Saturday, August 25, 2007

A Few More Words About Reading

Yesterday's post on reading set a near-record for the number of comments received, so I know I've hit a major nerve in my readership. John wrote, "I'd have to guess that most of us that read/write blogs might be more surprised about non-readers. After all, we are readers!", while "noisms" made the interesting comment that, "I doubt that it was ever the case that everybody read widely. I'd like to see the statistics for the number of regular book-readers in the USA in the 1950s and the 1900s, for example. I think the distractions are more common nowadays, but the number of people who really love reading has stayed the same, and probably always will. After all, if TV, films and the internet haven't distracted the hard core from giving up books yet, it's doubtful they every will!" And "Yo" commented on the cost of books as a limiting factor in their enjoyment (although good public libraries, where available, are a way around that).

All of the comments I received were good ones, but one got me to thinking about reading in a somewhat different way. Odile S, from The Netherlands, wrote this: "...Books are available on audio. (Are these considered to be books?)."

That's a great question. For me, reading will always conjure the mental image of curling up in my favorite chair with a traditional printed book in my front of a roaring fire in winter, or on a cool, shady nook during the rest of the year. I like to think that the heft and feel of a book represent the weight of the enjoyment and knowledge it contains. Are audio books really books? I think the weasely answer is, "it depends." There are some books that seem meant to be listened to when read aloud - books for young children and most poetry, for instance, fall into this category. Hearing someone read masterpieces like "Casey at the Bat" or "The Cremation of Sam McGee," or reading them aloud yourself, is a thrilling experience...and speaking as one who has read "Green Eggs and Ham" about seven million times to children and grandchildren, I can vouch for the joy of hearing Dr Seuss's simple, rhythmic language that draws children into the story. On the other hand, I don't think I'd enjoy listening to a mass-market bestseller quite as much as I would enjoy actually reading it. Some biographies and a few histories lend themselves to being read aloud - Winston Churchill's six-volume history of the Second World War is one, partly because of the majesty of Churchill's writing. Jim Dale's reading of the Harry Potter series is said to be superb, but I haven't heard them yet, other than excerpts he read during radio interviews.

And there's another twist on the audio book that's now available: the Star Trek-like "e-Reader" electronic book from Sony...a slim, elegant device about the dimensions of a large paperback, but only a half-inch thick, onto which you save downloaded books in the same way you load music to your iPod, and read them on a bright, crisp screen. I bought Agnes one of these for her birthday and she uses it occasionally, but I think that, like me, she prefers the feel of a "real" book. The advantage of the e-Reader is more in its utility for traveling - it's nice to be able to carry a dozen books or more for less than the weight of a single normal paperback.

No matter how you do it: reading the printed page, listening to the audio book, or reading aloud to yourself or others, there's nothing like reading. In fact, I think I'll go and do some of it right now!

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



Amanda said...

I fall into the category of those who love holding a heavy hardcover and reading it with my eyes. It was hard for me to listen to books but I had to start doing this because the light in my son's room are too dim for me to read and I had to stay in there to keep him asleep. Now, I find that listening to the words works the same for me as reading them and I'm enjoying some good fantasy books that way. The problem is remembering which chapter I'm up to because I can't put a bookmark on my mp3 player.

E. Widiastuti said...

Does reading comic books count? Comic books have more pictures than words, and to some extend they don't give as much room of imagination as "real books" do. But I think majority of kids prefer comics over real books. I'm a Japanese comic fan myself :P

noisms said...

I have to say, I generally find audiobooks an unsettling experience. I can concentrate for hours on a good book, but after only ten minutes of listening to one I tend to get distracted, or drift away. It has to have an exceptionally gifted narrator to keep me interested. Sometimes I put one on in the car, but when I get to my destination I realise that I haven't paid attention to a single word.

One of my pet hates is abridged audiobooks. I think they're the pits.

John said...

On one of the many road trips that my son and I took to baseball games, we stopped at the library and picked up a couple of audio books. (the trip home was usually dad driving, Aaron sleeping!) One was a Stephen King short story collection. It's funny how years later, Aaron still remembers those stories and has actually read them from a book.

I have an audio Bible that I listen to in the car but don't think that it replaces self study or actually reading the Book.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

Somehow audiobooks don't set right with me. I like having the book in my hands too just like Amanda says...and I read a lot. Mind you not everything is deep thought-provoking literature..but still.

YO said...

I can´t really comment from experience, as everybody else here, as I have never used an audio book. However, I wouldn´t use one, it wont just "feel" right. And why use them if you can read them by yourself?
I agree with Bilbo in the "real book" experience. I really enjoy reading blogs, but reading from a PC can never, never be just like reading from a proper book.
Bt the way, I am reading Lean Mean Thirteen now, which I like. It is not a heavy book, with a deep meaning, but very readable in a relaxed way. It is also helping me to improve my english.