Since I was a child, I haven’t been able to see more than two feet in front of me. My sight was correctable, but without thick glasses or hard contacts, all I saw were colors and shapes. About six weeks ago I had eye surgery, with seven stitches in each eye and a lengthy healing process ahead of me. It turns out all of the things I usually do require me to see and to see well. So, though I’m on sabbatical working on my second novel, suddenly I couldn’t write—or read, or research, or drive, or cook, or walk in the sun, or watch movies, or text, or check my email, or play Catan. Instead I spent much of my time in bed in the dark, “reading” audiobooks.
As of this writing, I’m driving short distances, making notes for my novel, cooking, getting there. There is nothing quite like the solace of being read to when you need to rest. Thank you, brilliant authors and patient narrators. You gave me pleasure, connection, and meaning, adventure, tears, and laughs—hour-by-hour, image after sumptuous image. All I had to do was listen, while you showed me the world.
As I squinted into the bright haze of my phone in search of a book (why hadn’t I done this before surgery?) Colin Firth’s fuzzy name drew me to this often-adapted 1951 novel. Turns out he is arresting as the first-person narrator/novelist, based on Graham Greene himself. About the love affair between Maurice Bendrix and Sarah Miles, THE END OF THE AFFAIR is a concise, unsentimental, and poignant examination of romantic obsession, Catholicism, and writing. I glimpsed the dim isolation of Maurice’s rooms, the rain slanting onto the London streets as he followed Sarah, their knees touching in the pregnant silence of the church. I consumed it in a day and a half, as my family brought me meals and hung blankets over the blinds.
Good start. But I needed something that would last.
In this 2013 Audie winner, Colin Firth gives an authentic performance of Graham Greene’s evocative analysis of the love of self, the love of another, and the love of God. Whether you laughed at Colin Firth screaming a long string of expletives in “The King’s Speech” or swooned at his stoic confessions of adoration in “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” you’ll want to hear him reading this story of flourishing love.
Narrated by Colin Firth
To hear Toni Morrison narrate her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is to be placed under a spell—an incantation of mourning, weaving, conjuring, vengeance, haunting, healing, and remembering. Lyrical and full of captivating characters, Morrison’s book was inspired by the true story of an African-American woman who escaped slavery in 1840s America, only to be propelled into a horrific, sometimes beautiful, always powerful series of events. A mother’s face withered as I listened. I felt her scars under my loving fingers, the fierce crowd gathered on the road outside the eerie house as a shadowy figure loomed on the porch steps. The book is dream and nightmare; when I woke, I was forever changed.
There is transformation in this acclaimed story of twin brothers, one of whom is schizophrenic, but it is not without sacrifice. It’s a winding road illuminated by the light of a friend—a friend with a sarcastic wit and growing store of self-awareness. Under my eyelids, a brother calmly grasped his hemorrhaging forearm, a wise woman made tea, a man dangled from the side of house, and shoes sat empty along the winter riverbank.
Around this time, I got a few stitches out, and one of my eyes slid into partial focus. I decided to celebrate with something outside my comfort zone.
This post-apocalyptic novel follows several compelling characters—a famous film actor, a comic book artist, a paparazzi/paramedic, a “prophet”—whose lives intersect before, during, and after the Georgian Flu destroys most of the worlds’ population. In the wake of civilization, the Traveling Symphony plays music and performs Shakespeare across North America. Through their travels, we are shown the miraculous in the old world through the eyes of those who can no longer even imagine it: airplanes, running water, cell phones, electric light, intact families, photography, celebrity, and clean clothes.
The miraculous in the old world—I could relate . . . Self-pity and despair were leaking in. Maybe I needed something to chuck me on the chin.
A pitch perfect, immersive narrator plunged me gratefully into love with this 15-year-old protagonist, “a mathematician with some behavioral difficulties,” who sets out to solve the murder of a neighborhood dog. But the murderer is just the beginning of who and what gets uncovered in this charming, nail biting, and audacious novel about viewing our disconcerting world from the outside and still carving out a place in it somehow. I saw prime numbers thrown out like riddles, I saw a boy waiting for a train with feet heavy as concrete, I saw an envelope nestled in a box, and a man banging on a locked door, bellowing to come in.
I felt a little cheered and optimistic. I had more stitches taken out. I asked them when I could get back to work, when I could have sex, or drive to town. Be patient, they said (though it had already been a month). Time for another deep plunge.
A great story, brought to radiant life by a master narrator, whose main characters are a woman made of clay (the Golem) and a man made of fire (the Jinni). Writing in a naturalistic, literary style, Helene Wecker had me awed by magic and adventure, gripped by characters who wrestle with “their natures,” lulled by the voices of late nineteenth century men and women who braved the impossible to make New York City their home. I saw macaroons baking, ragged people camped out on roofs, and a couple walking the midnight streets along Central Park. I saw ships crossing, dreams invaded, deserts shimmering with blue.
Now my eyes only burned instead of ached. I did have sex, finally, carefully. I found the place in the fence where the dog was getting out and wrote a couple quick emails aided by autocorrect. But I still couldn’t read.
Set in contemporary rural Mississippi, this National Book Award-winning story is told through three very different pairs of eyes—a teenage boy bent on doing right, his drug-addicted mother who is crippled by grief and racism, and another young boy from his kind grandfather’s harrowing past, now a restless ghost. With my blinds open but eyes still closed, I saw a goat hanging from the rafters, a boy stiffening his back like a rail, a car seat rocking in the back seat. I saw a mother’s bony hand on the bedsheet, potions made and ingested, spirits writhing. This is a novel that stuns as it heals.
Sometimes that’s what it takes to open our eyes.