I like books on CD. A librarian friend of mine told me recently that she had managed to make it through James Joyce’s Ulysses with some cliff note and a book on CD while she read along. That struck me as a brilliant solution to reading a book I have tried to read many times over the past three decades. She is now applying the same technique to Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. I consider this a less laudable endeavor. I don’t doubt Proust’s brilliance (although I’ve always found him, in translation, rather boring). After reading the whole thing, one needn’t go searching for the lost time. It was lost in trudging through the seven large volumes—Over four thousand pages!—of getting to the end of the novel where you learn that Proust has figured out the secret that he’s been writing about and will now go and write what you just read. It’s a circular ending every bit as fulfilling as that in Finnegans Wake. (You understand that I was being sarcastic, right?)
I find books on CD useful for when I’m driving or walking. And this normally requires that I rip the CDs onto my computer in the form of MP3s. And in doing this, I’ve noticed something very interesting: they aren’t consistent. I don’t mean from title to title. I mean that a single title will not be consistent with itself. Take for example, Elaine Pagels’ book, Gnostic Gospels. It comes on six CDs. But they can’t even be bothered to name the discs the same. The second disc is named, “Gnostic Gospels Disc 2.” This pattern is used for discs 3 through 6. But the first disc is named simply, “Gnostic Gospels.” I’m a being petty? Maybe. But it gets worse.
The first disc numbers the files from 01 through 16. Very simple and easy to understand, even if not helpful in finding your place if you don’t listen straight through. The second disc does the same thing. What’s more, it adds more information to let you know that the files are actually 17 through 32. Very helpful. The third disc is the same: 33 through 48. But the fourth disc provides a rather different format. Still you get the same information but in a much more flamboyant form. The first track is labeled, “The Gnostic Gospels Disc 4 Track 49.” The fifth disc is back to the old way, just numbering the tracks from 65 through 80. But then the sixth disc labels the tracks from 001 to 017. It makes little sense, but it makes more sense than many.
Terry Pratchett’s Making Money has the very same disc labeling problem. This seems to be standard. I don’t know why. It drives my mathematically inclined mind crazy. And the tracks are similarly bizarre. For the first two discs we get a very nice system of labeling discs and tracks. So the fourth track on the second disc is labeled “02-04.” But then the third disc has tracks labeled, “Track 1” and so on. So we lose useful information (the disc number) and gain useless information (the fact that a track is a track). This new system is continued on the fourth disc, but we get something entirely new for the fifth! This disc isn’t even consistent within itself. The first six tracks are labeled, “Macking Money track X disc 5.” That wasn’t a typo on my part; it really says “Macking” and not “Making.” But this problem is fixed for the last two tracks that are simply labeled, “Track X.” The next three discs go back to the same format as the first two. And the last disc is the same as the third disc.
I started looking at this because I recently got Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. This one is really great, because the first disc does not go in the Mary Shelley folder. Instead, it goes in the Patrick Doyle folder. For those of you who don’t know, Patrick Doyle is a film composer who the music of Gosford Park and Brave. It took me quite a while to find the MP3s after they were ripped. But once I figured that out, they were logically put in the folder named Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Inside the tracks were descriptive, which is fine. The rest of the discs went into the Mary Shelley folder, so that’s something. But it’s also about all.
The second and third discs were named “Frank X.” That’s fine. I have no problem with brevity. And their tracks were the standard disc and track numbers. That’s fine, but it’s totally inconsistent with the first disc. The rest of the discs were named “Frankenstein Disc X.” Another inconsistency. The fourth and fifth discs give simply the chapters they are part of but with no subdividing. Then the six disc gives us something new and inconsistent. The first nine tracks are labeled, “Frank 06-0X.” So it’s kind of like the second and third discs but with “Frank” put at the beginning. But on the tenth track, it goes back to listing the chapter. The rest of the discs continue the chapter format.
There is a slight change on the last disc, but it actually makes sense. Frankenstein is a frame story. It starts with a series of letters and ends with a series of letters. So it names each of these tracks with “Final Letters” and then the dates of the letters. It’s actually rather shocking to see something done correctly. Of course, the letters are the beginning were not done the same way.
What I figure is going on here is that the publishers of books on CD do not expect that people will put them on their computers. In fact, they probably fear this and think that people will steal them, even though they really are pretty useless to keep around after you’ve listened to them. So my bet is that they don’t put out what each track should be called. And so it gets crowd sourced on the internet. And like most most things done in this way, it is done badly. And that’s how we get things like “Macking Money.”
I was going to finish this article with, “God save us from the cult of the amateur.” But that’s not how I feel. There are a lot of amateurs who do excellent work—better than professionals. But work like entering track names is the kind of boring work that no one takes great pride in. It is the sort of thing that someone should be paid to do so they make sure it is done correctly. We would have a great society if only the really tedious work was paid. And that way, we could all divide it up and only have to work five hours a week.