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Sweating to Read

Lately, I have taken to listening to audio books while jogging. Thumping, pumping, energetic music helps to get the legs moving, but surprisingly, a good novel can do the same thing.

The first audio book I listened to was Kidnapped, written by Scottish novelist, Robert Louis Stevenson, and read by Mark Smith of Simpsonville, South Carolina (a Librivox recording). At first, the narrator's voice grated on my nerves. After all, the story is set in Scotland, yet it was read in an American accent. However, Mark's reading style is so easy, that I soon became swept up in the story and forgot about the accent.

I never studied English Literature, but I have an appreciation for good writing. Robert Louis Stevenson had an amazing talent for building up the story and creating suspense. His characters were so rich and full of life, I could almost see them standing before me.

I promised myself not to listen to the audio book unless I was jogging. And because the author's writing was so compelling, it was easy to motivate myself to get out onto the street and go for a run. I finished each running session at the end of a chapter, never wanting to leave the story before a natural break in the story-line.

I am now on my second Librivox recording. This time it's the 19th Century science fiction novel From the Earth to the Moon, by Jules Verne. Although the plot is entertaining, it seems that the author was addicted to lists - almost every description in the first two chapters was in the context of a list.
Lofty pillars formed of cannon, superposed upon huge mortars as a base, supported the fine ironwork of the arches, a perfect piece of cast-iron lacework. Trophies of blunderbuses, matchlocks, arquebuses, carbines, all kinds of firearms, ancient and modern, were picturesquely interlaced against the walls. The gas lit up in full glare myriads of revolvers grouped in the form of lustres, while groups of pistols, and candelabra formed of muskets bound together, completed this magnificent display of brilliance. Models of cannon, bronze castings, sights covered with dents, plates battered by the shots of the Gun Club, assortments of rammers and sponges, chaplets of shells, wreaths of projectiles, garlands of howitzers-- in short, all the apparatus of the artillerist, enchanted the eye by this wonderful arrangement and induced a kind of belief that their real purpose was ornamental rather than deadly.

When the translators translated this novel from its original French, I think they missed quite a few words. The poor narrator (Alex Patterson - he doesn't say where he's from), is forced to read labyrinthine sentences riddled with tongue-twisting Latin and French phrases. Fortunatos omnibus nobis (translation).

Also, I think Mr. Verne might have missed a session or two of his writing course. He chose to write chapters 3, 4, and 5 completely devoid of interaction between characters, seemingly breaking a basic rule of balancing action, narrative and dialog. However, Jules Verne had an uncanny talent for raining an endless torrent of pseudo-science, mathematical calculations, and fictitious nuggets of wisdom upon his reader, while still keeping the story interesting.

I'm only on chapter 5 and, curiously, I'm hungry for more. I have about 67.5 km before I reach the end of this novel, so I'd best get sweating.

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  1. Long-winded description seems to be Verne's motif, yet as you say, his stories remain engrossing. "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea", for example, is one of my (and the world's) all-time maritime favourites, yet it is full of scientific marine-life classification. I also think that as our attention spans have slowly shortened through the technology age, so has our ability to "suffer" through descriptive literature. As a result, writing styles have changed considerably over the last century or two. The long-winded style could also be a French thing - I am currently reading "The Count of Monte Cristo" by Dumas, written in the mid 19th Century. If the same story was written today by an English language author, my guess is that its 890 pages could be cut to 300 without missing a step in the storyline...

  2. Oh, and keep running dude - it is good for your education.


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