Saturday, November 04, 2006

Are audiobooks the same as reading?

Ann Althouse asks the question, "Are you tiresome enough to say that listening to audiobooks is not reading?"

I will admit that I am. Audiobooks are as useful as actual reading, but reading is one of those things in which there is an eye-mind-spirit interface, just as studying any other of the visual arts must be. Listening to audiobooks is certainly closely linked to reading... it's a method of absorbing the information an author presents. In many ways, it's better -- hands free, eyes free... you can "read" an audiobook while driving without worrying about flipping pages or flipping the car.

On the other hand, I've tried a few books on tape, over the years. Some do very well, in abridged form (it's how I like my Dickens and Crichton) or in unabridged (can't abide a chopped-up Louis L'Amour or Anne Lamott). And the readers are usually an asset to the work of art presented. Hey, I loved involving myself in Readers' Theatre in my school days. I understand the thrill of storytelling.

But sometimes, I want to take a book at my own pace. I want to be able to savor the really beautifully-written passages, cradling a turn of phrase for a gentle moment before moving to the next. I want to be able to race through the parts which call for haste, either by virtue of great, exciting language or by dint of their being disposable. When another person reads to you, and that person is not mommy or daddy, it's nigh impossible to say, "can we go a little faster through these woods, please?" Fast-forwarding a tape may force me to miss a kernel of beauty in the midst of the chaff, as well. But I read fairly rapidly -- far more rapidly than I type or speak (ant I can chatter rather proficiently -- ask my exes). When I worked in a book store an hour from my apartment, I could easily read a 250-page novel on the way to work, then another on the way home, were I so inclined (and I was so, most days). An audiobook might take me half the week to finish. I'm not patient when it comes to my lovely dust-covered tomes.

Call me a glutton for eyefood. There are far too many lovely books out there in this wide world for me to want to delay gratification more than occasionally.

Perhaps I ought to start listening to audiobooks while I read paper-paged ones?

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