence, read by Simon Vance (Tantor, approximately 11 hours). Anthony, a conservationist owns a wildlife reserve in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, and his story has all the elements that make for an engaging listen. The drama begins right away — if Anthony doesn’t take in an elephant herd known to be troublemakers from another game reserve, they will all be put down. Within days Anthony and his faithful co-workers put in miles of electric fencing to contain these elephants, deal with local Zulu politics, potential poachers and reintroducing elephants who have not been seen there for a hundred years. Despite the speedy accommodations, the elephants’ leader and her son are killed before their transport is arranged.
An alert and devoted reader (thanks, Mom!) recently sent me a short article by Lee Berk, Ph.D., MPH, a preventive care specialist and psychoneuroimmunologist (a big word I use quite often) at Loma Linda University. The best part of the article reads as follows:
“There is scientific evidence that laughing is good for your health. Researchers recently looked at laughter’s effect on people with diabetes. In this one-year study, 20 diabetes patients received medication for their diabetic condition … but one group also watched humorous videos for 30 minutes daily. After one year, 26 percent of the “laughter group” patients had higher levels of HDL “good” cholesterol, compared with 3 percent of patients in the other group. Based on this research, people who have diabetes or are at risk for the disease may benefit from … a good dose of laughter every day. To follow this advice, choose any form of humor or comedy that appeals to you (such as movies, TV shows or books) and that produces joyful laughter.”
On my morning run, I pass by the building near my house in Chapel Hill. And every time, I say a word of thanks.
Other North Carolinians are grateful, too. A friend of mine told me last week, “The Institute of Government has made all the difference for our state. But, today, not enough people appreciate how much we owe it.”
It’s Mother’s Day today, and I am so lucky to have my mother still with me that I thought I’d dedicate a column to her ... again. I wasn’t going to because I’ve done a couple and really, what more is there to say? And then it started coming to me ... all the “more there is to say.” Like:
My mom is the laughter I hear in the night as I fall asleep, down in the living room with my Dad, clearly talking about us; she’s the wave I look for as I leave for school; she’s the hopeful smile I cling to as I mount the steps to the stage for my piano recital; and, she’s the implacable voice of censure when I’ve done something stupid ... which, honestly, I did ... a lot.
On April 18, an avalanche on Mount Everest killed 16 Himalayan Sherpas.
As a result, the Sherpas have threatened a boycott of Mount Everest, and have left the mountain for the season.
Good for them!
I took my dog, Kasey, to the vet today. She’s sort of a small-medium size, looks like “Benji” from the movie. Turned 13 years old on Valentine’s Day, she’s been slowing down quite a bit in the last year or so. Naturally, I first noticed this with a jovial “Join the club!” kind of response. But, today, when I lifted her onto the table to be examined, she looked at me, and my heart suddenly seized.
The look in her eyes is new; it’s different. It wasn’t her regular, “Whoa, why are we here again? I hate this place!” Her gaze is beginning to say something else these days. Waiting for her veterinarian to come in, the two of us locked eyes for a long moment, and her expression spoke so clearly it was like hearing Kasey’s voice.
When our children were young we were all fans of the vintage Fleischer Studios Betty Boop cartoons. One favorite featured a wailing cat that disturbed Betty’s sleep. When she demanded silence, the cat sang, “Not now, not now; maybe later but not now [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UG0ebiZDzIU].”