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The holiday season approacheth, and what better way to get in the spirit than with good eating and psychopaths! And now that I live in the land of wind and snow, I don’t have to feel any guilt at all about curling up with a book instead of prancing around at some sun-drenched pool like an idiot.
What I’ve Read
I enjoy books about cooking. I think they are nice. My Life in France by Julia Child was endearing and amazing. I like when Hemingway discusses wine. Smitten Kitchen has taken up a bit too much of my work day at times. So coming across Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley was an especially pleasant surprise, not only because it is about the young author’s lifelong obsession with good eating, but also because it is a graphic novel adorably illustrated with oodles of details. Knisley is the product of a chef and a gourmet, chowing down on salmon mousse and Shiitake mushrooms before she can barely walk. The book follows her childhood and early adulthood in New York, Chicago, Mexico, France, and Japan, as she works her way through everything from 23-course gastronomical extravaganzas to the crappiest mac n’cheese a box can provide. Interspersed with these chronicles of her youth are recipes for chocolate chip cookies, sautéed mushrooms, sangria, sushi rolls and more. I would be jealous of her beautiful, interesting upbringing, but Knisley is just too damn likable. She’s like that friend you have who enjoys a well-made Big Mac as much as a five-course meal. The colorful, charming cartoon drawings cover every inch of the page, and pack a lot of information into a small space. Relish, like My Life in France, will really make you want to go out and find your own favorite restaurants, something I often have a hard time doing not because I don’t enjoy a good meal, but because I am lazy. Well, here’s another New Year’s resolution to add to the pile.
What I’m Reading
Well, it’s actually not “reading;” I should say, “ear reading” or “listening to.” In a never-ending effort to find an interesting audiobook (because even though I started a lovely new job, I still have quite a commute—thank you, stupid north Jersey), I am currently listening to The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson, and it is amazing. Ronson is a journalist that’s contributed to several This American Life episodes. He also wrote several books, including The Men Who Stare at Goats, an interesting story about a secret segment of the U.S. government of which they based a very meh movie on. Also, he’s Welsh.
The Psychopath Test is Ronson’s quest to understand what it means to be a psychopath. Through several first-person accounts, he explores the many facets of being diagnosed as a psychopath, the impact psychopaths have on the world, and the strange allure that comes with a psychopathic persona. He interviews a man in Broadmoor Hospital, a notorious mental institution in Great Britain, who faked his way there in order to elude a jail sentence, and now can’t seem to convince the doctors that he’s really sane. He researches Elliott Barker, a Canadian doctor in the 60’s who believed the only way to cure psychopathic disorders was to get a bunch of psychopaths together, give them LSD, and have them act as each other’s therapists in an isolated place, whilst unclothed. It did not work. Ronson also shares how the characteristics of psychopathic disorders (as defined by Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist) are actually quite similar to traits displayed by some of the world’s most successful tycoons and entrepreneurs.
As if the subject matter wasn’t interesting enough, Ronson’s voice (Welsh!) is clever and sarcastic and self-deprecating and at times completely off-the-wall. He presents these accounts in such a funny, memorable way that I have no problems at all retaining the information and then sharing it with my husband in order to prove once and for all that I am not in fact, a psychopath. I’m not!
I have a commute to work. A big sucky commute. Even driving through gorgeous autumn foliage does not make this commute easier. And while New Jersey’s superb radio stations are pretty good at making the time pass, I’ve been trying to listen to audiobooks to actually engage my mind, keep awake, and not plow into the car next to me (Note to reader: do not drive next to me).
However, I’ve never been an audiobook listener. I love the heck out of reading print books, I listen to NPR. Avid reader + talk radio listener = audiobook fan, right? Wrong. It’s actually pretty difficult for me to get into an audiobook, for the mere fact that there are just SO MANY ways an audiobook can turn deadly for me. Here’s a few:
- Boring book: Listen, I’m not a history buff, but I love a good story, and there are definitely some amazing things that have happened in history that I would not mind hearing about. Also, it makes me look smart to name drop “Robert Todd Lincoln” at gatherings. (Yes, I go to gatherings where that earns respect.) However, there are a couple of non-fiction books that people have sworn to me are amazing…..and I’ve turned them off after the first ten minutes. When you are fast forwarding through an introduction….then the prelude….then the first chapter, you’ve lost interest, people. You can have the most amazing voice talent ever, but I will never get into Founding Brothers, or David McCullough’s John Adams, even though these are both books that I have sampled in print and found quite interesting. Why? It is the “wordiness” of the writing? Is it the narrator? I don’t know!
- Boring voice talent: Imagine being back in that class in high school where the teacher drones on and on and on and you really honestly have no idea what he is saying because you can’t even follow his train of thought and you just want him to stop before blood starts pouring from your eyes and my god why won’t he just stop?! Well, I don’t know how it happens, but there are actual audiobook narrators that WERE PAID to read these books….and they sound like these same monotonous droners. Maybe they were friends with the author. Maybe they ARE the author. Either way, it’s a fast way for my mind to drift. Yet, ironically enough……
- Great voice talent: I once attempted to listen to Brideshead Revisited as read by Jeremy Irons. Anyone who has heard the silken English tones of Mr. Irons knows that he is one good speaker who knows how to emote. He was Scar, for god’s sake. The problem was that I became so auditorially intoxicated by Mr. Irons, that I did not pay attention to the story at all. To the point that the disc actually ended, began again, and I didn’t even catch it until ten minutes had passed. When you are starting an audiobook over for the third time because you still can’t keep the characters’ names straight, there’s a problem.
Am I being the pickiest listener ever? Probably. But the thing is, I DO know that there are good audiobooks out there. I listened to Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation, and aside from being an interesting, engaging story about her tour of presidential assassination sites, her quirky, infinitely intriguing voice kept me hooked from the very first chapter.
So where are they? Anyone have recommendations? Should I just give up and stick to the Alternate Side? Or attempt to read while driving and murder us all? Lives hang in the balance, people.