Eavesdropping: A Life by Ear

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Overview

A memoir of blindness and listening rendered with a poet's delight by the author of the acclaimed Planet of the Blind.
Blind people are not casual listeners. Blind since birth, Stephen Kuusisto recounts with a poet's sense of detail the surprise that comes when we are actively listening to our surroundings. There is an art to eavesdropping. Like Annie Dillard's An American Childhood or Dorothy Allison's One or Two Things I Know for Sure, Kuusisto's memoir highlights periods of ...

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Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening

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Overview

A memoir of blindness and listening rendered with a poet's delight by the author of the acclaimed Planet of the Blind.
Blind people are not casual listeners. Blind since birth, Stephen Kuusisto recounts with a poet's sense of detail the surprise that comes when we are actively listening to our surroundings. There is an art to eavesdropping. Like Annie Dillard's An American Childhood or Dorothy Allison's One or Two Things I Know for Sure, Kuusisto's memoir highlights periods of childhood when a writer first becomes aware of his curiosity and imagination. As a boy he listened to Caruso records in his grandmother's attic and spent hours in the New Hampshire woods learning the calls of birds. As a grown man the writer visits cities around the world in order to discover the art of sightseeing by ear. Whether the reader is interested in disability, American poetry, music, travel, or the art of eavesdropping, he or she will find much to hear and even "see" in this unique celebration of a hearing life.

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Editorial Reviews

Rachel Cohen
Kuusisto delights in the sparkle of surprises. He and Corky walk into a glass shop in Venice. " 'Listen,' a woman said. I heard the hum of breath moving over glass—she was playing a glass flute! Wind and sunlight pressed through dark leaves. I was sweetly transfixed. This was a shy, unasked-for gift." Eavesdropping has a similar generosity.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Most of us see the layers of space, but Kuusisto, who has been legally blind since birth, hears them. In these vivid essays, the poet (Only Bread, Only Light) and memoirist (Planet of the Blind) indulges and investigates the active listening he deploys to navigate the world around him. He is a keen observer. A crowd is not a crowd to him; instead it is a series of sound points, indicating space, pace, rhythm and mood. The wind is just as complex, as it "carries fragments of noise from far places like an absentminded uncle who doesn't remember what's in his old suitcase." Music is a constant companion, starting with trees tapping on windows, birds calling and his discovery of a Victrola in his grandmother's dusty attic. At times, he lists sounds to guide the reader through his interpretation of a scene, as when he comes upon "four hundred drunken men pushing and cursing" in an airport in Tallinn, Estonia, their boots making the "metaphysical noise called `the edge of night.' " Through all these sounds and their meaning to him, Kuusisto reveals the nuance of the heard world, transporting the reader as he maps the aural landscape. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In two well-received previous works, the memoir Planet of the Blind and the poetry volume Only Bread, Only Light, Kuusisto (disability studies, Ohio State Univ., Columbus) has explored his life as a blind man in a sighted world. Neither an in-depth insightful prose memoir nor traditional poetry, his latest work is a collection of what Kuusisto terms "auditory postcards," or "tone poems." Eavesdropping is a series of essays about living and traveling by ear. It is divided into two parts, the first section covering Kuusisto's childhood and formative influences, such as classical music and birdsong, and the second section covering adult travel. Kuusisto's word pictures create layered landscapes while using visual imagery, and he occasionally describes what he literally sees, the colors of shifting light. Readers interested in Kuusisto's experiences, sensory and otherwise (e.g., visiting Iceland to hear the Buena Vista Social Club), and with the reality and meaning he constructs from them, will be entranced. Those looking for a more connected, linear narrative will be better served reading his earlier memoir. A recommended purchase for academic and larger public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/06.] Audrey Snowden, Cleveland P.L. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393058925
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/5/2006
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Kuusisto is the author of Only Bread, Only Light (poems) and Planet of the Blind. He is professor of English and disability studies at Ohio State University and lives in Columbus, Ohio.

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