True confession: I somehow got subscribed to Audible for a whole year before questioning the money that was being deducted from my bank account. When I figured it out, I had eleven credits to use. I’m too cheap to just let them go, so I scanned the available titles, downloaded eleven books in a half hour and cancelled the subscription.
To wring value out of my lax bookkeeping, I had to create a new habit in order to listen to my library of audio books. Because not listening to them would be almost as wasteful as not downloading them.
Fortunately, a twenty-hour drive from Texas to Wisconsin was on the calendar. Thus, I found myself listening this past week to Malcolm Gadwell’s Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know.
Was it better than coronavirus coverage on National Public Radio? Infinitely. Was it better than listening to the same old songs on Sirius’ ’80s on 8? By far.
Those twenty hours didn’t exactly fly by (mostly because I’m too old to ignore the inevitable aches and pains that accumulate by sitting in one position for so long), but they did go quickly, and I learned a lot of useful facts along the way.
For example, do you think CIA spies must be very good at spotting liars? Well, they’re not.
Do you think suicide is the result of depression? Well, yes, but not only that.
Do you know why binge drinking is a major factor in campus rapes? You might have your suspicions, but Gadwell spells it out for you.
Then he ties all these conclusions about the challenges of talking to strangers in a professionally wrapped package that explains why encounters between white cops and black people have the potential for going terribly, terribly wrong.
Using sociological and psychological research, Gadwell challenges commonly held views all while telling a fascinating story. I already knew I liked his approach, having read his books The Tipping Point, Blink and David and Goliath. Even if you don’t agree with his conclusions, you’ll probably remember some of the research and facts he shares. His stories stick with you. (And I can’t emphasize too much: even if you don’t care about horrors brought to light by Black Lives Matters, you’ll understand the liars, alcoholics and suicide victims in your life a lot better.)
Hearing Gadwell make his points in his own voice elevates the experience even more. In the audiobook version of Talking to Strangers, you’ll also hear the voices of people he interviewed—scientists, criminologists, military psychologists. Court transcripts are brought to life with re-enactments. You actually hear the contentious arrest of Sandra Bland by the side of the road in Texas. As Gladwell revisits the deceptions of Bernie Madoff, the trial of Amanda Knox, and the suicide of Sylvia Plath, you hear directly from many of the players in these real-life tragedies. Plus, there’s a theme song! The audio book is so much more than any standard audio book.
If you have a curious mind and want to fill it with something other than noise, try Gadwell’s audio book. Whether you’re a stranger, or just strange enough to have a bunch of Audible credits to spend and a long drive ahead of you, you might agree with my suggestion.