literature

Review of “Robinson Crusoe” by Daniel Defoe

6014518 How does one review such a timeless classic as Robinson Crusoe without calling into question the justice it deserves?  Considering how well received this book has been by readers over the ages, it seems difficult for me now to tackle such a review, especially since so many people hold it dear to their hearts and memories.  After all, this is one of those books widely read even by those people who normally aren’t well read to begin with.  In fact, my first exposure to Robinson Crusoe was actually back in the day, but therein lies an injustice, if I may call it that.  We weren’t required to read the whole book, but rather excerpts from it, to which I can’t recall from which part.  So, for me to say that I had read Defoe’s seafaring adventure and to say that I knew it would be false.  Partly, because this is one of those books that people who aren’t widely read can talk about, even if they’d never read it.  Before a few days ago, I couldn’t honestly say that I had read Defoe’s work from cover to cover;  I had only read excerpts from it, hence why I decided to pick it up and give it a go.  [Beware, spoilers lie ahead if you haven’t read the book yet.]

Here is an adventure of a caliber unlike any other.  Crusoe is a man who leaves his parents behind, against their good wishes, to become a sailor.  He sails the world, becomes a slave in some Moorish country, becomes a plantation owner in Brazil — one of the Spanish colonies, at the time — and becomes shipwrecked and stranded on a deserted island for some 27 or so odd years.  His time on the island, obviously, isn’t poorly spent as one might imagine for a novel of this length, for he occupies himself with surviving off of the fruits of the land and all that is provided to him through “Providence.”  In the beginning of his extended stay, he considers himself destitute and miserable; however, his faith in the divine proves itself stronger, as he considers how well-off he is on his one-man paradise, given all of the circumstances surrounding his situation.  After all, he manages to salvage much from his wrecked ship before the sea claims her.  Once he learns the island and settles in, he tends to his daily routine, explained in such detail only attributing to an Englishman, until he stumbles upon the ghastly remains of a cannibalistic feast on some part of the beach, something he was all the while oblivious to during his time on the island. From here on out, the whole tone of the book changes, a testament to Defoe’s strength as a writer.

From this point in the novel, Crusoe becomes apprehensive and fearful of the potential fate that might await him, should he be discovered by these unknown adversaries.  The test of time proves his fears to be true, that cannibals are visiting the island and feasting on their victims, until one day, he braves the dangers with his muskets and frees one of the potential victims from a miserable doom.  A cannibal himself, whom he comes to call “Friday,” Crusoe teaches him the Christian way of living, converting him away from his heathen ways.  Loyal to Crusoe through and through, Friday becomes an asset to life on the island and begins helping with the daily chores.  The adventure doesn’t end here, though, as more circumstances arise that demand to be dealt with.  Crusoe rescues more victims from other cannibals, who know about other Spanish survivors living among the cannibal tribe (wrap your head around that one); he even rescues a doomed English captain (a fellow countryman) and his loyal first mates from mutineers who had taken over a ship.  This, in turn, ends up being his deliverance from his time on the island, ending in a well-to-do Crusoe who returns to riches and wealth saved for him by trustworthy folk, whom we only briefly learn about in the beginning of the book.

The plausibility of such a story isn’t too far-fetched, especially since many sources claim that Defoe based his novel on the stranded accounts from one Scottish-born sailor, Alexander Selkirk; however, Defoe’s faith in humanity, as revealed by Crusoe’s accounts upon his return to civilization after his deliverance from solitude, seems in my opinion a bit naive and unrealistic, considering the time period for which the story is based.  Crusoe returns to civilization, encounters ship captains whom he sailed with 27 years ago, recounts his story to them, and suddenly finds his wealth returned to him that very instance.  If this is some narrative strategy from Defoe’s time, perhaps a means of bringing closure quickly to an otherwise long story, it is beyond me and my knowledge for the writings of this time.  One thing about Crusoe that remains clear, however, is how resourceful he is in his ways.  For being a tradesman, Crusoe manages to live his time on this desolate island well to do with his goods, which is what really lies at the heart of this book — making good with what is provided to you through God’s will.  The book reads like a sermon pedestal for Defoe, to preach his interpretation of divinity onto his reader, no doubt a characteristic of any writing at the time of its publication in 1719.  If you can muscle your way beyond these religious undertones in the book, then Robinson Crusoe is a good choice for you.  Regardless, this timeless classic of endurance and perseverance during a time of hardship will always remain an exciting addition to any reading list, striving to teach the classics.

 

Am I really “reading” an audiobook?

1188223_microphoneWith a busy semester work load ahead of me, my son demanding more of my attention, and my regular household responsibilities — the usual routine stuff — I find that I have little time for some of the more personal pleasures in my life, such as this blog; but, I imagine this is the case with most writers. It is about time management and priorities, after all. If I am not able to create, I can at least consume. Several months ago, I discovered the Overdrive Media Console app, which allows one to borrow and download audio- and eBooks from his or her local library, if such a service is rendered. When it comes to reading, I will always prefer a physical paper or cloth book over an eBook, but the audio format is proving to be most valuable during this busy time.  In fact, these book types are helping to fill what is otherwise a void in my reading habit. With my earphones jacked into my Samsung, I can listen to the audiobook while I do the dishes, for example, or while I drive the car to go to class (a word of caution here, though, as it is easy to be distracted), instead of listening to the radio which offers nothing worth listening to. I have also listened to my audiobook in the evenings, while I was bringing my son down for bed. I have found that there are many moments in my day which are lost to mundane tasks that can otherwise be supplemented with the narrations of an audio book reader. As a result of this discovery, I have read four novels in just under a month, which is quite an incredible feat for me.

But, this begs the question, am I really reading? This is a point I feel I have to ask myself, because it is not the same experience listening to an audiobook as it is to read the words off of the page for myself. Yet, the narrations are read out loud, using vocabulary from the text that is otherwise often excluded from any normal conversation or dialogue, words that one typically only finds in written form, so the narrator remains true to the text of the book. Another point about audio books worth mentioning is that I am just as involved with listening, taking in every word, the same way I would be committed to visualizing with my eyes the words that emerge from the page. The added advantage to this is that I can do other things, tasks that don’t require so much of my mental capacity to concentrate, while “reading” my book. A level of concentration is still needed, though, to register and process what I am listening to. In some cases, I miss certain points in the reading that I have to backtrack to in order to follow along with the narration, a part of listening to an audiobook that I don’t see any differently from jumping back a page or two to reference a point previously mentioned. This is one of the only drawbacks that I am noticing about “reading” an audiobook — that other senses are always competing for my attention, something that you may know from my previous posts can be problematic, what with my absent-mindedness, especially while driving. In fact, I drive a lot slower when I listen to an audiobook than when I do not. I usually reserve the audio book for any type of extended driving I have to do. If I am on the highway, the audio book comes out; it stays off if I am driving in town. The last thing I need is an accident.

The dangers of listening to audiobooks aside, I don’t feel like retention for what I am “reading” is a problem, as I am focused on the book being narrated, the reader’s voice often compelling and pragmatic. I have found myself adventuring with genres of books that I previously invested little of my efforts into. My focus in reading has often been with fiction, but I do not feel the same elation from listening to an audio work of fiction as I do with actually reading one. This is partly because of the figurative nature of literature that I enjoy so much, savoring an author’s use of symbolism and metaphor the same way a taster might relish a gourmet delicatessen. Non-fiction, the books I find myself listening to more, delves into another literary form on its own, one comprising of fact and personal account. While these works can take on creative twists in their own way, the primary purpose is to convey information about their given subject matter, so an author’s tone and use of syntax is arranged differently. I don’t think a book like The Satanic Verses with its fragments and colloquialisms would work as effectively in non-fiction form (or in an audio format, for that matter). After all, the poetic license afforded to a work of fiction like Rushdie’s novel is what gives fiction its unique appeal, something I feel I enjoy more when I have the chance to sit down and explore it more thoroughly, flipping back to previous pages to encounter the beautifully written prose over and over again. With audio books, this is not as easy to do. “Reading” an audiobook is solely for the sake of listening and learning in my opinion. Since the beginning of the year, I have read: two biographies — one about Jack London, the other regarding Carl von Stauffenberg; one band biography about Metallica; and a survey on the cultural history of rabies. The next in line is the autobiography on Gandhi.   All of these books have been easy to read because they are presenting information in more of a chronological manner. Fiction gets easily lost in the mental traps of its protagonists, so much so that it is easy to lose place, especially if multiple points of views are being expressed. I don’t know how an audio work of literature, say The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky, would “read” if I were to listen to it. I don’t know that I would want to experience a classic work like this in audio form, anyway.

I guess I answer my question. While I am listening to someone else read aloud what has already been written, I am still encountering those same grammatical forms that distinguish writing from the dialogues of conversation. My concentration is still focused on the material as it is being presented to me, whether it be from the monologues of one reader or the voice-overs of each “character” in the book, much in the same way a radio theatrical production was done in the olden days — a form of reading, I might add, that I don’t really like, nor should the book include any musical score set to fill the space between chapters or to heighten dramatic effect. I prefer a single reader over many — a quietly edited book, if you will — since this is what mirrors my own mental voice as I read a physical book. When I allow my eyes to skim across the lines of words on a page, taking in their meaning and relating these words to one another, I don’t imagine the voices of children or women playing out their roles; rather, their voice is my own. Nor, do I imagine some underscore of violins amplifying the dramatic mood of a scene. The only thing that occupies my mind while I read are my thoughts. I am glad to have this technology to allow me to enjoy a good book, even if I do not really have the time to do so in any other form.

Image source: McNally, Victoria. “Recording your Audiobook, part 1: Setting up.” Bookworks: The Self-Publishers Association. WordPress.com. 04 Mar. 2013. Web. 15 Dec. 2014.