Tuesday, January 27, 2015


I listen to books during my commute to work.  All told, I spend somewhere between an hour and fifteen minutes and an hour and a half in the car every day.  Thanks to the folks at audible.com, I've always got a book going when I'm in the car.  Without the service, I'd have come nowhere close to the 52 book goal I've set for myself the last couple of years.  (I still haven't reached that goal...reading or listening to something like 48 in 2013, and 51 in 2014).

The one I've just finished listening to is a reading of John Kennedy Toole's Confederacy of Dunces, a book I've long listed at the top of my ever-changing list of favorite books.  It's a mainstay of that list, and usually hovers in the top three or four, along with Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird and (occasionally) The Stand.

I've read it twice before.  Once as part of an American Humor class in college.  And again about 10 years ago, shortly after I moved back to East Tennessee.

Thoughts on this reading (or listening, as it were)?

  • The narrator was grade C.  This is a pitfall of listening to books.  Occasionally, you're stuck with a rough narrator.  I don't think Barrett Whitener did a bad job, necessarily.  I think he didn't have the tools to do Ignatius justice.  The accents didn't flow (they weren't bad, but they felt forced).  And his vision of Burma Jones and mine didn't see eye-to-eye at all.  
  • As an aside, a bad narrator can ruin a book: Will Patton, a favorite actor of mine, completely ruined a reading of Annie Proulx's stories for me, and I had to opt to eventually read Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, since that narrator just wasn't hitting the right notes.  That said, the converse is true.  I've decided I could listen to Scott Brick read the telephone book after his readings of Justin Cronin's Passage books, as well as a reading of Faulkner's Intruder in the Dust. Euan Morton completely saved Christopher Moore's Sacre Bleu for me by having a completely different (better) voice for Henri Toulouse-Lautrec than the one my internal narrator had.
  • I had a whole new picture in my head for Ignatius, in terms of mental casting, based on personal experience with a certain person.  I texted Shyam with the name of the person I'd cast in my head, noting that he didn't even do Ignatius justice, considering his lack of wherewithal to even pick up a Big Chief tablet.  Still, the "Blame the world, the cops and the Wheel of Fortuna" leaning made me think very much of this person.
  • Had a friend once who offered the theory that much of what goes on is hallucination for Ignatius, and the only truth in the novel is when Minkoff arrives, and Ignatius tells her he's been holed up in his room for weeks.  I still think it's another bullshit line he gives Minkoff, but an interesting thought, nonetheless.
  • Had forgotten how many masturbation references are in the book.
  • In the movie in my head?  I cast Paget Brewster as Lana Lee in my head, though I also enjoyed the thought of somebody of the proportions of the wrestler Chyna playing her.

  • Synchronicity being what it is (Wheel of Fortuna, Tommy?), I also read Patton Oswalt's memoir about being a movie fiend in Los Angeles in the late 90's.  One of he last sections features his listing of flicks that would exist in his heavenly moviehouse marathon he would hope exists for his dead friend.  Among these was the Hal Ashby filmed version of Confederacy of Dunces, starring Jon Belushi as Ignatius (whose Ignatius would nearly match Toole's version in pomposity and fervor, despite his never having read the book), Richard Pryor in an expanded Burma Jones part and Lily Tomlin as Ignatius' mother.  I've long held that Confederacy is a sacred cow for me, and nothing anybody could do would match the magical version I've got in my head.  Still, Oswalt made me wish that I did indeed live in a universe where that movie was filmed, and stood proud on the list of achievements for Belushi, Pryor and Tomlin....


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