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Wondering in the Thicket

     I have often wondered what the differences might be in the reader’s experiences of holding a book, feeling the paper, turning the pages, reading an eBook on your Kindle or device during a long flight, or of listening to an audio book recorded with introductory music and various voices performing the parts of different characters. Are these reading and listening experiences comparable?


     Some differences may even be situational: listening to audio books while in the car, allowing a story well told to lift you out of the crawling traffic, or hearing the story’s characters’ dialogue brought to life by a reader whose voice makes it all so real in your earbuds during a jog. Maybe you are like one of my friends who finds it practical, expedient to play her audio books so she can keep knitting. But then, there is the experience of “curling up” with a good book in a favorite chair in front of a fire on a snowy day, or in bed at night before turning off the reading light to fall asleep. So another question might better focus not on the differences between the reading vs. listening (is one more active than the other?), but on differences in the context or situation in which the story unfolds.

Maybe some of you can answer such questions; I would be interested to hear, please post comments to my facebook page.


     Still, it seems to me that good writing is good writing. Its rhythms may be more obvious in an audio version, but the presentation of words on the page may have another elegance.


     I wonder, but I cannot compare. I must rely on audio books to deliver the story and connect me to it—have had to do so for decades because I cannot read text. I still remember the days when I was an avid reader, a fourth grader who blew through every biography the school library lined up on its shelves, a fifth grader who loved a summer full of Tuesdays when I could carry an arm load of books to the bookmobile, and return home with a new armload. In sixth grade, it was all over, and I no longer read for pleasure, used my magnifying glasses to peer at my school-assigned books, a laborious process that left me with no time for library books.


     Today, the magnifying glass is put away, my MP3 player—“Victor” it is called—the only option. So I wonder, the questions unanswered.


     Recently, my husband and I were having dinner in a restaurant filled with the conversational buzz of other couples like us. The couples at a table beside us began talking about books, and yes, I eavesdropped, curious about what they had been reading. Gentleman in Moscow floated up, a title I recognized from The New York Times best-seller list. They all agreed that this was a good read. George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, however, was not. I overheard one of the women say “I just kept waiting for something to happen,” and the rest of her party went on to nix the book altogether without acknowledging that it had won the prestigious Mann-Booker Prize for 2017. It wasn’t my business, I knew that of course, yet I was stunned, felt deflated somehow. I had loved the book, was rooting for it to win the Mann-Booker when the short list of finalists was named. For my quick review of the book, please click 


     My questions about differences in the reader’s experience of a print or audio book sprang up again, and I caught myself wondering if they would have felt differently had they listened to the book, quite a performance, indeed. A huge cast of readers performs the different roles of the characters—“sick forms”—who inhabit the cemetery where President Lincoln’s eleven-year old son has just been laid to rest. Plenty happens during a tumultuous night in the cemetery. Perhaps the audio performance, which turns the novel into a play, would have convinced the couples.


     So here I am, lost in the thoughts and thickets once again with unanswerable questions. My prickly world of wonder entrapped.

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