Espionage, Reading, and the ‘Act of Listening’
I am a dinosaur.
I maintain an old-fashioned enjoyment of reading a printed book. I relish the tactile feeling of turning a page. I like flipping to the bookmark (airline boarding pass, business card, receipt). I especially enjoy the look of books of all shapes, sizes, and colors lined up on my many bookshelves. I even like the way old books smell, the aromatic memory of youthful visits to the local library. Books are sacred—until I need the space that forces a surgical “give to charity” culling.
Since parenthood has no expiration date, the last few weeks required traveling approximately 3,000 miles meeting the needs of growing children. To pass the time, I joined Audible and downloaded my first two excellent audio thrillers, American Assassin by Vince Flynn, and Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews.
And for thirty total hours I didn’t read. I listened and opened my ears. I could hear the sweat, pain, and horror of the Hurley being tortured in American Assassin. I could hear the stress of recruitment, or smell the food cooking throughout Red Sparrow. I savored the sound of words made into sentences. Not reading provided the opportunity to listen to books in my genre. I couldn’t skip a word. I caught the subtle nuance constructing the sentences.
Confession—sometimes my mind plays tricks on me (homage to Green Day) when I read. I skip words, or fill in the blanks as I speed-read ahead. When I see a descriptive paragraph, I mentally skim to get the gist, see if there is the stuff in the story I like, decide, and move forward. I distract myself.
Shame on me.
Listening with a purpose reminded me of my youth in Community Theater…many decades ago. On opening night, my director pulled a tattered and folded newspaper article from his pocket, opened it and read. A reviewer was marveling at Sir John Gielgud’s performance listening in a scene he had no lines. He was in the act of listening. The audience could see his face and neck muscles move and his body react. All he as doing was listening. I have never forgotten that—the act of listening.
Last year, I actually tried listening when I was proofing Secret Wars: An Espionage Story. After two rounds of “professional” proofing, and a series of endless rewrites, I sat down and read my book aloud to myself. I caught so much—poor sentence construction, inconsistencies, too many words, or not enough description. I read it aloud as THE AUTHOR. I read it to proof it, not to really sit back and listen. I tried thinking about the reader, but my purpose was never enjoyment.
I write about intelligence and have spent time examining the characteristics and skills required of an intel professional. I lectured often on intelligence skills and even presented a slide dedicated to being quiet and listening. Good intelligence officers possess the ability to listen and pay attention. I should have applied this core characteristic while I wrote. I will now.
I love printed books and have a stuffed “to-read” shelf as proof. Will I mix in more audio books? Absolutely.
The act of listening is learning.