Monday, February 27, 2006

In Praise of Cassette Tapes

If you were looking for ways to categorize my brother and myself as children, one of the many distinctions you could make is that I was a reader and he was not. I read everything, and I remember being in a constant state of reading. I read classics (Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, even something called The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew), contemporary books (Babysitter's Club, Superfudge), mysteries (Nancy Drew and then Agatha Christie), books that were over my head (Slaughter House Five, Catch-22), books that I thought would contain naughty bits (um, Love Story?) and books that actually did contain naughty bits (Cormac McCarthy). About the only two things I never read during my adolescence were Shakespeare and Poetry, although I tried really hard to get into Walt Whitman. Also, I have never in my life read a volume of the Sweet Valley High series (sorry, Ved.)

For as much time as I spent reading, so I remember my mother and my brother fighting about reading. He just hated it, and not in the way a child with a learning disability hated it, my brother just couldn't be bothered. My mother spent endless hours cajoling him and calling up the stairs, "Richard, did you do your reading yet?". Of course, he had to read something, there were all those hours of Silent Reading and book reports to fill up. I think he read the Matt Christopher books, Skinnybones and the R.L. Stein Goosebumps series. And that was it. Whenever he had to do a book report and I suggested a book he might like, the first question was invariably "How many pages?", a question that he continued to ask me all through high school and probably found someone else to ask in college. My brother's taste in literature ran like this: the fewer pages, the better. It was for this reason I believe he once chose The Old Man and the Sea as a summer reading book; then he complained to me that it was boring. "It's a Jesus thing, I think, " I told him.

I never believed that a person who hated reading could exist, only that a person hadn't yet found the right books. I continue to give my brother books and some time a couple of yeas ago we reached a turn around, where a couple of books I gave him for Christmas were actually hitting the sweet spot: Bringing Down the House (Poker) , And It Don't Stop (Hip Hop), Young, Black, Rich and Famous (NBA Culture). So this year for his birthday, in addition to me kicking in a relatively small amount for his iPod nano, I told him I would enroll him in the Big Sister Book Club and periodically sned him a book I thought he might enjoy. The first one I sent was A Million Little Pieces, about one month before the big kerscuffle; after he read it, I borrowed it from him and that's how I came to read that book in the first place. A couple of weeks ago I sent a copy of James McManus' book Positvely Fifth Street to his office.

I usually don't give books as gifts that I haven't already read myself, but in the case of those I think would appeal to my brother, I haven't gotten around to these books yet. Then I got the idea that we could read them together and really have a book club, not in the sense that we would sit down and discuss themes and symbolism, but in the sense that I could say, "Hey, Remember that part? Wasn't that totally crazy?" But I've got a pretty big stack on my nightstand already, so I decided that for Fifth Street, I would get the audio book. I went to the Brooklyn Public Library and had to place a hold on the volume. Getting books on CD from the BPL can be rather annoying, because usually these discs have gone through so much wear and tear, they're scratched up and don't play so well, but I thought I'd give it a shot.

On Saturday I went to pick up the item and realized I'd made an error, instead of requesting the book on CD, I ordered the book on tape. As in, book on cassette tape. I can't tell you the last time I even handled a cassette tape. Now, I'm no high tech audiophile; the stereo I have in my kitchen was the one given to me on my 13th birthday. So there I was, standing in the lobby of the library trying to think, did my stereo have a casssette player? Even though this was an item I look at every day, I couldn't be sure, cassette tapes were just that far off my radar. I decided I had a 50/50 shot that I have a cassette player at home, so I took the book on tape with me.

It turns out, there is a cassette player on my stereo, and it even works twelve years later. I popped the first tape in and after 30 nervous seconds, it started to play. It was kind of like stumbling upon a time capsule. And after listening to two tapes this weekend, I realized that books on tape are superior to books on CD. First of all, they wear much better with repeated handling, so far, I haven't had any problems with the tapes. Also, you can stop mid-sentence, then come back to it, press play and be right where you left off. With books on CD you can only pause, if you hit stop you have to do a chapter search and will never find your exact place. Also, I feel like I am back in 1994, and that is fun. In the age of podcasting when my CDs feel woefully obsolete, I am going totally retrograde and scoping out all the books on cassette in the BPL catalog. Oh, and if anyone wants to make me a mix tape, that's cool too.


Beta said...

I just felt bad that this lovely long post of yours hasn't gotten any comments yet. :(
And I'd like to add that I very much dislike that blogger doesn't have a feature that emails those who comment on a blog when their comments get a response. I always forget where I've left comments and then I never see that someone replied to what I said. It really kills conversations.

Cupcake said...

Thanks Beta, I'm learning that the longer the post, the less likely it is to receive comments. Short attention span? Also, the more I get into Fifth Street, I'm thinking it may be too prone to esoteric diversions for my brother's liking, but we'll see.