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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Fife

The Trick About Narrating Books with Political Undertones

I grew up in a conservative Republican home. On my way to early morning high school classes more than 20 years ago now, I was subjected to Rush Limbaugh daily. He seemed old and opinionated to me then. It kind of blows my mind he's still at it. His take on America never quite jived with me. Sometime around my senior year of high school, because of my love of classical music, I discovered NPR. When I drove myself anywhere, that was what played in my car (or classic rock when they wouldn't play anything but Mozart or Haydn symphonies & chamber music - Give me passion in music or give me death).

The fresh perspectives, to me, of NPR at the time were incredibly liberating. I never considered myself a Democrat, but seeing my step dad's daily yelling at the 5:00 news because of his firmly entrenched party line politics, I knew I would never call myself a republican either. I've leaned a little one way or the other, but truthfully, since I was a teenager I've identified as independent & have become a lot moreso since. I feel like when I encounter a newsbite from whatever source, I'm able to look at it fairly objectively. I tend to think NPR does about the best job of this, but there have been times when I've turned off the radio because of how incredibly biased an interviewer or story was. Or I listened to it in order to understand where someone else was coming from who had a much different viewpoint than my own.

So what does this have to do with audiobook narration?

Well, I love to narrate sci-fi, fantasy and the like, but I also love to do some inspirational stuff & some non-fiction. The problem with narrating anything that I haven't written myself, is that I have no control over the content that the author wrote, but someone may think I have the same feelings as the author about everything. After all, I'm the one who brings a voice to those ideas. I try to steer clear of things that would be "rated-R" or are outright falsehoods. I'm not going to narrate a holocaust revisionism book by any means. I try to steer clear of extreme propaganda on any end of the spectrum.

I don't really worry too much that people will buy into that idea whole heartedly (that I share the views in all books I narrate), but in several of the books I've done, and I'm sure in several to come, there are at least a couple of ideas that kind of rub me the wrong way. Sometimes there has been a word I haven't been happy was included in the book, but I've got to read it anyway. Sometimes there are descriptions of violence, be it fiction or non-fiction, that are disturbing. Some things that I read may be highly biased in one way or another, and I might feel strongly against some of the ideas.

But that's part of why I read in the first place. To Expand my understanding of the world, of myself, and of what it means to be human. Reading, and narrating in particular, are very personal experiences. You're sharing the inmost parts of your brain with someone else essentially. When I read about how someone else views the world, however skewed it may seem to me, I learn about myself as well. What distorted lenses am I applying to my own experiences? Are the beliefs I hold just there because that's the way I was raised combined with the experiences I have had? Can I really judge the biases of other people when I undoubtedly hold some of my own?

I'm writing this because I have a book that will be going live on Audible in the coming weeks that, frankly, I thought it was incredibly biased to viewing history in one way, and applying the label of "socialism" to an enormous swath of programs that are, for better or worse, entrenched in our society today. The book is Preserve Protect, & Defend by Cameron C. Taylor. I seriously considered using a different name for the narration because it rubbed me the wrong way so much. I'm not wild about labels & the way they tend to divide us into different camps. But this is the 4th book I've narrated for Cameron, and I've enjoyed working with him. I enjoy that his Way of Aloha series is so principally based, and his Eight Attributes series is incredibly inspirational. This book, I suppose is also very principally based; I guess I just don't necessarily agree with the political principles espoused 100%. I knew this would probably be pretty darned conservative, but at the same time, I probably still tend to lean on the conservative end of Libertarianism.

I certainly don't want to dissuade anyone from listening to this book when it's available. I just want to be authentic to myself & to you (I learned how important that can be from Main Street by Sinclair Lewis). The premise of the book is essentially A Political Christmas Carol of sorts. The Vice President of the United States after an assassination attempt on his life is in a coma & visited by the ghosts of US Politicians Past - Primarily long past. I do agree that our politics today are extreme pageantry at best. I also agree that there are undoubtedly people in power for power's sake, and there are quite probably machinations to keep the people & organizations in power right where they are & continue to consolidate that power, at the cost of our personal liberties. Like one reviewer who panned the book on amazon, I'm not so sure that if George Washington were to appear to someone, his primary concern would be Socialism. Or at least he wouldn't come out & say it just like that. The "founding fathers" fled a society that bears some resemblance to what are sometimes identified as "socialist" ideas - Monarchy's ultimately were in charge of everything & you go back to feudalist times & it was essentially a cradle to the grave welfare state for the lower class. (I know I'm simplifying extremely here, but this is just kind of where I've gone with it in my own mind). I feel like the constitution is a brilliant document that was an enormous compromise of some of the most brilliant men who lived in the 18th century. But I've also listened to both the Federalist and Anti-federalist papers. Politics then were almost as vitriolic then as they are now. But they still came together and managed to unite a nation. The compromises are apparent throughout the document though. 3/5ths of a person comes to mind if nothing else. And the Anti-federalists, while some of their concerns remind me of alarmists of today, others you can see playing out in real time, fulfilled exactly how they warned. There are some elements in this book that I do agree with.

So again - what does this have to do with narration? I tried in my performance to be as authentic as I could to the character of the book & the tone Cameron wanted. I may not agree with it 100%. But I also will read things like Perestroika by Gorbachev, or the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx to expand my mind. To truly understand where any ideas are coming from. When I narrate The Fringe Candidate, there may be some people may be convinced by my performance that I'm a socialist for all I know. If you follow my book reviews, I listen to & read a diverse array of material & will continue to expand on it. Everything I read adds a little nuance to my personal view of the world, of myself, of humanity. If you have strong republican feelings, try reading something written by a true blue Democrat. If you consider yourself a socialist, read something written by a capitalist and vice versa.

In the next couple of months, I'll have narrated 3 books with some decidedly controversial material - Preserve Protect & Defend by Cameron C. Taylor - a decidedly "right wing" book & view of things, Walls of Glass by J.W. Elliot - Not political, but certainly a racially charged book designed to help each of us look at our own prejudices, and finally The Fringe Candidate, by Bradford Swift - a book inspired by one particular "fringe candidate" who's name is in the ring for the democratic nomination for president in 2020 - So, probably some pretty left leaning ideas, that some I might agree with, but I also don't doubt that some will rub me the wrong way.

What's my favorite to do? Definitely Walls of Glass. Having read it already, I can tell you it doesn't rub me the wrong way at all. But... It DOES challenge me to wonder why anything does rub me the wrong way. And THAT is why I will narrate both Preserve, Protect & Defend as well as The Fringe Candidate under my name instead of a different name (which I've used twice - I do draw the line on some things. If you're all that curious, message me & I'll explain to you why). I want you to listen to them both. I want you to come to your own decisions about your own views. I want you to consider your personal liberties and how your personal choices affect you, your family, your community, your nation, and the generations to come.

When I listened to Make A List by Marilyn McIntyre recently, I was struck with one idea she presented that I've glommed onto like nothing else. She pointed out how whenever election time comes, someone in the guise of being "open minded" always says, "There's two sides to every question." She points out what a fallacy that statement is. ANY problem, ANY Decision, ANYTHING can be looked at not from just 2 ways, but at least 360 (As in degrees in a circle). I expounded on that

because of Star Trek II's Kahn being guilty of 2 dimensional thinking... If you take 360 degrees of looking at anything and move it into 3 dimensions, there are 46,656,000 Different degrees in a sphere alone that you can view any point differently. Imagine if we had 46 million candidates running for president. We might actually have someone worth electing in the batch!

How many viewpoints have you tried on? No one can ever see every "side" to the story. But don't you at least owe it to yourself to try and understand where other people are coming from?

I'll continue to narrate all kinds of different books. Some match my feelings precisely. (Tempest-Tost by Robert Dodge & Walls of Glass by J.W. Elliot) Some not so much. Others that I've narrated have brought some surprising philosophy where I might not have expected it. (Father of the Bride of Frankenstein by Dan Kimmel and First of Their Kind by C.D. Tavenor). And the ones that match my feelings might rub you the wrong way. That's ok. Try on a new idea, if it doesn't fit, at least you know where someone else is coming from.

What books have surprised you & expanded your mind in new ways? What books helped you understand a viewpoint incredibly different from your own & why? I'd love to hear from you & add to my to-be-read list.

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