Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Crab Sticks

Grey waves of clouds lap though the sky and shield the summer sun. The wind tickles my hair as I watch you lift my brother, Michael, so he can aim at the targets with the pellet gun. Our fortnightly outings have become a succession of enforced fun activities, the park, the beach, the cinema. Anything to keep us occupied and away from your pristine Ikea clad home. You’ve yet to explain to Michael why your girlfriend’s tummy is getting fat, or why her patience with us is now unbearably thin. He’s too young to understand, but I’m not.

Michael hits the target, the pellet brushes the tin with a loud clang and both you and the stall owner cheer. I turn away, the red and white crabstick now warm in my hand. Attributing my silence as a by-product of my ‘funny age’, you had bought the seaside treat to tease a smile from me. In your eyes, I’ve been at a funny age all my life; your oldest child and a tepid experiment with parenthood until your anticipated son was born. I weave in and out of the crowd, walk over to the pier railings and rest my hands over the top. Above me seagulls spin summersaults in the sky, call to each other and swoop down in search of food. The sea stretches its vast body to the horizon, glinting silver as it catches the sunlight. I inhale and consume the sea air deep into my body.

I bite down on the crabstick and salty lines of processed fish fill my mouth. I remember how you used to buy me the treat in Asda, when I was very small as a reward for good behaviour. You would ruffle my hair and make jovial remarks about not telling mum for fear of spoiling my appetite, but it never did. It was just a little secret you and I shared, something just for us. I hear you calling my name and I walk over to you, remembering to wear a smile.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Audio Delights

Audio books have long been a passion of mine, and a form of reading I implore all literature lovers to try. While reading books generally can be quite a personal pleasure, audio books can be shared with other people, much like watching a film together. They promote multitasking, and can be enjoyed while on the move, like shopping or walking the dog. I truly believe they’re a great way of catching up on the books you’ve always wanted to read, but never found the time or for some reason or other, the inclination.

As much as I love these treats of for my ears, audio books are not without their downside. While a good reader can bring a narrative alive, adding nuance and texture to a story, a bad reader, (one that you don’t connect with or has an annoying voice, etc) can murder a good story slowly and make you lose interest in the plot, or compassion for the characters. Unlike the palpable nature of books, where you’re able to flick through the narrative at leisure, refreshing yourself on an event which may have occurred 100 pages ago, with an audio book such omnipotent power is harder to exert for fear of losing you current place. From a writers perspective, audio can be fantastic since it forces the listener to consume to every word that has been painstakingly written, nevertheless if the listener lets their mind wander while listening to a story they run the risk of losing some vital information. And finally if a story challenges writing convections like structure, the true effect can be lost in the listening of the narrative as the reader is not able to envision the text as it was originally intended.

Through my years of listening to audio I have learnt that it is important to choose the book I listen to wisely. If the author plays with time lines, structure or employs interesting postmodernist techniques to their story I will generally read the book rather than listen. There is still something very precious and intimate for me about reading a book, but listening to audio presents me with the opportunity to indulge in my passion of literature while still continuing with the day to day running of my life.

Currently I’m listening to Ian McEwan’s new novel, ‘Solar’. A true delight: his clever turn of phrase, wry and human observations bring glimpses of sunshine on the grey English day. Go on, have a listen.