For the last year I have been reading The Brothers Karamazov on my radio show, Fiction Jones, an hour of live, complete book readings on the 3rd, 4th and 5th Friday of the month from 11pm to 12 midnight here on WORT.
A year of this schedule equals about thirty hours of reading alone in a dark studio, and now, with the pandemic, at home, bringing me to the half-way point in the book. In the days and weeks between readings I turn over the odd quiet in my mind, like tarot cards of Dostoevsky and the Karamazovs, or my heroes of radio like Olga Bergholz and Orson Welles, or heroes of silences and stillness, like Buster Keaton, John Cage, Robert Wilson. A slow, long solitaire of reading, writing and art.
I’ve done Fiction Jones for more than twenty years. I like the challenge and energy of reading “cold,” so I don’t read radio books in advance, aside from notes on names and words that may be difficult to pronounce. (Since May of this year the station has gone remote because of the pandemic, and I now pre-record the show and send in a sound file). I usually have soft music playing under my voice. My current favorite is the work of mid-century modernist Morton Feldman. My choice of The Brothers Karamazov was influenced by one of my favorite writers, Lydia Davis.
In an essay of modest recommendations to writers, she advised reading outside your time, to read some canon’s “classics”, (at least a couple a year). After a few years of reading my own work on the radio, then the work of local writers, then contemporary novelists and short story writers I admire, I decided to focus on long, nineteenth-century novels that I still hadn’t read, or finished, The Brothers Karamazov among them.
The prospect of reading them in serial form, over a year or more, (and aloud) seemed true to the books and the time they were written, and, I thought, might give me a different sense of what it is to read and experience fiction. Maybe something like what it was to be read to as a child by my father, or later, to read to my own kids when they were children. I hope the experience is shared with at least a few listeners, who may be following the book from the beginning, or, perhaps even better, find the show randomly while “moving through the dial,” (if such a dial still has meaning in the digital era). But it’s hard to tell who if anyone is listening.
WORT is a relatively small, non-commercial community station. The station streams digitally, and the programs are archived for later listening, so theoretically the audience is unlimited, but I am still in my own kind of dark studio, alone at night when I read. In that way radio seems a perfect medium and analog to reading and writing, the literary act a radio of the mind.
With podcasts, audio books and numerous other platforms there may be little interest or need for this kind of “books on the air” radio anymore. I don’t promote the show, and offer only minimal commentary or context on air. I begin with theme music (perhaps inappropriately, a jaunty, sci-fi/western-style soundtrack by Angelo Lavagnino from a low-budget Italian SF movie of the ’70’s, Snow Devils), and go directly into the book, with a couple of short breaks where I bring up (or in radio-lingo, “pot up”) the music under my voice. That’s it.
After twenty years of doing this show, a year of The Brothers Karamazov (with perhaps another year to go), with a long queue of long nineteenth and early twentieth century novels jostling for next in line, (Wuthering Heights and Swann’s Way neck and neck), with decades of unread books waiting in stacks all around my house, with my own two novels, a novella, scores of short stories and a graphic narrative still looking for publishers and a public, and a lifetime of work stretching ahead of me but, at best, perhaps two or three decades of life left to do it, (emphasize that “at best”), I search for lessons, (and perhaps consolation) about time and art and the slow book, the slow life, the long game in the dark quiet aloneness of the radio at night, and now home all day, all night. This against our zombie interregnum between Trump and Biden, and the pandemic in exponentials outside, as other kinds of pause, and dark. Do you hear a book?
You can catch Fiction Jones on Friday, November 20 and Friday, November 27, at 11pm.