Category Archives: Things That Interest Me That Do Not Interest You

Invisibles: An Audiobook


I just finished listening to the audiobook of Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion by David Zweig.

Recommended by Bud Hunt, I appreciated the delicate attention to unseen craftsmanship that entire industries are built upon. From Radiohead’s lead guitar tech to someone devoted to making way-finding in an airport an intuitive process to the interpreters that the United Nations rely upon, the role of invisibles offers us as readers a framework for how to be mindful and curious in the work we do.

In the final chapter of the book, Zweig reflects on the tension between the inflated ego of having his first book contract but not chipping away at the words needing to be written and being in the flow-like process of deep analysis of an interview for the book. Zweig illuminates a shift in perspective that can empower readers to rethink their work and find fulfillment in the curiosity before us.


(Isn’t there always a however?)

While I appreciate the sentiment of how Zweig can pivot from an ego-filled sense of being a fuddy duddy author to a silent craftsman of words for an audience, the lens of hearing about this via an audiobook was striking. While I listened to Zweig’s words I became immediately aware that there is another largely invisible expert delivering these words.

Earlier in the day, chatting with Bud via Slack (is this “slacking”?), he typed, “I dig the narrator.” I did too.

Sean Pratt. I had to look up who just read the nearly 10 hour production. His crisp delivery – like that of many other audiobook readers does its best when it gets out of the way of the content I am passively consuming in my car or while walking dogs. Sure, Pratt’s name is mentioned in the fleeting credits of the audiobook, but it’s fluff I usually disregard. It’s part of the digital paratexts that succeeds largely when it is invisible.

Years ago, I was listening to the audiobook of Nancy Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion. At the book’s conclusion, Farmer conducts an interview with the audiobook’s reader Raul Esparza. What should have been an engaging peek behind the curtain was too dissonant for me. I’d just spent hours hearing and trusting a voice to act as a conduit of Farmer’s words. That this voice was anchored to an individual, that it had agency, was too strange an effect. I was hearing the voice of a book reflect on being a voice of not just one but many other books Esparza has read.

There’s probably something to be said about the most un-invisible of audiobook readers, Jim Dale, and about the allure of celebrity authors and readers of works. Last month, I spent a week with Kim Gordon’s voice. As she discussed the painful encounters that led to her divorce from her partner and Sonic Youth bandmate Thurston Moore, my mind oscillated between wondering what it was like for Gordon to read and re-read passages of her life out-loud and also feeling comforted to know that she safely harbored her words to me, rather than an intrusive middle-person.

Consuming audiobooks provides an added layer of text which we must analyze and consider. Rather than simply a lazier way to consume media content, Zweig’s metacognitive reflection, read by Sean Pratt, highlights the ways audio adds to text.*

*As I type this, Mark Z. Danielewski’s The Familiar sits on my desk and reminds me that it (like his other works) are largely impossible to translate into an audiobook. The multimedia possibilities of print media are often taken for granted in the digital age.

Rhizomatic Listening: On Shuffling Audiobooks

While in Los Angeles, I spent a lot of time sitting in traffic. Directly related to this, I spent a lot of time sitting in traffic listening to audiobooks. At one point, I got frustrated with the insanely slooooow pace at which most book are narrated that I started listening to audiobooks at double speed. The shift is disorienting at first, listening to a reader spin manically into hyper-speed. The thing is, I can only (easily) do that with books I download from Audible. CDs checked out from the library and MP3s I download have to go through a lengthy process to be considered “books” by my iPhone and are treated like music files, which is where things get interesting …

See, for a long time I resisted the shift from listening to an album to listening to individual tracks. But somewhere in the early 2000s I caved and my iPod is now filled with a rotating repertoire of evolving playlists created for specific times, moods, and places:

The success of these playlists is contingent on the iPod’s shuffle function:

Each playlist preserves a feeling, but never the exact same experience.

The thing is, if I switched from listening to a playlist to an audiobook, I would often forget to turn off the shuffle button. For books that are downloaded in Audiobook, again this can’t happen and even if it did it wouldn’t matter as much. Take for example a couple of YA books I purchased on Audible:

Each of these is a relatively short book and is downloaded (and consumed) as a single file. Rats Saw God is a solid uninterrupted 6 hour and 24 minute listen (or, if you’re like me, a 3 hour and 12 minute listen).

Even if you wanted to shuffle these books, you couldn’t. They are single files. It would be like creating a playlist with one song and hitting shuffle:

A Feast for Crows, a much longer book (topping out just under 38/19 hours of listening time) is downloaded as four separate files. You could shuffle these 8 hour tracks, but the narrative will have progressed so far ahead that it will become immediately obvious when the four chunks are not played in the correct order.


However, let’s take a CD or MP3 example. I bought a (DRM-free!) copy of Doctorow’s For The Win sometime last year. It is downloaded as a series of MP3s that can be easily burned to 13 discs. That’s a lot of MP3s:

If I don’t import these into a playlist in the correct order the 3 or 5 minute files will play in a haphazard fashion, creating a new narrative line not intended by the author.

And this is what I’ve been thinking about: the shift in narrative as a result of audio shuffle. Though time is cyclical for me (It’s morning then night and I eat breakfast and then lunch and then dinner and go to sleep), the ways I perceive and work throughout the day are anything but (I open Word to start writing and then get a cup of coffee and check my phone and write a paragraph and read a chapter of a book and then delete that paragraph and write a title for the Word document and yell at the dog for barking and then add a new sentence and then put on some music which reminds me to see if Martha Wainwright has a new album anytime soon-she does not-and then I start chatting with a friend online … and eventually write something of substance in the Word file).

Some novels incorporate the chance-element of shuffle into their structure. But they’re usually experimental and unfulfilling as traditional narratives. B.S. Johnson’s The Unfortunates gets close. It’s a series of pamphlets that are shuffled together to create a new novel for each reading:

Cortazar’s Hopscotch supposedly works in random-ish order.

I think a more controlled chaos could also work. I think of the three parts of Skippy Dies and, considering Paul Murray tells you exactly what happens by the end of the book in the title, wonder how my experience would be altered if I shuffled the three parts of the books. Ditto the five parts (and three bound volumes) of Bolano’s 2666.


I think of Deleuze and Guittari’s notion of the rhizome. A model for looking at research and culture, the notion of the rhizome differs significantly from traditional tree-like hierarchies. Seeing multiple points of entry and exploration, they write that “any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be.” The world is shuffled. We curate rhizomatic experience everytime we create a playlist – a digital piñata of randomly falling sonic riches.

What would happen if I were able to curate my reading library and create a playlist?

“Today I feel like reading a Murakami playlist-not an anthology-but a new Murakami narrative shuffled only for me” or “I’m going to cozy up with a read-list of contemporary Russian authors in translation.” Or “You know, I feel like a discordant mix of John Ashberry and Shel Silverstein.”

Music products are being produced in this way now:

The latest release from Nicholas Jaar (on the right) is a cube of music with two headphone inputs. Listeners are subjected randomly to the tracks stored in the device’s memory. Pragmatically, I won’t know which song is up next or even what it may be called.

A rhizomatic listening experience is one that can be parsed every which way. Purists (myself included) would argue that this is a bastardization of the art form. “Hendrix wanted you to listen all the way through, man.” And they/we’re right. But it seems like print culture can by shuffled in ways to create new narratives budding from the old.

Play with Your Food

Maybe it is just a dwindling attention span, but I like playing with my food. I don’t mean that if you take me to a fancy restaurant I turn into an orangutan and throw things in the air or peel bananas with my feet.* But things like Rosca de reyes make eating a playful experience.

At a local sushi restaurant, Ally and I ordered what they called the Roulette Roll. Served in a circle, one of the eight pieces of sushi was filled with chili seasoning. Each bite of the roll became a risky dare.

So when we bought these Skittles yesterday, I was pretty excited. It’s pretty awesome to be able to buy food that deceives you.

And then Ally pointed out that pretty much every pack of Skittles I eat functions this way. Being colorblind pretty much ensures that I never know exactly what colored candy I’m eating. Jelly Beans, in particular, are a dangerous proposition…

There has to be something rewarding in encouraging kids to hack their food, right? Turn your licorice into a straw, pretend a gummy bear is a festering boil on your face, make those bread rolls do the Charlie Chaplin dance… aside from embarrassing parents, that’s surely fostering valuable out-of-the-box thinking.


* Though to be fair, if I was actually capable of peeling bananas with my feet, I would probably do so all the time and in as public of places as possible.

Snooze-Buttons and Marginalia: Simulating Humanity

A recent conversation with Ally upon waking up from a nap:

Ally: Did you know when I tried to wake you up you said, “Can you pretend I hit the snooze button”?

Antero: Really? I did? So what did you do?

Ally: I came back ten minutes later to wake you up.

Antero: That’s amazing: A snooze button simulates the human action of snoozing. You basically simulated a simulation of a human action.

All this functions as a round-about introduction to the fact that I only now discovered that The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet has an iOS app. And it looks pretty cool. For a book that’s already pushing the general limitations of a printed page, it is exciting to see the text moving in even more directions.*

What I find troublesome, though, is the idea of tangible marginalia as a feature in the app. As the painstakingly detailed portions of Spivet’s notes now move beyond their geographically named “margin” to take center stage on the app, I wonder if the net gains of such features outweigh the losses. In effect, the process of reading an invigorating text like T.S. Spivet is in holding a book and seeing book-like conventions convey emotion, empathy, and humor in congruity with the main, dominant text.

Like a snooze-button simulacrum, the digital marginalia now mimics an analog mimicry of traditional human actions of annotation and transcription.


* I should note this was discovered belatedly as a friend on Twitter only now points me to the direction of Larson’s blog and homepage. [A movie adaptation of Spivet in the works!? Dios mio!]

“I often dream of trains when I’m awake”

So I’ve been waking up later and later lately. Cutting it ever closer to not making it to school before the bell rings. I’ve been blessed with a traffic-lite commute (and on the 110?!).

My luck has made me wonder what will happen when our economy turns itself around. Will a better Los Angeles labor force and lowered unemployment rate mean an increase in my traffic?

Selfish thoughts, I realize. And yes, I’m willing to wake up an extra ten minutes earlier if it means a few more of you are also gainfully employed. Feel like the Freakonomics dudes should totally write a chapter about this.

The Uncanny Valley and Higher Ed

Read this today and can’t say I’m that surprised. It’s an article that’s pretty much circulated and discussed on an annual basis for the past few years.

For me, I am reminded, when reading this, of the Uncanny Valley – the concept that robots repulse us the closer they get to approximating human attributes (think Tom Hanks in Polar Express or Jeff Bridges in the new Tron). Though there is a larger argument about the capitalist underpinnings of the academy, I find it interesting how there is a building mass of individuals approaching professorship, despite the steep drop-off in terms of job opportunities. The analogy falls apart under scrutiny, but in general, it feels like becoming a professor–like being human­–is the pinnacle to which grad students are reaching. However, the closer they get to finishing, the more repulsive the environment actually becomes: few jobs and underpaid temporary positions.

Thinking about Wabi-Sabi and Digital Youth Participation

First he raked until the grounds were spotless. Then, in a gesture pregnant with wabi-sabi overtones, he shook a tree trunk, causing a few leaves to fall. Wabi-sabi, as evidenced here, is clean but never too clean or sterile. (from here)

Not a lot to add here, yet, other than the fact that I’m wondering if a pedagogy of wabi-sabi can be implemented in thinking spatially about classroom design and instruction.

[Somewhat related, I’m wondering if I can use a wabi sabi aethetic as an excuse to continue postponing the cleaning of my house. No? I guess you’re, right.]

AERA Triptych

Three context-free, AERA-related images:

[I’m trying to do my best to lay low at AERA this year; it’s too cold for my frail SoCal disposition and I’m too in need of serious focus time for quals in T-Minus one week. That being said, with four presentations and receptions and general networking, I’m sure I’ll have my fair share of AERA critique to share at some point (as I’ve had in years past).]

“No Longer Contradictory”

Every poem that works as a poem is original. And original has two meanings: it means a return to the origin, the first which engendered everything that followed; and it means that which has never occurred before. In poetry, and in poetry alone, the two senses are united in a way that they are no longer contradictory.  – John Berger