Thursday, January 20, 2011

A bit on "reading" and an old book

As some of you know, reading and writing are major components of my life. The creativity of the printed page, and the freedom of blank paper have long been outlets for me to exercise my creative abilities. Now, with that being said, I am presently in a situation where actually reading some books is just impractical. With long commutes, irregular work schedules and a family, the ability to sit down and put any appreciable dent in my "to read" list is minimal.

I do, however, spend an inordinate amount of time on the road, so listening to my MP3 player is always a good option. Towards this end, I have become a very ardent supporter of, and The first is a distribution site for amateur productions of operational works. As a hole, they are kind of hit and miss, but there are some outstanding audio books to be found (proud Scott Sigler junkie, right here!). The second is a collaborative effort, organized through the website, to record books that are now in the public domain (in general, books printed before 1932, as I understand it).  This collection is excellent as well, and I have listening to several outstanding recordings, including "20,000 Leagues under the sea", "War of the worlds", and "Diary of a U-boat commander".

My latest listening project is a tried and true classic, Bram Stoker's Dracula. If you've never read it, I think you would be surprised at some of the mechanisms that Stoker used to convey his story. The entirety of the novel is conveyed through diary and journal entires, including the transcripts of a phonograph record, and a few news clippings. In this way, the story is told in first person, but from various perspectives. It is told is chronological order, but discoveries made later in the story shed new light on previous statements and observations, so there are points where I found myself going "Oh, wow" right along with the character. There is no explanation given as to how all of these records were compiled into one place (a mechanism that I think modern audiences almost expect in our post-"Blare Witch Project" age), so the sense is that we, the readers, are hopscotching around the world and looking over each character's shoulders as they write about their experiences.

As far as the story is concerned, I really was not expecting the type of effect that Stoker's work has been able to impart on me. The book is the embodiment of everything I have ever been told a horror story should be, including a basic ability to scare the living daylight out of you. After seeing so many other depictions of both this book, and vampires in general, it was actually interesting to see how the "original" novel depicted them. I say "original" in that Dracula was the first book to put them on the modern literary "radar" so the speak. Vampires themselves are a product of folklore dating back to the earliest civilizations known. It is interesting that the subject of the book had remarkably little "screen time". A huge portion of the novel is spent chasing after the centuries old count, and we are left to learn about him through his handy work. I must say, there are parts of the book, including the log entires of a Russian Freighter captain, that were just terrifying to me, even though there wasn't one bit of gore or violence even hinted at. Frankly, Stoker knew how to get under your skin, and how to keep people awake at night like Steven king never did (and I happen to like Steven King).

All in all, I am enjoying the production, and am grateful to for giving me the opportunity to listen to classics such as this on my otherwise busy schedule. But more to the point, I am getting a better appreciation for some of the old masters when it comes to story telling and word craft.

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