Monday, January 26, 2009

When You Don't Quite Like a Book That You Wanted to Love

It's somewhat of a unsettling and guilty feeling, isn't it, when you don't quite like a book you really wanted to love?

I really wanted to fall head over heels in love with Studs Terkel's memoir Touch and Go. This experience is not unlike dating, at least in my recollection of how dating was done back in the day. You know a little something about the person, you may have spent some time hanging out on various occasions, you're thinking hmmm, this one just might have some potential. But then, after a date or two or three, you realize that even though he or she is a great person, you're just not connecting. Maybe you've got other things on your mind, maybe the timing is off ... whatever the reason, it's just not happening.

Such is the case of my all-too-brief fling with Touch and Go, an affair that should have lingered in the air longer because I love Studs Terkel and I thought the premise of his memoir sounded great. From the Editorial Review as found on

Terkel begins by taking us back to his early childhood with his father, mother, and two older brothers, describing the hectic life of a family trying to earn a living in Chicago. He then goes on to recall his own experiences—as a poll watcher charged with stealing votes for the Democratic machine, as a young theatergoer, and eventually as an actor himself in both radio and on the stage—giving us a brilliant and often hilarious portrait of the Chicago of the 1920s and '30s. He tells of his beginnings as a disc jockey after World War II and as an interviewer and oral historian—a craft he would come to perfect and indeed personify. Finally, he discusses his involvement with progressive politics, leading inevitably to his travails during the McCarthy period when he was blacklisted and thrown out of work despite having become by then one of the country's most popular TV hosts.

I've been listening to Touch and Go on audio (more on that later) for the past week. Although Terkel has certainly lived a colorful life amid the most colorful of characters, I'm not connecting to the rambling nature of the discourse. I read a review of Touch and Go that described Terkel's memoir as akin to sitting on a porch listening to a beloved uncle tell old stories that you've heard before.

And that's what happened to me on the way home this evening. As I listened to the audio, I realized I'd heard this particular anecdote before - one day last week. Unbeknownst to me, I'd just replayed most of an entire CD without realizing that I'd already heard it. Now, either I'm that much on autopilot during my daily commute or I'm not connecting with this book. For the sake of my fellow interstate drivers (and my insurance agent), I'd like to believe its the latter.

Maybe it's just that audio isn't the right medium for Terkel's tales, which is not to disparage the talents of narrator Norman Dietz. Ironically, the narration provided by Dietz makes this one of the best quality audiobooks in that regard.

It's not you, Studs and Norman. It's me. For whatever reason, the audiobook format for this isn't working for me, but I'll give this another try in print at some point.

After all, you're too nice of a guy to give up on that easily.


Karen Harrington said...

This is such a compelling issue, isn't it, when we open a book we want to love? Very interesting take on this book!

Betty and Boo's Mommy said...

Karen ~ It's true, I really wanted to like this one more than I did.