The Spy Who Came In and Got Old

AS GREAT as the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War were to the cause of peace, they were hell on people who made their living telling spy stories. Tom Clancy had to start writing about the drug war, 007 began chasing nefarious media barons, and Reagan-fearing pop singers were forced to record lute music, for Christ’s sake.

OurKindofTraitorCoverFormer spook turned spy novelist extraordinaire John le Carré was among the hardest hit. The foremost writer of Cold War fiction found his creative center blown up by a few sledgehammers and a progressive Communist. His stuff hasn’t been the same since.

I recently listened to the audio version of le Carré’s Our Kind of Traitor. The writing was as terrific as always; le Carré long has transcended the genre into which publishers stuffed him. But the storyline, centered around a few maverick British intelligence officers trying to take down … a money launderer, was fatally insignificant.

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How to Pass the Time on a Long Drive When NPR Gets All … NPR-y

PRINT SNOB that I am, I never gave audiobooks the time of day.

Until, after nearly a year of commuting 60 miles to work and 60 miles back, I realized how little listening to the radio helped all of that Turnpike traveling pass more quickly.

And so, last month, I used my iPad to borrow The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin from the library and gave myself over to reading a book in a voice other than my own.

Franklin’s work probably wasn’t the best book to start with. It’s written in 18th-century language, which I often found difficult to follow. And it’s not as if I could reread a difficult passage, either, though that may have been for the best–using my eyes instead of my ears would have tacked a hell of a lot of hours onto my reading time. Continue reading

Six-Year-Old 1, Me 0

TWO PEOPLE took pity on me at the Barnes & Noble in Plymouth Meeting yesterday afternoon.

One was a teacher, the other a bookstore staffer. What earned me their benevolence was the completely useless discussion I was having with Q. over what I would buy her.

I was arguing for books that reflected her status as a kindergartener who’s reading at a second-grade level. She dug in her heels over a princess sticker book.

Each woman, the teacher and the bookseller, tried engaging Q. over what she likes to read and suggesting various kids’ series and chapter books. Each was met, as I had been, with folded arms, a dark scowl, and pouting lips. Continue reading