O. B Hardison, Jr. in his article “On the Road Again with Recorded Books” regales his readers on his own experiences with audiobooks. Toward the beginning of the essay, he offers a few tips to readers about which books to listen to. One particular tip is noting the quality of the narrator:
“The narrators are usually pretty good, but there are rotten apples in every barrel. Also, people have different tastes in narrators. . . . It’s therefore a good idea to listen to a few minutes of any recorded book before putting it into the car. When you’re on the road with 250 miles before the next pit stop, you’re stuck with what you choose.”
I couldn’t agree with Hardison more. Like a monotone lecture or overlong sermon can kill a class or church service, a poorly narrated audiobook can bludgeon an audio reading. Thus, stay away from recording labeled “free.” They have been recorded with voice creation software and tend to sound like Siri with a bad head cold.
The better books are professionally made and might cost you a little money (unless you get them from the library). The best narrator for any audiobook is Jim Dale. The British-born actor and comedian received wide acclaim and notoriety for his work on the Harry Potter audiobooks, released by Listening Library. Others might recognize him from the TV series Pushing Daisies. Anyone who has listened to these books or has watched the show know what I am talking about. Dale has a remarkable talent for voice characterizations. Though I didn’t imagine the voices he used for some of the characters when I read the series, he keeps the characters distinct and lively. The narrative stays well-paced and interesting. Dale never lets the story lull, and he creates excitement in his intonations during moments of suspense without sounding disingenuous. He certainly enriched my experience with both Harry Potter and audiobooks. As one of my classmates said once, if I had lived in a land of eternal darkness, I would take Jim Dale along to keep me company.
In addition to listening to Jim Dale, listening to two authors read their own books strengthened my love for literature and listening. If you have not heard Neil Gaiman read one of his books, you must listen to a copy right now! I started with The Graveyard Book, possibly one of favorite books. Next, I chose Coraline, another favorite. I have heard samplings of Neverwhere and Stardust, and just the brief experience has my ears itching to hear the rest. Gaiman’s amazing ability to write and narrate makes him a master storyteller. His narration has stuck in my mind and has influenced my writing. Not that I want Gaiman to read my stories, but listening to his stories has made me want to write stories that are best read aloud. I could use my students as guinea pigs into my endeavor, but I do not think I want to torture them with my feeble attempts at craftsmanship. I’ll let Gaiman be the master and I the amateur. It’s less stressful this way.
The second author is Madeleine L’Engle. I did not hear her read A Wrinkle in Time, but I have listened to read some of her other books and stories. L’Engle does not have the voice quality as Dale or Gaiman, but her stories are rich with vocabulary and scientific knowledge that L’Engle knows and tackles well. Further, L’Engle, like Gaiman, has the advantage of having written the stories she narrates. Thus, her narration and characterization are most original and familiar to her, and readers can know they are getting the best interpretation of the story. In fact, I have not heard too many authors reading their own works that I have not liked. Therefore, I can assuredly recommend selecting a work read by the author. I think the choice will not return unsatisfactory.
Narrators can certainly derail a audio experience. But like Hardison suggests, readers should find what fits their mood and taste. Like movie-goers would select a movie based on the actors or the director or the subject matter, so readers should look a little further into the book, the narrator, and perhaps the publishing company before listening. Once a reader has completed his listening experience, he can then add to The List of books that he can never seem to finish. But that’s okay. Maybe Jim Dale will narrate The List.
 Hardison, O. B. “On the Road Again with Recorded Books.” Washington Times Magazine, 1 Sept. 1986: M3-4.
Hiram Percy Maxim had discovered a letter from his late father, the inventor of the famous machine gun. It promised to tell him the truth, finally, about how his invention came to be. The letter continues this week.
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It was in the year of 18 and 82 and I was in Austria—that much is true. I had been invited to Vienna on retainer to examine the possibility of installing the first electric lights in some of the government buildings there. It had not gone well (some there had wanted Edison for the job) and I was left sitting in a small pub on the edge of town eating and drinking on their coin while the royals debated.
On my second day of waiting the stranger walked in and sat down in my booth without as much as a please. He was an odd looking fellow, thin and scrawny but at the same time wiry and strong. His back was slightly bent and he had one of the ugliest faces I think I have ever seen. It was broad with a flat nose and sunken, squinty eyes. His hands were large and his fingers looked unnaturally long. At first his skin seemed somewhat tan but there was something off about it. It had a tint to it, though I could not clearly see what it was. We were seated next to a large piece of stained glass, and it made everything seem slightly greenish, like the tea they serve from China. I wasn’t surprised to see him try to keep it all hidden with an almost medieval looking, fur-lined cloak.
I don’t remember much of the beginning of his conversation now, and he never gave me a name. His accent was very strange, certainly not German and in fact hardly European at all. His voice was deep, and a little scratchy. I remember being very impressed with his mechanical knowledge and I have used some of what I learned in that conversation in my attempts to build a flying machine. We chatted about the growing science of electricity and improvements to steam engines and he ordered beer for both of us. We spoke of religion for some time too. I don’t remember how long we talked before he brought up the subject of war. The first words I remember with crystal clarity are these: “Hang your chemistry and electricity, Maxim! If you want to make a pile of money, invent something that will enable these Europeans to cut each others’ throats with greater facility!”
There was something in that I found compelling. I had of course heard much about the move toward rapid-fire weaponry that had been occurring since the 1850s. Gatling had produced his gun, as had others, but all had significant drawbacks. Particularly, they all required outside energy to operate. I made a remark about the possibility of an electrically fired gun. He responded that there was something simpler: guns produce energy from both ends, after all. Why not use some of the excess to produce a mechanical solution?
And yes, this does mean that the story told in histories about me is a complete lie. I did not, in fact, get the idea of a gas operated machine gun from a childhood memory of being knocked down by recoil. I made it up to cover the fact that I took my inspiration from this man and his conversation. I remember thinking what a fool he was to have said such a thing to me when he obviously had the technical ability to create it himself. It was late in the evening when he took his leave.
After this conversation, I found that I could not rest until I set about work on my new gun design. The Austrians did not employ me to teach them the science of managing electrical systems, but that hardly mattered to me now. I returned here to London and set up a workshop dedicated to making someone else’s idea a reality. After all, as Edison had taken from me, why should I not take from another?
But it was more complicated than I had at first imagined. I had to find a way to delay the ejection of the shell until the bullet had left the barrel. If I did not, the pressure could explode the shell in the chamber, destroying the gun and killing the user. (I have explained the technical details to you before.) I tried a number of different solutions with no real effect.
I was just about to give it up entirely when a package arrived on the doorstep of our workshop. It was postmarked from Austria, but contained no return address. I opened it in private, and found the first of the schematics contained in this box. At first I was alarmed at their accuracy! My correspondent seemed to know as much of my gun as I did! Aside from the unique paper on which they were written, they had only one distinguishing feature: the word “Ru-kai” had been inscribed in red at the bottom corner of each page.
I stood up to storm from my office to order all the doors barred and the windows shuttered when I noticed that not all was as it seemed. There was something different about the recoil mechanism schematic. I found that my correspondent had drawn something—what I later called a “toggle”—that solved the problem of keeping the casing in place until the bullet had fully exited. What was more, a closer examination of the box revealed that he had sent an exquisitely crafted example! I could hardly contain my excitement! I quickly copied over the plans, had a new toggle constructed, and the original gun modified to accept it. It worked beautifully and our project leaped forward.
My next major hurdle—the problem of how to make the casing move back faster than the barrel—was solved in a similar way. I had hardly begun to work on the problem when another parcel arrived in the mail containing more schematics and another part. This one became known as the “accelerator” and it solved the reliability problem. From then on, my anonymous acquaintance, Mr. Ru-kai, solved all other issues almost before I even knew they presented a problem. While at the time I could willfully ignore what was happening and even now I still loathe calling the gun by any name but mine, I am forced now to admit that it would not have been completed in the time it was without his help. I received a congratulatory note from Mr. Ru-kai when I successfully demonstrated the gun before her majesty Queen Victoria and again on the day when I received my knighthood in 1901, but never again any designs.
What I received instead was much worse. As I sold my gun to all the countries of Europe, I started finding notes in various places. They were unsigned, but they all contained numbers of some kind—you see the collection in the locked box—each one with a larger sum than the last. I found them everywhere and in the most impossible places. The first was affixed to my mirror in a hotel. I found others tucked into my clothes when they came from the laundry, in my wallet one morning, and even in a letter I had forgotten to address that was returned to me with the original seal unopened! I lived for several years in fear of the people who were obviously dogging my steps. Several of my early trips abroad were made with the ulterior motive of throwing them off my track. When I abandoned your mother, I hoped to leave these people behind too.
It took years before I was able to divine what these papers were and their meaning. I had collected a number of them and noted their dates and locations. I made a chart of their progression and looked for patterns. I saw none other than the fact that each one was larger than the last until I happened upon a newspaper account in November of 1893 about the Battle of Shanganai in the British imperial war against the Matabele tribe in Africa. It said that fifty soldiers armed with four of my guns had held off 3,500 Matabele warriors, inflicting 1,542 casualties on the enemy. The next day I found another note under a napkin at my favorite restaurant. When I charted it, I had a moment of recognition! The number had increased by exactly 1,542. I folded up my chart and rushed to the library where research confirmed my suspicions: Whoever was leaving me the notes was updating me on the number of souls my invention had snuffed out.
I have tried to atone for this. I have returned to the study of electricity and moved on to human flight. I created the captive flying machines for the amusement of all. Ye gods! I have even created medical equipment to alleviate human suffering, but no one seems to care or notice. They only know me for the people I have helped kill.
As the numbers grew, so did the weight upon my conscience. How many lives have I wasted by now? With this war, with my guns being used on all sides, how much worse has it become? Hundreds of thousands? Millions? I wish I didn’t know, but the notes still came, each one with a new figure. Each one falling upon me now with the weight of a hundred suns. Until a week ago. A week ago I received a note that was different from all the others. It simply said, “We are coming.”
I know there are others like me out there. I can see it in the eyes of other great military inventors. I have heard hints of it in snatches of their conversation. I have come to believe that many of the scientific advancements we’ve seen deployed so brutally in this war were facilitated by Ru-kai and his ilk, whoever they may be. Humanity is cruel enough by itself. We need no further encouragement.
Hiram, my son, I do not know how long I have before that dreadful interview. I have taken steps though, and we may yet have the best of them. I am not arming myself. They will expect that. Instead, I have created something wholly new. Using your radio technology, a drum recording device, and my knowledge of electrical systems, I have created a transmission process that will make a remote copy of everything that is said when they come to me. We will know them for who they are and, with luck, we can warn off others. You will find the drum of the interview in a hidden compartment above the fireplace in the second guest room on the third floor. There is a button hidden in the right corner of the mantle.
I only hope it is enough. Succeed where I have failed.
Hiram Stevens Maxim
To be continued next Friday!
Want the full story without having to wait? Download the 2012 All Hallows’ Eve edition of The Gallery of Worlds from Amazon.com here.
Hopefully you are reading this because you have found some value in the “While We’re Paused” blog. What is that value exactly, and why is it here? Not an easy question when you consider the diversity of topics and approaches we represent. But there is an answer and I would like to explore it today. It starts with the Lantern Hollow Press vision statement, which was refined at our meeting in January. (Yes, there is a method to our madness!):
“The purpose of Lantern Hollow Press is to foster a renaissance of Christian culture through the publication of quality creative writing and art, and of work in the disciplines that support and help us appreciate them. We seek to become a go-to place for outstanding resources in these areas, especially for the home-school and classical Christian education movements.”
When we say “renaissance of Christian culture,” the word renaissance has a particular context apart from which our use of it cannot be fully understood. As I look at the current scene, I see a church in desperate need of three great movements of God:
Renaissance: A recovery of the life of the mind. An increasingly illiterate generation is harder to reach with a faith founded on the message of a Book; an increasingly illiterate church is incapable of experiencing full-orbed Christianity based on the whole counsel of God. Electronic inundation keeps us perpetually distracted. From a cultural (rather than a technical) standpoint, we may well be entering a new Dark Ages. The original rebirth of learning and culture that we call the Renaissance of the Sixteenth Century started with a recovery of interest in reading classical literature in the original languages using grammatico-historical exegesis to recover its original message to its original audience. God used that movement with its motto of ad fontes, “back to the sources,” to make the Reformation, the recovery of the pristine Gospel of the New Testament, possible. If history repeats itself, a new Renaissance just might lead to a new . . .
Reformation: A recovery of sound doctrine. When the new learning of the Renaissance, the ad fontes tradition, was applied to Scripture, the original documents were enabled to speak again with their own voice. This led to a recovery of sound doctrine in five areas: Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone is the only infallible and inerrant authority and final court of appeal; Sola Gratia, salvation is by grace, God’s unmerited favor, alone, apart from works; Sola Fide, salvation is received by the empty hands of faith alone; Solus Christus, Christ alone is the only Mediator between God and men; Soli Deo Gloria, God’s glory alone is the end of salvation and the purpose of all of life. All these truths are in danger of being lost again. We therefore need a new Renaissance leading to a new Reformation. Otherwise, we gorge ourselves on spiritual junk food while the great truths of the faith slip through our fingers. But if God would grant us Renaissance and Reformation again, they just might lead to . . .
Revival: A recovery of vital spirituality. The great error of our generation is to believe that this recovery is possible apart from the first two. Biblically and historically, it is not. Martin Luther recognized the debt the Reformation owed to the Renaissance: “Whenever God wants to break forth truth anew out of His Word, he prepares the way by the rise of languages and letters, as if they were John the Baptists.” And if Christianity is true, then only the faithful preaching of the pure Gospel of the New Testament can give us the genuine spirituality and real Christian lives that Revival is all about. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone! Without Renaissance and Reformation, all our zeal for Revival is vanity and striving after wind. Do not stop praying and working for Revival. But do start praying and working for the Renaissance and Reformation without which no true revival with lasting impact is possible.
How do Lantern Hollow Press, its blog, “While We’re Paused,” is ezine, and its books fit into this vision? Look for more on that topic next week! In the meanwhile, continue to check out our blog, our ezine, and our store, with products that are already beginning to support these goals. If you believe in what we’re doing and like how we’re doing it, order our products, recommend them to home schoolers and Christian educators, and contact us for speakers. Help us get the word out!
Donald T. Williams, PhD