I have recently noticed a tendency to reread books that I think I might enjoy – and more often, to start listening to them as audiobooks.
Most recently, I decided to reread Frank Herbert’s Dune in advance of the new film. I knew I had not read it since the mid-’90s, and that reading had not been especially successful, I remembered.
The new reading was a disaster. I was completely unable to read the book without seeing the visuals of the 1984 David Lynch film which, although I love it, was definitely getting in the way of experiencing the novel. I also could see the tendency to want to skip over narration to get to dialogue, and suspected I was missing important parts of the book as a result. I could already tell that I was not able to absorb anything of the characters in the book that was not from the movie.
To try to get around this, I downloaded the audiobook and began listening to that. I can’t say that I liked the audiobook per se – dialogue was mostly narrated, but occasionally characters would come in and be voiced separately, and to my taste poorly – but what it did was eliminate any carryover from the earlier film and allow me to focus on what the book and the characters were actually saying. It’s like watching a play – the actor can be doing an inferior job, but it’s still Shakespeare. I did end up reading the last few chapters in the hardback version, but by that time the characters were almost completely divorced from the movie’s incarnations. And I was getting impatient.
While I was reading Dune, I also remembered that I really didn’t think I had adequately understood Tim Powers’ Declare the first time I read it, and had probably skipped over important parts looking for scenes that had more action or supernatural involvement. So I got the book for that and listened to it over the next several weeks. Again, I think I got a much better understanding of the book, as I was forced to listen to everything in it, and not skip over parts that seemed duller. At least now I know that I actually listened to everything in the book, and didn’t skip over any important parts.
The next book, James Holland’s Battle of Britain I started in hardback with the copy that Mr. Holland inscribed for me at the World War II conference in 2019. I had just finished building a new tool Airfix 1/72 Hawker Hurricane and was starting on a new-tool Spitfire and wanted to reread a good book on the subject. Within a couple of chapters I realized that I was not able to read as much as I wanted in the limited time that I have to read in the study in the evening, and instead got the audiobook and listened to most of the book that way. The individual accounts got a little tiring after a while, but it ended up being an efficient way of getting the book read. The hardest part was that a substantial part of the book deals with the battle of France, and it is almost midway through before you get to Fighter Command engaging the Luftwaffe over Britain beginning in the late summer of 1940. Which began to conflict with the next book I listened to …
Finally, several years ago I listened to Max Hastings’ Overlord because I wanted to read something about the actual D-Day landings. This is not the best book for that – it focuses on the battle for Normandy instead, and is similarly full of individual accounts that are not exactly what I was looking for – but Hastings does eventually provide commentary and analysis on the major questions surrounding the campaign.
Central here is British general Sir Bernard Montgomery. It is pretty well agreed that Montgomery made major mistakes in how he characterized and promised his forces’ activities from D-Day to the end of the campaign, but Hastings takes the position that there was in the end nothing lost as a result, because neither Montgomery nor Bradley could actually have done anything earlier than they did that would have generated a faster, or better result. Hastings is adamant that no advance against the German forces could take place until they had been written down by weeks of attrition. If you agree with this viewpoint – and it seems sound to me – then much of that heat directed at Montgomery is warranted, but in the end irrelevant. (Something you can’t say about the German leaders and generals’ action, I note). He overpromised and did not manage expectations regarding what he was actually going to be able to do, but in the end it is difficult to see how that had a negative effect on the final outcome. Hastings even goes so far as to decline to call the failure to close the Falaise pocket an error that had any effect because he believes that even if the forces allotted had closed the pocket, the desperate German forces would have blown through them anyway.
That’s what I was in the end looking for. What were the actions taken, are they subject to criticism, and what effect would different actions have had.