On Listening: Nine Lives and The Turnaround

Recently I've been experimenting more with listening to audiobooks while commuting or doing chores, trying to find a bit more time in the day for writing without losing reading time. So far, functionally, this means I've been on a nonfiction kick—I still struggle to listen to fiction on audiobook. (Though I'm convinced it's just a matter of growing that mental muscle. I'm planning to start with Lincoln in the Bardo, since a) I have the print version under my belt, and b) everyone says it's incredible.) After reading Hidden Figures to get more of the story (I knew it had to be one of the women, not Kevin Costner, who took down that sign), I've been listening to Dan Baum's Nine Lives ahead of a trip to Louisiana this December. Jonathan Yen is a great reader (by my audiobook-newbie estimation), and the book lends itself well to audio, straddling its collective-biography, magazine-feature line between fiction (or what feels like it) and nonfiction. It's been striking to listen to Nine Lives while watching events unfold this week in Houston; the book feels more timely and alive than I'd even expected it to.

Between sessions, I've also been listening to Jesse Thorn's The Turnaround—in which he talks to top-of-the-field interviewers about interviewing. Each guest has a different take on the art, sometimes fascinatingly so—between the podcast and Baum's book, which grew from a journalistic angle, I've been thinking about interviewing as useful analogy (or even tool?) for writers who tend to think first and most naturally in terms of character, not plot. (My early drafts tend to be light on Things that Happen.) Implied in Nine Lives is a point made explicit by several guests on The Turnaround—in interview-based journalism, you have to work back to "what happened?" with a person sitting still in a chair.

Hearing the work of great interviewers has gotten me to think of story as growing just as easily from a place of introspection rather than action—it's just about where you go from point A. It's helped get me past the fallacy of considering reflection and event to be separate matters.

Send me your audiobook recs, everyone! I need to get better at listening to prose!