Warning: Approaching High Nerddom
As printed in Proteus, the Journal of the Delaware Valley Mensa  (Feb 2013)
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       As a child, I never imagined that I would one day live in a world that offered gifts as marvelously marvelous as free podcasts. They are everywhere, about everything, and if you cannot find one that interests you, then you are interested in nothing. And there is surely one about nothingness, so I rest my case.

       For me, of all of the options in podcast-land, the ones I find the most useful are those that improve my foreign language listening comprehension. Radio France International does me the honor of providing “Journal en français facile” a.k.a. roughly “news in easy French.” That title is a pretty funny joke, but the words do go by a slower pace than in a normal broadcast. How can I not love technology when it delivers a new, 10-minute basket of native French pronunciation to me every day for free? I do not always make the time for it but, when I do, the podcast smiles, offers me a baguette, and tells me all about its day in Paris.

       The catch: it is still the news which, by its nature, is fragmented into incidents and updates, and there is no more continuity from day to day than there is in our own news. Not that I would complain about free, high-quality, informative podcasts, but I did begin to wonder what additional options I might have for content. I finally thought to search for online audiobooks in French, and happened upon LibriVox. JACKPOT.

       How had I never heard of this website (www.librivox.org), which provides free audio recordings of books that are in the public domain? I knew about Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org), which boasts the largest collection of free electronic books. But LibriVox takes that one step further, with a goal “to make all public domain books available as free audio books.” Volunteers do all of the reading and recording, which is probably great experience for all of those budding voiceover artists out there.

       Can we take a moment to applaud or something? Over and above the convenience factor for those who have no alone time for books other than while driving, or who simply like listening to a good story whether or not they are occupied with activities that preclude reading a physical book, imagine what a wonderful service this must be for people who have trouble reading, or are visually-impaired, or – like me – could use help with listening comprehension.

       When I found the site, I was so impressed that I added “record a book for LibriVox” to my long term to-do list, which also includes “visit remaining continents,” “perform at an open mic night,” and “unpack those last few boxes.” So, it might be a while. But how nice that my gift for talking at length will finally be put to good use! I shall use my powers for good, America. But first, my original goal: to select my first audiobook in French. I went with The Count of Monte Cristo. Because, you know, start small.

       Seriously, it is one of my favorites. The epic revenge story. I have read it twice in English, so I knew the plot well enough that, even if (ha ha ha – if... that would be when) I did not catch all of the words in French, I would still be able to follow along well enough to keep me going. And it was originally written in French, adding to its appeal. With my good friend Rewind at my side, I couldn’t lose! Begin download. A few weeks later, when my friend Christina asked what I was listening to on the headphones she saw me put away, I told her. Why wouldn’t I tell her? No one told me not to tell her. But maybe I shouldn’t have told her.

       The look on her face was something like fear. As she continued to stare at me, I explained that I already knew the story, which was helping me get through the chapters, and I was listening to some of them more than once before moving on. I am not quite sure that she heard any of this. She merely stared on, stared some more, blinked a few times and said, “Wow. I know someone who is listening to The Count of Monte Cristo in the original French.”

       Upon reflection, yes. I suppose I had ventured into high nerddom, and had given her no warning. To be fair, when you expect “It’s my ’80s mix!” and you get “It’s these podcasts I found of The Count of Monte Cristo in French!” you’re entitled to be a tad taken aback. But you, Proteus readers, provide a safe, supportive space for tales like this. For that, I thank you. Here, we will never look at one another in fear over our nerdtacular exploits. Here, they will be celebrated. 

       As for the audiobook, I got through the first 18 chapters before life got in the way, and the dear Count suffered a four-month sentence near the bottom of my priorities. But do you know what’s great about books, both physical and audio? In addition to that whole transporting knowledge across time thing, and the business about sending us to different worlds? The beauty of books is that they are always ready whenever you are. And I was, just last month, when I pressed play and jumped into chapter 19 of the Count’s adventures. I am now up to chapter 35... oh yeah, did I mention that Alexandre Dumas wrote this as a serial? That means only 87 chapters to go! Heh heh. Good old Al. Sigh.


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