Uncategorized | December 21, 2015

The bridge off of which I did not jump

The bridge off of which I did not jump.

By Christina Bramon

I’ve been walking with John Irving since September and I don’t know if he feels better, but I sure do. I’ve lost almost ten pounds and I feel stronger. I set out to shape up almost four months ago and on a strange hunch, I downloaded A Prayer for Owen Meany to listen to while I pounded the trail. It was exactly the right choice. I had read the novel years ago but didn’t remember much about it. Owen was with me for the whole month of September (the version I listened to was 27 hours long). He made it easy for me to keep going, to increase my distance from two miles to three, then four, five, and sometimes even six miles a day. From September 1 until today, I have walked 583.15 miles out of a yearly total of 1442.28 miles (thank you, Fitbit).

I switched it up a little, of course. I’ve listened to Rose Tremain, Ian Rankin, Harper Lee, and a few others who didn’t make it past the first mile. I realized very quickly that the reader makes all the difference. Joe Barrett, who read Owen, is a wonderful reader. He’s reading Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist to me now. I tried to listen to John Updike’s Rabbit, Run and the combination of the subject matter and the narrator made me want to hurl myself off the old railroad bridge I was walking over. I chose to move on to something else.

Audiobooks haven’t always been my thing. As I mentioned in another blog post, my daughter and I listened to To Kill a Mockingbird together. It was an enjoyable experience, and a great way to pass time in the car while shuttling her big brother to a never-ending series of band practices and performances this fall. It became apparent to me that listening to a book, particularly one I had read before, brings a whole new dimension to the work. I read very quickly. Listening to a book slows me down and forces me (sorry, “allows” me) to pay attention to every word. And it helps me see the overall structure of the book in my mind. Maybe this doesn’t make sense, but listening creates a way for me to see the book in a different way than reading the words on the page. It becomes more three-dimensional. And I remember it better when I’m finished.

I listened to The World According to Garp during November. It was 20 hours long. I’m not an Irving fanatic or anything, but I found myself captivated by his storytelling abilities and his talent for creating a whole world with very real people in both Owen and Garp. And his books are still very relevant, addressing feminism, abortion, transgender issues, gun violence, religious fanaticism, and the effects of war on soldiers, just to name a few topics. I was captivated also because I had decided, for the very first time, to participate in National Novel Writing Month…and actually write the 50,000 words. I had made a timid attempt a few years ago and abandoned it. But this year I vowed to see it through, just because. Irving was a great help to me. I would listen to him describe, for instance, Garp making dinner. And I could see Garp making dinner, chopping the onions and sautéing them. And I could hear the characters talk to each other. I realized that description and dialogue can be simple. You just have to write it. Not every utterance has to be scintillating—you can paint a picture of a life by creating a scene between two characters about, oh, I don’t know, making sandwiches. But don’t get me wrong—I’m not comparing myself to Irving or claiming I wrote a good novel. I’m just saying he gave me the courage to keep putting words on the page until I had a beginning, a middle, and an end, for a total of 50,000 words.

So what’s this blog post about? Two things, I guess. I’m patting myself on the back for putting one foot in front of the other and one word in front of the other in the year 2015. And I’m giving you a recommendation for a last-minute Christmas gift for someone you love: a comfortable pair of earphones and a subscription to an audio book app.

Happy holidays and happy new year from The Missouri Review.

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