Tag Archives: State Services for the Blind

Reading II

It is textbook season again at State Services for the Blind. Today, I got to finish the college history text, Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves & the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia, by Woody Holton. I got the last chapter and a half, and the Epilogue. Reading history silently tends to make me sleepy, but reading a good text out loud is, weirdly, one of my favorite things. I learn so much! Also I love reading about things from the Revolutionary War that have value today: for instance, be wary of fighting a war on unfamiliar terrain against a foe defending their homeland, and watch out for those grassroots movements during a recession. This was a very good book. Holton gives us a  bit of a cynical take on our founding fathers and how things shook down back in the pre-Revolutionary day, which was just what I was in the mood for. Except for the footnotes, which were a pain in the breeches, I enjoyed reading it for three and a half hours today. I had to make a lot of corrections to my work, because I found in this text, as in many academic works, the author will zig when I was expecting a zag, tripping me up. I’ll be reading along and then a sentence or two later there I will be in my little recording booth, saying out loud, “Oh. Ohhhh! That’s what you meant.” Erase. Re-record. There are a lot of ways to err, as a reader. You can mispronounce a word, stumble or stutter within a word, change the meaning with intonation, leave too long a pause as you try to figure out if the footnote is explanatory or a citation, determining whether it needs to be read…and the list goes on. Even when I am (totally not sarcastically) having a ball reading, I’ll hit a sentence now and then that will get me swearing and threatening physical harm to the author because although lovely, it was not written with audiotext in mind. For instance, consider the following footnote from page 203:

“Lee, in fact, lost two elections in April 1776. After his defeat in Richmond County, his supporters ran him in neighboring Lancaster, where he lost again. The April 1776 voting was something of an electoral massacre for the Carter family. In addition to Rober Wormely Carter and his cousin Carter Braxton, both of whom actively opposed Independence, two other Carters–Charles of Corotoman and Charles of Ludlow were also defeated. The Carters were among the wealthiest families in Virginia, and their unprecedented repudiation at the polls seemed to reflect the ascendancy of antielitism.” (emphasis mine)

That particular finishing sentence caught me on tape in the middle saying, “You have GOT to be kidding.” Erase. Re-record. There were several easier sentences that gave me even MORE trouble, because once I screw something up, I find chances are at least 50% of the time I will screw it up multiple times in the same or different ways. Holton made it all up to me with this next little passage from page 219:

“Between 1782 and 1806, Virginia allowed slaveowners to emancipate their slaves without legislative approval, and some did so. Between 1790 and 1810, the state’s free black population more than doubled, largely as a result of emancipation. George Washington provided in his will that his slaves be freed upon the death of his widow (after he died, Martha Washington, prudently deciding not to make the slaves’ freedom contingent upon her death, freed them immediately).”

So here, I am picturing the reading of the will, and a house slave in the corner thinking, “Upon her death, huh?” and Martha thinking, “That’s terrific, George. Thank you so much…” and out loud saying, “No worries, folks! Freedom for everyone! No waiting!” I had to re-record that one because I got the giggles. Makes you wonder how often Martha had to help George out with practical thinking during the presidency. We’ll never know.

So while it isn’t parasailing, or a night at the comedy club, this volunteer gig has its moments. Besides, where else would I get to use words like “sobriquet” AND hang out with the nicest state employees in Minnesota?

Related Post: Reading, or How This All Started.


One of my favorite things about raising kids was getting to read to them, even when we were reading the same book over and over again. When boy number one was only a couple of years old, he would come to me with his current favorite story, for example the Little Golden Book, My First Counting Book and when I finished, he would take it from me, climb down from the chair and go over to his dad on the couch to have it read again. Then, back to me  and so on. Other huge favorites included The Big Red Barn, and The Large and Growly Bear. Kid number two loved dinosaurs and animals beyond all reason and so the two of us hit the nonfiction hard for years. I do GREAT Sesame Street voices–I rocked both The Monster At the End of this Book as Grover, and Cookie Monster’s Book of Shapes as the title character. Reading separately at bedtime was a ritual the boys and I enjoyed until we started finding books they both liked and reading those together. “Mom, can you come up for stories?” was a plaintive call I heard nightly after all the teeth were brushed. Some nights I almost couldn’t bear it, I was so wiped out, but I never regretted dragging my butt upstairs. Remembering their bright little faces as we climbed onto my bed to read Lloyd Alexander books, or Varjak Paw, or King Arthur legends twangs my crusty old ‘Parent of Teen Boys’ heartstrings like you wouldn’t believe. One day, when my mother-in-law happened to be visiting, she heard me read a couple of chapters of Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis to them . When the reading was done, she looked at me with surprise and said, “You did that really well!” She was not a woman given to compliments, so it was kind of a huge moment.

But kids grow up. They broke it to me gently: “It’s okay if we don’t read tonight, Mom,” and “We’re kind of done with that.” It took a long time to find another outlet. I had often thought it would be awesome to do voiceover work with the ultimate ambition of recording audiobooks, so I made a demo tape last summer and sent it to some talent agencies, who either didn’t get back to me or were so flush with talent they were uninterested. Dead end. After listening to me bemoan that state of affairs, my friend Kelly, writer and radio personality extraordinaire (see her at Hot off the Wire and So Then SHE Said,) suggested I check out State Services for the Blind [SSB]. I did. They train volunteers to record leisure and text books for people with print disabilities, including vision impairment, learning disabilities and a horrifying thing I’d never heard of: paper allergies. It was the start of a new kind of reading for a new audience. I had to audition, and then I had to be trained and let me tell you, these SSB people are TOUGH. Now I dedicate 3-4 hours once a week (plus commute) to try to bring the written word alive for people who cannot just flip open a book and dive right into education or escape. I don’t always love what I am assigned; I don’t get to pick my own material, but I know that someone out there requested each book specifically and so I always do my best. It is both a noble calling and a way for me to do something I enjoy. It might be something you enjoy as well. If you think it might be, I encourage you to look into your options, perhaps through your local library.