Friday, March 15, 2013

Just Being Pooh is Grand

The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff
(1982) (This version, Tantor Media, 2012)
Format: Audible download (read by Simon Vance)

From Goodreads: "Winnie-the-Pooh has a certain Way about him, a way of doing things that has made him the world's most beloved bear. In The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff shows that Pooh's Way is amazingly consistent with the principles of living envisioned by the Chinese founders of Taoism. The author's explanation of Taoism through Pooh, and Pooh through Taoism, shows that this is not simply an ancient and remote philosophy but something you can use, here and now. And what is Taoism? It's really very simple. It calls for living without preconceived ideas about how life should be lived-but it's not a preconception of how life-it's.... Well, you'd do better to listen to this book, and listen to Pooh, if you really want to find out."

You guys! I found something Vance did that I don't love! Not the book, I'm fine with the book, but something about his narration. 

Okay, fine, that's not the sweetest way to begin this post, but as my regular readers know, I am devoted to Simon Vance's work as an audiobook narrator. Until yesterday, I would have said he could do no wrong, no matter how hard he tried. And this title was nominated in the Solo Narration - Male PLUS the Personal Development PLUS the Inspirational/Faith-Based Fiction categories for an Audie Award. I took it for granted that I'd be as impressed as always by Vance's narration. And for 98% of this book, I was. His pacing - his comic and tension timing - is notably brilliant. It's practically impossible not to listen to him tell you a tale, because he spins it out in such a way that you're hanging on all the words, no matter what those words are. Naval battles in Napoleonic times, the adventures of 007, Cromwellian intrigues, and the intersection of Chinese philosophy and stuffed bears - all are gripping. 

So what's the problem? What could possibly disconcert me? Well, you'll laugh at me, but it bothered me each and every time it was used. It was his Piglet voice. 

Pooh was slow and thoughtful and very-little-brained. Eeyore was gloomy. Rabbit was bossy and manic. Roo was enthusiastically adorable. But Piglet - sigh. Piglet was irritating. He was inconsistent - sometimes too close to the Pooh voice, sometimes chirpier, but not the squeaky, breathy voice Vance hit on once in a rare while for Piglet that worked best. Granted, if I didn't rely on his ability to suit voices to characters so consistently, this wouldn't have been so jarring, but I do, so it was. And I wasn't looking for Disney-informed versions of the 100 Acre Woods crew - Vance didn't go there for the others, and that was just fine with me. The whole book is under 3 hours, and while Piglet is in every chapter (probably), he doesn't speak up all that much. I wish that when he did, I'd been able to enjoy him.

Okay, that mountain of a molehill aside, this was a good production. There were a couple of moments between sections that I would have liked a half-second's pause, just to differentiate, but otherwise it was easy to follow and fun to hear.

Hoff's book has been out for 20 years, and I remember flipping through it once in a while, but I'd never gone front to back with it before. It's interesting, and cleverly assembled to make points about Taoism using the familiar tales of beloved Pooh Bear. Rescuing Roo from the river, finding the "North Pole," hunting heffalumps, and just being with Piglet and Christopher Robin all serve to illustrate the benefits of not over-thinking life, taking it as it comes, and trusting that solutions to problems will surface when needed. It was fun to imagine what Hoff would make of our digital age, given his screeds against mechanization and hyper-busyness in 1982, and interesting to look for ways to apply Taoism to my life. Of course, as with all things that tout the virtues of the simple innocents of the world (and we listened to Being There immediately after this just to reinforce this point), I am left wondering why proponents of these philosophies can't give me illustrations of people who are consciously choosing Taoism instead of embodying it by default. We all rightfully love Winnie-the-Pooh, and admire his ways of love and happiness, but get Rabbit to learn some Taoism. When I see him adopt it, I'll be more apt to see how to apply it to my own life.

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