A friend recommended the Dunedin Library’s Playaways to me.  Playaways are audio devices that come with the recording built in as hardware.  Presumably each of them has one book.  As I walk a lot between my bedsit in town and my workplace in the archives in the suburbs then borrowing these from the library would provide me with a diversion while I’m walking.

It is one of the curiosities of my life that at the moment when most people are walking into the central city to work and attend the university I’m walking against the flow for the same reason.  Then again at the end of the day we reverse the flow to walk home for the night.

I find listening to a book restricting.  It becomes more linear.  I don’t go back and check the detail of a passage a few pages back.  I stop when I reach my destination and resume it again when I start walking again rather than finding a natural break in the narrative.  Nevertheless I enjoyed the stimulus of listening to the flow of words and missed it the day I left it at home.  This raises the fear that I will lose the company of my own imagination.  Where is my own story-telling in my head?  It did not disadvantage my own safety when I was walking.  Other pedestrians surprised me more than the traffic did.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern was the first playaway I have tried, a romance about dueling wizards in a travelling circus.  The story was carefully dated so it took place in the nineteenth century, culminating on All Saints’ Evening 1902.  The story is written independently of historical events and personalities so it could have happened at anytime, no mention of imperialism, social change, or epidemics; no princes or presidents cross the stage.  The story is written from the perspective of ‘upstairs’.  There are no servants, no word from ‘downstairs’.  An impresario stages fabulous midnight feasts.  We are told no word about the catering, or their opinions of their service.  In the end he dismisses all his servants except his kitchen staff.  Not a happy ending for them perhaps?

Likewise the circus travels by train from each location.  At one point we are told the tents pitch themselves ‘by magic’.  The circus performers never notice that the original workers are gone.  Presumably their contracts had ended.  The circus travels between continents, Europe, America, Australia and China are mentioned.  It is not mentioned if the train crosses oceans.  It would be nice to know if this is done by magic.  The detail is not raised.  One character is a fortune teller from Barcelona.  I could not tell from the story whether she was Catalan, Spanish or migrant.

The epilogue makes it clear that the circus continues.  It would be interesting to know if it continued to remain self-contained through the ugly ages of the last century.  It would be nice to think that its magic aided people to escape the darkest hours.  Perhaps this story is not big enough for me.  The battles between good and evil still take place in our world.

Tomorrow I shall be walking inside my own head.  Until I find another Playaway to which I want to listen.  I wonder if the library has a non-fiction selection?