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An Ode to Being Learn To

I fastened my insomnia with whiskey and audiobooks.

Significantly. I used to be a horrible non-sleeper, as soon as upon a time. Within the small hours, within the little pointy hours, spouse asleep, son asleep, canine asleep, when the entire house appeared to creak and bulge like a vessel rigged for oblivion, I’d creep onto the sofa and torture myself with last-man-in-the-worldness. However then I found it. I synthesized it: Jameson, headphones. The antidote. The warming, blurring-the-edges whiskey—a shot or two, no extra—and the human voice.

First it was John le Carré novels. English voices murmuring about espionage—to a boarding-school boy like me, a cracked product of the Institution, intensely soothing. Then it was Linda Hamilton (sure, Linda Hamilton of Terminator) studying Martin Amis’s Evening Prepare; Michael Cochrane studying Evelyn Waugh’s The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (a efficiency of extraordinary Pinfoldian vitality—when Cochrane enunciates the phrase parliamentary it has six syllables); and John Moffatt studying Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. Consider me, nothing lays you out like The Faerie Queene. I don’t suppose I’ve ever made it to the second canto.

[From the December 2015 issue: James Parker on the double life of John le Carré]

It’s very late-stage capitalism, in fact, to sit down there or lie there in your envelope of sound, your personal leisure capsule, technologically sealed and cerebrally catered to, twiddling with the quantity. However being learn to is historical. I like a podcast—the chitchat, the colloquy—however that is deeper: the studying voice, the singular storytelling voice, thrums within the reminiscence tunnels of the species. After I’m listening to an audiobook, I’m being entertained like a drained ploughman. I’m being lulled, bardically lulled, like a drunken baron at a protracted feast desk, pork grease shining on my chin. I’m being quieted like a baby. I’m being spellbound like a face caught in firelight.

And, groggy as I may be, I’m very choosy about my readers. The voice I’m listening to needs to be elevated, however not theatrical. Not too near the mic: no fizzing sibilants or sticky plosives. Not too quick—I want each phrase to land. However not too sluggish, both—I’ll get agitated.

One other factor: no super-fancy prose. No Nabokov. As a reader/author I’m all for the excessive fashion—the trick, as I prefer to say, is to go too far with out going too far. However being learn to isn’t like studying. It engages a denser, extra passive, and dimly questioning a part of the mind. Epics work effectively: The Lord of the Rings, Seamus Heaney studying his Beowulf. You’re near the origins of expertise right here, the all-mothering darkness. And in the event you’re inclined, and cozy, and maybe somewhat buzzed, you’ll sleep.

This text seems within the October 2022 print version. If you purchase a e-book utilizing a hyperlink on this web page, we obtain a fee. Thanks for supporting The Atlantic.

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