An earful of books.
Is there a great distinction between reading a book versus listening to a book? Lately, I think there is.
This past week I’ve been listening to “Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald” by Therese Anne Fowler on my way to and from work. I must admit, though, I’m not normally a particular fan of audio books, but it seems to be a necessary distraction for when I’m sitting in wall-to-wall traffic on the 405 freeway. While I have honed my aural skills over the years by listening to radio programs such as “This American Life”, “A Prairie Home Companion”, and “The Dinner Party Download” among others, I find listening to books a completely different animal and I’m not quite getting the hang of it.
First of all, if you’ve ever listened to anything while driving there is always the “mind wandering” factor. I can listen to NPR for hours, but am I actually LISTENING intently for each and every one of those minutes? Absolutely not. And since I’m driving and supposed to be paying attention to the road, I’m also doing double duty by listening to book, trying to change lanes, keeping alert for my exit, and occasionally berating the car next to me that wouldn’t let me into the lane. All of this pulls my focus from the novel. Twice, I’ve found myself half-listening to one chapter and about two chapters later I have no idea what is happening in the story because somewhere along the road I drifted into my own thoughts. The book thus becomes background noise. Of course, my mind can occasionally wander while reading a book, too, but do you ever find that it’s actually harder to just listen rather than scan your eyes over the page and absorb the words?
Secondly, there is the fact that the book is being told to me. This is the hardest to get used to. At first I thought it was kind of smart and different to have the book actress read in a Southern accent- just like Zelda Fitzgerald. But after a while it becomes somewhat laughable, like listening to a bad version of Gone With the Wind. Also, the book reader/actress- whatever she is- does ALL the voices, male and female. Le sigh… I can’t distinguish if the writing is just bad or if it’s the actress’s interpretation of the narrative. Are books meant to be read this way- with another person’s voice giving inflection and tone and nuance to words that really aren’t meant to be spoken aloud? Does the author get any say in how her book is read?
Still, listening versus reading is an interesting exercise. And since my drive is not destined to get shorter any time soon, I hear more audio books in my future.