I don’t know about you, but one of the major benefits of being a working artist whose practice calls for spending hour after hour, day after day, in a basement studio is the chance to read…or to be read to, to be more exact. I’m talking about audiobooks, and since becoming a full-time mosaic artist in 2001, I estimate I’ve listened to hundreds of titles, many more than I could have pored through in book form. For a one-time English major, the prospect of getting on with the next chapter of a great novel or a fascinating biography is enough to pull me down to the studio even when fatigue or distractions argue for calling it a day.
Literary classics—particularly the novels of Dickens, Edith Wharton, and Henry James—are a favorite, as well as well-written works of contemporary fiction like those by Philip Roth, Tom Wolfe, and Ian McEwan. I’m crazy about Southern writers, and for a long time I was deep into books about the harrowing lives of broken girls who overcame adversity (like Bastard Out of Carolina, The Secret Life of Bees, The Liars’ Club, and The Glass House). Since I love theater, I sometimes listen to a cast recording of a Shakespearean play. Current events is good for a change-of-pace, particularly if it affords a behind-the-scenes look at politics, another passion. I also appreciate a good novel that plunges me into a new culture and helps me understand a place I’ll likely never visit, like Afghanistan, Iran, or India. (Well, I do hope to get to India one day.)
|Two audiobooks, New York Times bestsellers, waiting in the studio.|
I’ve never been a fan of chick lit or densely plotted mysteries or spy thrillers, so I steer clear of those. There’s been a good crop of medical novels in the past couple of years—in particular, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot) and The Emperor of All Maladies (Siddhartha Mukherjee).
When I enjoy an audiobook as much for the expert narration as a riveting storyline, I may listen to it more than once. My all-time favorite is the Evelyn Waugh classic Brideshead Revisited, narrated by (or I should say enacted by) Jeremy Irons. I finally purchased this audiobook so I could enjoy it bi-annually. I believe I could listen to Jeremy Irons read the phone book and be mesmerized. His narration of Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov is also masterful.
|My all-time favorite audiobook, narrated by Jeremy Irons.|
Each week I scan the New York Times Book Review for promising titles and keep a running list. It took me about three years to move through the shelves of audiobooks available at our local library and its branches, and having exhausted that free source, I now subscribe to a service that sends me a new book once a month, or more often when I am deeply into mosaic work and working on deadline to finish a project.
Sometimes people will ask whether I get lonely working in the basement all day, and sometimes into the night. Never. Once I’m past the design phase of a new mosaic, the process of cutting and placing of glass becomes almost meditative. That’s when I start the tape or CD, and I’m off, lost in a good book.