For New Yorkers, walking is a way a life: a way to weave in and out of the fabric of an endlessly unfolding urban narrative. And as biographer and chronicler of Hollywood’s Golden Age Sydney Ladensohn Stern discovered, it’s also a marvelous time to listen. Sydney is the author of The Brothers Mankiewicz, the full story behind the recent Netflix film Mank. Read on to discover how she went from a reluctant listener to a full-on audio fan. Plus, get her audiobook recommendations and listen to a clip of The Brothers Mankiewicz to bring new glamour to your own walking adventures.
Walks to Remember: Listening to Audiobooks in NYCÂ
By Sydney Ladensohn Stern
Audiobooks were the pandemicâ€™s gift to me. My husband, who listens constantly, has urged me for years to try them, but I always had a reason why not. I love the feel of a book in my hands. Iâ€™m a visual learner. I read quickly and want the option of skimming the parts that donâ€™t interest me. When I walk, I like to take in the surrounding sights and sounds. When I drive, I donâ€™t want the distraction.
Then Covid 19 changed everything. Like many New Yorkers, I walk whenever possible and find street life endlessly fascinating. When everything closed, I started walking a couple of hours a day to compensate for exercise classes. I regarded it as an opportunity to explore new neighborhoods and other boroughs, but after only a few days I realized that staying off public transportation meant I could only venture half the total distance I was willing to walk. Soon my repertoire of routes became so repetitious I found myself checking my watch to see if I could go home yet.
That was when I decided to stop being a purist and allow myself some audio entertainment. After The Brothers Mankiewicz, my dual biography of Herman and Joseph L. Mankiewicz, was published, I had been interviewed on a number of podcasts, so I felt duty bound to start by listening to them. Once I had finished listening to myself, I felt free to start on stories I hadnâ€™t already heard.
Dear Reader, I am a convert. I love listening. I was completely unprepared for the intensity of the experience. Nor had I anticipated how strongly associations would attach themselves to the stories as I listened. Just as a song or a taste or a smell (a madeleine!) can transport us to other places, other times, I was startled to notice how regularly listening to stories created sense memories.
Now I find gazing at the Hudson River reminds me of the anguished love story in Whatâ€™s Left of Me is Yours. Walking on a certain street reminds me of the time I walked home in the dark, listening to an American Dirt passage where the mother and son on the run in Mexico huddle overnight in a strangerâ€™s garden shed. My eeriest experience had to be listening to a startlingly familiar account of a post-pandemic world as I walked alone on quiet streets ordinarily full of life â€“ and Station Eleven was published in 2014.
Then there was Hamnet. I still had a couple of hours left on the day it was due at the library, so I took it on errands, planning to stay out until I finished. I lost service just as I joined a line outside a food store, and when I couldnâ€™t retrieve it, decided to wait until I finished shopping. Afterward I stood outside fiddling, until it dawned on me that the problem was not my phone. The library had taken it back. It was only 2:30 in the afternoon; it had never occurred to me that I wouldnâ€™t have Hamnet until midnight. I went straight home, checked out the e-book and started reading. Then I stopped. I was skimming, not absorbing every word as I had been with the audiobook. I had luxuriated in Maggie Oâ€™Farrellâ€™s richly descriptive prose, and I owed it to myself to finish it that way. So back I went into the audiobook queue and waited until I could listen to the rest. It was worth it.
Obsessed with Hollywood’s Golden Age? Watching Mank on Netflix? Listen to the full story on audio of The Brothers Mankiewicz. Herman J. and Joseph L. Mankiewicz wrote, produced, and directed over 150 pictures. With Orson Welles, Herman wrote the screenplay for Citizen Kane; Joe earned the second pair of his four Oscars for writing and directing All About Eve. For this first dual portrait of the Mankiewicz brothers, Sydney Ladensohn Stern draws on interviews, letters, diaries, and other documents still in private hands to provide a uniquely intimate behind-the-scenes chronicle of the lives, loves, work, and relationship between these complex men.
Sydney Ladensohn Stern is a writer living in New York. The Brothers Mankiewicz: Hope, Heartbreak, and Hollywood Classics was her first Hollywood biography but she hopes it will not be her last. For more about Sydney, visit her website, sydneylstern.com or follow her on Twitter @sydney_stern.