The Passage

Maybe it was just that I was packing while I was listening.  I was gathering up my shirts and books and the compact discs and DVDs and cleaning out the drawers of my desk and placing them in boxes from Home Depot, and I was listening to The Passage, and it was depressing the hell out of me.  There is something inherently depressing about moving - it's the way a little piece of your life is ending, and you're leaving the good and the bad of it behind, and you're left there in an empty room and there's nothing sadder than an empty room that once had furniture and books and friends in it.  Or was it just the drone of the narrator's voice as he read Justin Cronin's book, whose inflections could not make up for the fact that I listened to almost the entire 36 hours in his voice, on those lonely headphones.

Not that it was a bad book.  If you are looking for a summer read and are the kind of person who likes sprawling epics, a little science fiction or fantasy, this one is pretty good.  But I don't recommend listening to it.  Listening to it this way flattens it out.  And if you are distracted, say by the woman bent nearly in half wobbling down the subway car and singing and rattling the change in her cup, you might miss the details of the book, and I think it's details that make literature.  Well, actually, I just kind of thought of that and I'm not sure its true, but I do love details, the really small, specific everyday details that connect me to the story and make it tangible.  I'm not really the sprawling epic sort of reader - I will never slog through another Tolkein book - but I thought this would be a good summer read (er, listen).  In most ways it was.  The story is compelling, and occasionally (just occasionally) surprising, and every now and then Cronin writes a sentence with unexpected grace.

I was almost an English major at Rice University, where Justin Cronin teaches, but after after two awful, stupid classes (not taught by Cronin) I decided that English was not for me.  I didn't have the tools at the time (there's a whole vocabulary you have to learn, and a way of thinking about these things), and I didn't have a voice. It turns out English is all about trying to figure out why some stuff works and other stuff doesn't, and what it means, and it's mostly just an educated guess. Cronin went to the Iowa Writer's Workshop, which everyone seems to agree is the best writing school in the country, and there are people who will claim he sold out, but I think is a lazy criticism at best.  Good writing is good writing, and you engage with what it is.

My point is that I don't regret reading The Passage, and I'd recommend it, but I do regret the audiobook, because I didn't really give it a fair chance.

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