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Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening Hardcover – September 17, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From 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.)
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From Booklist

Kuusisto stunned readers with his unique first memoir, Planet of the Blind (1998), and now, following a poetry collection, Only Bread, Only Light (2000), he continues his inquiry into the consequences of blindness in scintillating linked essays that chronicle his learning to live life by ear. Kuusisto reveals more of his disturbing childhood, during which his brooding grandmother became his first "guru of listening." The future writer spends hours alone enthralled by birdsong, rain, the radio, and vintage recordings of Caruso. As Kuusisto recounts further seminal moments and improbable adventures, he presents exquisitely rendered soundscapes that capture aspects of the world most of us barely register, from the storm of traffic to the cacophony of our myriad machines to the songs of trees. As he goes "sight-seeing by ear" in places as diverse as Iceland and Venice, and celebrates the music and literature that sustain him, Kuusisto foregrounds the aural realm and evinces great tenacity and trust in his candid tales of life as an acute and contemplative listener in a loud and hectic world. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (September 17, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393058921
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393058925
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #474,018 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on January 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
If you're looking for a sequel to the author's famous 1998 memoir PLANET OF THE BLIND, this isn't it, no matter how they try to market it as such, and indeed called it a "memoir" in its subtitle is pretty misleading according to the Fair Packaging Act. PLANET OF THE BLIND has everything, an intense, nearly unbelievable story of growing up nearly blind and yet trying to pretend to be sighted, and underneath it all it was a story of being mainstreamed and constantly told that everything would be all right and that if you only tried harder you'd be just like any other boy. The journey was all in discovering that no, what society was telling you was just not true and that you needed help all your life. Help you never got. Lessons in braille and a guide dog more like.

Eventually young Kuusisto began living a productive life, freed from his twin demons of obesity and anorexia, and became recognized internationally as a master of disability studies and as a poet. As a poet, he's not one of my favorites, but he's certainly well known in the field and has the respect of many. The present book is sort of a gallimaufry, a compilation of different essays about all different things, and it would be an understatement to say it lacks the focus of PLANET OF THE BLIND. In fact it doesn't have much narrative drive at all. Mostly we hear about different trips Steve has taken, to different places all over the world, and also we hear about his experiences listening to music. You'd think that after all the discussion of compensation in POTB, that being blind might make a person more sensitive to music, but EAVESDROPPING proves that this is not necessarily the case.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Sue Zivi on September 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Eavesdropping" invited me to enter the sacred labyrinth of the inner and outer ear. Through a series of searingly honest self-reflective essays that read like tone poems, I found myself led on a deep listening journey to a center where blindness sparks illumination. In one of my favorite tales, "The Twa Corbies," the author says that "according to Aaron Copeland, informed music listeners listen on three planes." The power and beauty of this book is that it achingly and joyfully evokes multi-level

listening through life's soundscapes.

"The first level is sensual." Kuusisto introduced me to Caruso's soaring arias on an ancient victrola; the inhalations of Finnish speech and the exhalations of baseball enthusiasts filling the gaps between field action; gaggling crows; the pathos of Bach and the angst of Heiskanen,an old Finnish singer, self-exiled to Sweden. The author's gift for Haiku-like lyrical descriptions surprised my eardrums into listening in delightful expanded ways to sounds for the outer ear.

The second plane is expressive,"giving meaning behind the composer's score." Underneath the author's sensual eavesdropping is: the loneliness in grandmother's attic while high C's sing; the lostness that comes with exploring crow's chaotic cawing; the family dysfunction of all night footsteps in the kitchen; friendship that companions Cuban music in counterpoint to the hiss of volcanic steam fissures in Iceland; and the love that allows independent listening and shared visions with his wife in Venice. I found that this voyage on interior ear currents of honest self-listening and sharing opened passageways to deep eavesdropping.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Carlene Mayson on November 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Who needs eyes when they have ears and a mind like Stephen's? This memoir is a remarkable audio tour through exotic locales that is surprisingly vibrant and "feels like being there." He writes that the hard part of sound-seeing is that the listener is mostly dependent upon spontaneous events and action - a conversation, a flock of birds taking flight, a bell tolling - while the sight-seer can look at static sights and let the mind wander. Woven beautifully throughout are Stephen's memories of music and literature that keeps his mind occupied with what most of the rest of us fill with visual stimulation. While not a journey-type memoir in the traditional sense, Eavesdropping is full of wit and wisdom, a compelling read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Barbara Levinson on May 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Kuusisto writes his life like a painting. He is blind and yet his descriptive writing sees more than most sighted people. He brings us to the point of wonder at his ability to"see." His descriptive hearing elevates the reader to the level of music and poetic irony. I can't wait to read more.
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