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Reading – Part Two: The First Professor

So I’ve mentioned that I listen to audiobooks, right? Well, let’s discuss that a bit. See, I’ve got ADD and dyslexia, which is a major reason for me not reading so much at all during any age. Actual sitting down and reading with my eyes is a laborious, time consuming task. I cannot speed read, and I will sometimes have to go over a sentence five or six times before seeing what the writer is trying to say. As a result, I am not big on reading in the traditional sense of the word. When not concentrating, I am a major skimmer. I scan around, picking bits and pieces from the text, looking for key words, which will often annoy people because I’ll sometimes miss things that way. Mostly it works though.

I can listen though, and often I’ll hear and record things without even appearing to pay attention to what’s going on or being said. Noticing this, my father came up with an idea. If I can’t read a book, maybe I could listen to one. This lead to the purchasing of several audiobooks, and me listening to them like other kids listened to rock albums. This was possible, in part, because back in the day audiobooks kind of sucked.

See, there used to be this thing called abridged audiobooks, and while their scourge has not been completely wiped clean from the face of the earth by the flaming paw of Fancy, they have dropped off as the popular method of production. However, quite often in the 80s and early 90s, there was no choice. Many companies would sell their tapes in a paper or plastic container designed to be about the size of a paperback book. Often, you’d have two 90 minute tapes, sometimes four. Depending on the company, they’d either come in a tape case, or just held in the cardboard by a sleeve or a plastic slot. Warner Brothers were the best because they actually printed a jacket for the tapes in their tape cases so that if you didn’t keep the paper container you could have the jacket art on each tape.

Yes I know this doesn’t seem to have any connection to me actually reading, just hang on, I’m getting to it. This part needs to be told so you’ll understand the rest later. You need to understand the thing with tapes first, so you’ll get the later bits. If not for understanding how audiobooks used to work, it’s hard to understand the whole story.

Now of course that’s mostly changed. Since you can buy audiobooks on CD, which are cheaper and easier to store, or get them digitally which is easier still, abridged books are far less common. What is also gone from the world is Audiobook Club, which was a mail order service akin to the Columbia Record club wherein if you didn’t send back a card once a month you’d automatically get sent a book. This is where we finally get to our author.

Once in a while, I would forget to send the card back, and I would get a book I didn’t want in the mail. This wasn’t actually a problem though, because I could just send it back and not get charged for it. I’d always look at what the book was though, just to make sure it wasn’t something interesting. I was struck by the design of the cover of the book, which was just a shot of the clock tower of Parliament and the words Drink With The Devil along with the author’s name Jack Higgins. The premise seemed interesting enough, a gold heist goes wrong and people have to get the gold back. Okay, I thought, we’ll give this a try.

What I got in the next three hours was an exciting, uncomplicated story about Irish terrorists stealing gold, getting double crossed, coming back some ten years later and trying to get the gold back again. Yes, this was something I enjoyed! I listened to several times, passing it on to my father who also admitted enjoying it. A few months later, the next bookfrom the same author came out and we grabbed that as well. That second book convinced me that we needed to find the first books from this guy. Now, one thing about audiobooks you need to understand is their short shelf life. Some books stay on the shelves at book stores for years and years, but audiobooks tended to get shoved aside very quickly. If there were earlier audiobooks, we had a devil of a time finding any and instead we started to look around for the actual books themselves. That is the important part of the story, I was interested enough to want to find the physical books and read them. This, as it turned out, was dead easy.

See, Higgins is not a writer whose work demands careful study. He writes potboilers, adventure stuff. Strangely, he doesn’t seem to have written any cold war thrillers, which is odd because many of his Sean Dillon Books feel like they’re written for the sort of people who couldn’t get over the fact that the Cold War ended. Anti-terrorist potboilers, that’s what he wrote. Books where the same thing tends to happen over and over again in slightly different situations. Dillon shoots some people, drinks some Krug non-vintage (it’s the grape mix), and then goes scuba diving in the last third of the book. What this meant was that hardcover versions of the books were very easy to come across. People would buy them, read them and then discard them a few months later to make room for the next book on their shelf. Poke your nose into a used book shop and you could usually find one or two. It only took us a couple of months looking to find them all. In the mean time I’d gotten my hands on a couple more of the audiobooks, but that was hardly important. We’d gotten the full collection of Sean Dillon books (up to that point) in hardcover and we started reading them all from the beginning.

That was how I found out how cut to the bone Drink With The Devil really was. The entire middle of the book was removed in the abridgement. Now, granted, you could argue that the section I’m thinking of is entirely superfluous to the story, but still. That is why we hate abridgements, I’d like to decide for myself when the author is simply faffing about.

This proved to be an interesting time for us. I read the books over a few months as we acquired them, then my dad read the books over a couple of weeks, and then Syd read the books in a week, knocking out one a day. The books spread like a virus in our household. Even my mother read one or two of them, though they weren’t really to her taste as she prefers John Saul. The point is, we spread this virus out a bit, until we hit people who weren’t interested in reading or in thrillers, and then it died down a bit.

Eventually, I started to loose interest in Higgins. When my interest waned, so did everyone else’s. I can’t say why exactly I lost interest. I think my tastes just changed, because I don’t go back and listen to or read his books now a days. I didn’t think much of his post 9-11 books, maybe that was it. No, I think it’s just that I grew out of them. They were interesting for a few years, and then they were less interesting and then I just wasn’t into them anymore. For a while though, they were great fun and just the sort of thing to excite the mind of a guy in his early 20s.

And it did get me reading, and trying to read. And it got me to learn a lot about the IRA and IRA and other groups like them. Any book that makes you want to know more has to be a good book, at least in my mind. Even if it only makes you want to know more to see if the writer is full of shit or if they knows what they’re talking about.

So where does the talk about him being a professor come from? He taught Liberal Studies at Leeds Poly before his writing income gave him the freedom to quit.

January 31, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 1 Comment