Voyeuristic Reading, or Creating Compassion

Toward the end of 2022, I found myself on a long car ride by myself. Road-trips aren’t new in my family, but this was the first time in a very long time that I’d done one solo. There was no one to ask me to stop for drinks or restroom breaks. No one else commandeered the radio or told me to drive faster or slower or better.

But also, there was no one to talk to.

After catching up with all my friends and family that I literally never, ever call on the phone, I remembered something wonderful: audiobooks!

I hadn’t really planned ahead for the no-internet-reception of the rural South, so the only audiobook that I had already downloaded and could play wirelessly was Greenlights, read by the author Matthew McConaughey. So, wanting something like company, I hit play on the book, and for the next few hours, I listened to his familiar Texas drawl while he read to me the story of his life. And, honestly, I fell in love. Not with him, or his movies or life, though all of that was fascinating. (You can read my review here, along with finding many other reviews from books mentioned below).

What I fell in love with was the autobiographic nature of the storytelling. I loved the way in which a memoir spoken by the very person who actually lived it could be both fascinating and relatable. That heartbreak told by the broken one, no matter how famous or rich, for the first time made someone so remote, so distant from my life, so other, feel so… known. Or, maybe he simply seemed knowable? 

In any event, that road trip opened a door for me, and I haven’t been able to close it. Since then, I’ve listened to Jeanette McCurdy’s I’m glad my mother is dead, Geena Davis’s Dying of Politeness, Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, Viola Davis’s Finding Me, Lake Bell’s Inside Voices, Mathew Perry’s Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, Selma Blair’s Mean Baby, and Sarah Polley’s Run Toward the Danger among others. I’ve also sprinkled in shorter autobiographical essays by Mindy Kahling, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Phoebe Robinson. 

Besides the audiobooks, I’ve also read a few in print editions and read some on my Kindle even more recently. But, I keep finding that I want to go back and hear those read aloud to me, like Tyler Merrit’s I Take My Coffee Black, Michelle Obama’s The Light We Carry and Brandon Kyle Goodman’s You Gotta Be You. I’m convinced their voices will change my experience of the stories they tell. 

That list is a lot, I know. When I dive into something, I go deep. But, I think the thing that I’ve been loving is that in these stories, no matter how much fame or fortune these folks have achieved, no matter how successful or fabulous the life might seem of the authors (or even how gut-wrenching their stories are), I have found seeds of compassion growing in me while reading. 

Dax Shephard once said during an interview on his Armchair Experts podcast that he could fall in love with anyone if they were alone together on a deserted island. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but I definitely feel like I’m understanding better how it’s hard not to love someone when you know their story. Understanding brings connection which fosters connection… or maybe that sequence is reversed?

However it all works, as a reader, and especially as a writer, that’s been a  profound lesson. I have a lot more to learn about being human.One more reason my #tbr will never be empty.

So, that reminds me: who should I read next?

In love and laughter,

Michelle

1 Comments

  1. Tiffany on April 28, 2023 at 2:58 pm

    I love this so much. You have such a beautiful perspective on things. I’ve always said memoirs are my first bookish love, though I haven’t read many celebrity memoirs. One memoir that will stay with me forever is A River in Darkness by Masaji Ishikawa. I think about it at least once a day and I read it years ago.

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