Opening Doors Beyond the Binary

In Our Time

The 57 Bus

In my work with library staff working to improve their reference interviewing skills, I regularly need to provide coaching to those who persistently (and inadvertently) shut down clients by offering them either/or options instead of open-ended questions. This binary view of possibilities is endemic in our culture as well: The person before us can identify themselves as this or that, black or white, straight or gay, right or wrong. In fact, identities match spectra, rather than simply opposite points, and allowing ourselves the opportunity to become aware of realities that go beyond what we already imagine as likely, or even possible, enlarges our own world as well as admitting more variety into it.

The 57 BusAn increasing number of authors address this concern, and many of these books are coming to audio format with successful performances. To be successful in this regard, narrators must be sensitive to the fact that humanity is much broader than a binary, and win listeners to greater possibilities through careful interpretation in their performances.

Among recent audiobooks that demonstrate such wider realities, Robin Miles’s reading of journalist Dashka Slater’s THE 57 BUS: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their Lives is a fine example. There are surface-level elements in this account that clearly spotlight neither/nor, such as the crime victim’s identity as genderqueer. There are more subtle aspects, too, including the true reason behind the perpetrator becoming presumptively identified with a hate crime when, in fact, hate did not inform his motivation. Miles, for her part, does not add a fictional layer to Slater’s carefully balanced reporting by presuming character voices. Instead, she allows each and all sides to be heard unweighted, leaving the listener to consider all the mitigating points along the spectrum of gender identity, class, and racial histories. Read more…

Francisca Goldsmith
Francisca Goldsmith has worked with teens, collections, and administering branch services in public, school, and academic libraries in the U.S. and Canada. Connecting communities to information and supporting new Americans in learning both language and culture are her passions. To those ends, she’s worked with audiobooks and listeners for the past 20 years.