hearing voices

Ruth Oseki observed that “when we read a book, we all are hearing voices.” Books are inanimate objects. She was speaking about her new book on The Road Home Podcast (link to YouTube). I hadn’t stumbled across this podcast before.

The Road Home with Ethan Nichtern

The dude who is interviewing her has written a book by the same name as his podcast.

The Road Home: A Contemporary Exploration of the Buddhist Path by Ethan  Nichtern

The theme to the podcast is Zen Buddhism. I have always had a soft spot for Zen.

I keep thinking about Oseki’s talking Book and her character Benny who can hear inanimate objects. This morning as I read in the biography of C. P. E. Bach by Ottenberg and the letters of C. P. E. it colored how I was thinking about what I was doing. I have enjoyed reading C.P.E.’s letters. I think of it as listening in on him like a book. This listening is very similar to how I experience playing music. I feel like I am in the presence of another mind. This is part of what I like about playing music of other composers. This is definitely along the line Oseki is thinking.

Apple Podcasts on Twitter: "Making pillow-talk literal. Everything is Alive  with @ianchillag⁩ interviews inanimate objects to find out their life  story. https://t.co/UwH0myCDIu https://t.co/LpmcgfxksO" / Twitter
Everything is Alive' podcast interviews a bar of soap and other inanimate  objects | Boing Boing

Speaking of podcasts, Oseki and Nichtern mention one I had never heard of. It’s called “Everything is Alive” and in each episode an actor takes on the persona of an object like a bicycle or a phone booth. Oseki said that she thought it was great and wished that she had known about it when she was writing The Book of Form and Emptiness.


In the episode of The Road Home podcast in which Nichtern interviews Oseki, he mentions Ben Lerner as an example of another author who appears as a character in his own fiction. Oseki does this in A Take for the Time Being.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

I haven’t read the book in which Lerner does this. It’s probably one of the ones I ordered by him. But I have read A Tale for the Time Being.

It was cool listening to Ozeki talk about the “Ruth” in this novel. At first she said that she and character were distinguished by the fact she (the breathing author) was alive. But she quickly got tripped up in thinking about the life of the character “Ruth.” The character “Ruth” also had a kind of life both on the page in the minds of readers.

I like thinking about spending time with minds like Ruth the author and Ruth the character and also characters in books I read as well voices of authors and composers.

The Last Bookseller: A Life in the Rare Book Trade | Stillwater (MN) Public  Library

The Last Bookseller: A Life in the Rare Book Trade by Gary Goodman came across my Facebook feed today. It’s not being published until Dec 7th. I am intrigued. Maybe not enough to purchase without reading some of it. But I will try and remember and see if the local library gets it. It doesn’t come up when I search the library’s online catalogue. Often books that are in process or ordered do come up in that kind of search.

Here’s the blurb from Facebook:

“Highly recommended, partly for Gary Goodman’s portrait of a lost world, but also for its colorful dramatis personae.”—The Washington Post. As both a memoir and a history of booksellers and book scouts, criminals and collectors, The Last Bookseller offers an ultimately poignant account of the used and rare book business during its final Golden Age.

The Flip Side

This is something else that showed up in Facebook feed today. I have been trying to subscribe to it. Supposedly it’s free. Each email takes one issue and links in how the left is thinking about it and also how the right is doing so. This is just up my alley but some reason I haven’t been seeing it in my inbox. When I search, emails come up and they are marked in my inbox but I don’t see them otherwise. Who knows? This is just up my alley.

hiding in holland

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki: 9780399563645 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

I have been identifying with Benny the young main character of Ozeki’s The Book of Form and Emptiness. Benny hears voices. Not just any voices but the voices of any inanimate thing nearby. It has struck me that this is slightly similar to being an introvert. Or at least it reminds me of my own introverted reactions to life.

I am overly sensitive and struggle with too much input in the silliest situations. I let my mind race over the many possibilities of what is happening around me. It’s not that different from hearing voices from objects.

As Benny says “People don’t come naturally to me, and I’ve had to study and practice, like when you’re first learning to read and have to sound out the syllables. I have to learn people phonetically and then memorize them by rote.”

In Benny’s life objects like the toy animals in the kid shrink’s office talk to him. They actually shriek and talk about the many sad children who have played with them. Benny gets busted after arguing with a pair of scissors (Benny silently, the scissors in a snarling voice that only Benny can hear). The scissors are telling Benny to stab his teacher. He struggles and ends up stabbing himself. After that he is in a Pediatric Psych ward for a while.

Later in the story, Benny finds comfort in spending time at the library. The books in the library are quiet as are all the objects in the library. There is a hush over everything because of the nature of the place. Benny begins to read books and finds them comforting and interesting. Do you see where I’m going with this?

I think I have mentioned here that one of the characters in the story is the actual book you are reading. The Book has a voice and explains stuff from time to time. Early on, the Book explains what matters:

“That’s what books are for, after all, to tell you your stories, to hold them and keep them safe between our covers for as long as we are able. We do our best to bring you pleasure and sustain your belief in the gravity of being human. We are care about your feelings and believe in you completely. But here’s another question: Has it ever occurred to you that books have feelings, too?”

So the Library and the Book and books that Benny turns to are all a source of solace and coherence to him.

This is extremely satisfying to me.

The Death Penalty: An American History: Banner, Stuart: 9780674010833:  Amazon.com: Books

During our recent chat about books, Jeremy Daum (my son-in-law) recommended The Death Penalty by Stuart Banner. I immediately requested it on interlibrary loan. Jeremy whose profession means needing to know about things like American Death penalty said that this book had shaped his thinking. I notice that Banner teaches at Washing U where Jeremy earned his J.D. Next time I see him, I’m going to ask if he knew this guy. I read in it today.

Men and Events: Historical Essays by Hugh R. Trevor-Roper

Hugh Trevor Roper’s Men and Events: Historical Essays was also waiting on my library hold shelf. Trevor Roper is a writer I have read and enjoyed over the years. I recently read an review of this book by Jacques Barzun and wanted to take a look at it. It looks like fun.

Moses, Man of the Mountain by Zora Neale Hurston – Sugar Island

Then for some reason I decided to start another Zora Neale Hurston novel.

Amazon.com: Zora Neale Hurston : Novels and Stories : Jonah's Gourd Vine /  Their Eyes Were Watching God / Moses, Man of the Mountain / Seraph on the  Suwanee / Selected Stories (

I have these gorgeous Library of America volumes of her work. Moses, Man of the Mountain was the next novel in this collection so I started reading in it. It reminds me a bit of Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers. I plan to read them as well. But probably not soon. Hurston rocks.

I keep hearkening back to what the financial advisor said to me about hoarding books. Jeremy Daum suggested it would have been a good time to invoke an elegant Miss Manners reaction and pretend not to understand what she was talking about. I wish I had thought of that. Instead I nodded my head sheepishly thinking Benny thoughts about not connecting with people.

Sometimes I feel like Eileen and I living in hiding here in Holland.

I texted Rev Jen about trying to hire someone to move my harpsichord and marimba. Nothing from her yet and nothing from the Buildings and Grounds guy I texted last Saturday. However, I’m pretty sure I can get someone to move these for me.

Lately it’s been Bach on the piano. I love the English suites especially. It’s not a bad thing to be living and hiding in Holland.