mm093: Your Cheatin’ Listenin’ Ways – New York Times

MUDGE’S Musings

Now it can be revealed! MUDGE‘s deepest secret — I “read” audio books all of the time!

This story made the NY Times most emailed list today…


August 2, 2007

Your Cheatin’ Listenin’ Ways


JANICE RASPEN, a librarian at an elementary school in Fredericksburg, Va., came clean with her book club a couple years ago. They were discussing “A Fine Balance,” a novel set in India in the 1970s by Rohinton Mistry and an Oprah’s Book Club pick, when she told the group — all fellow teachers — that rather than read the book, she had listened to an audio version.

“My statement was met with stunned silence,” said Ms. Raspen, 38.

Finally Catherine Altman, an art teacher, spoke up.

“I said that I felt like listening to a book was a copout,” Ms. Altman said. “I’m not like a hardcore book group person — a lot of times I don’t even finish the book. But my point was that she is a librarian and I thought it was pretty ridiculous. I’m a painter and it would be like me painting by numbers.”

The perennial disagreement in book groups has been over authors, with the single-malt drinkers arguing for F. Scott Fitzgerald and the chardonnay drinkers for Anita Shreve. But the latest schism in the living room lit-fests is not over whom they read, but if they read.

Is it acceptable, they debate within and among themselves, to listen to that month’s book rather than read it? Or is that cheating, like watching the movie instead of reading the book?

Because audio enthusiasts generally listen aloud in a private space like their cars or with headphones, they are spared having to publicly defend the format. When they join reading groups, however, they enter what can be enemy territory, where dyed-in-the-wool bibliophiles want to hear nothing of a book but the crack of its spine.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Your Cheatin’ Listenin’ Ways – New York Times

I publicly admit that I indeed listen to books on tape (or, more recently, CD) almost every day.

I have a commute that can take more than an hour, especially the afternoon home-bound one, and I have been using books on tape to fill that mental vacuum caused by bumper-to-bumper traffic on a numbing 250 times per year route for more than a decade and a half, since an otherwise despised boss tipped me to their value in this application.

I formerly listened to FM broadcast radio, mainly our last classical station, but often some afternoon FM talk, in a Howard Stern vein (but not HS!). The classics are always soothing, but not always useful at distracting one from driving chores. Talk radio, at least in MUDGE’s neck of the woods, seems to consist of 10 minutes of snarky talk followed by 20 minutes of jangly commercials. Ugh.

Books on tape rescued me from the tyranny of the airwaves (this was before the availability of satellite radio, which might have changed my thinking had I not been locked down into b-o-t mode by the time Sirius and XM made the scene).

My criteria is rock solid: never, ever an abridgement. Ever.

Unabridged recorded books in the book stores are quite spendy, and I simply won’t spend double that of its hardbound equivalent for even the best of the best.

So, it’s our local public library for me. Not an unalloyed joy this, since our city fathers built a wonderful structure a few years ago (the third on the site in my lifetime in my town, which more than most reminders of my age hits quite hard), and the municipal edifice complex has left the library with a reduced budget for, what else, books. Sigh.

It’s finally, gradually, filling up, thank goodness, but the supply of books on cassette and more recently CD remain sparse, and odd. Nineteenth century classics are MIA. Barbara Taylor Bradford flourishes, two shelves worth. Sigh.

But, I persevere, hampered only a little by the limitation imposed on me by the lack of a cassette player built into my “winter” vehicle, which contains a CD player only. Sigh.

I remain resolutely happy with my choice of substance (even Janet Evanovich has more substance than brain-melting FM talk radio), and am not ashamed of my audio addiction.

Literature is literature, as far as I’m concerned, and most of the commercial product is performed, not just read, by professional actors. Try reading out loud sometime, and listen to yourself. Trust me, it takes a pro.

Do you really get as much out of a book if you listen instead of read?

“If the goal is to appreciate the aesthetic of the writing and understand the story,” said Daniel T. Willingham, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Virginia, then there won’t be much difference between listening and reading. “The basic architecture of how we understand language is much more similar between reading and listening than it is different.”

I rest my case. Reading is reading. Or, I suppose, listening is reading.

What’s MUDGE listening to at this time? “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman, read by the wonderful George Guidall, a stalwart, ubiquitous and consummate professional in the business, whom I could be persuaded to listen to reading the Yellow Pages. Gaiman’s novel, which I am approximately 1/3 through as I write this, is unusual, and fascinating, and I’m really happy to be listening to/reading it.

By the way, I read cardboard and paper books also. Just started the terrific new “FDR” by Jean Edward Smith (borrowed from my son), and I’m serious about this: two bookmarks if you please, one for the narrative, the other for the 100+ pages of endnotes. Books on tape for MUDGE is purely an automotive addiction, like pumping gas. Out of the Camry or the Element, it’s the old fashioned black type on white paper for me.

What are you guys reading, or admit it, listening to?

It’s it for now. Thanks,



4 Responses to mm093: Your Cheatin’ Listenin’ Ways – New York Times

  1. ClapSo says:

    I’ve never tried a book on tape, but this post makes me want to. Thanks Mudge, for getting me to try something new. It’s how we can stay young…

    The scientifically impossible I do right away
    The spiritually miraculous takes a bit longer

  2. mudge says:

    Quit it, ClapSo! You only encourage me 😉 . — Thanks for reading. –MUDGE

  3. […] It wasn’t that long ago that L-HC discussed reading (all right, listening) to books on tape. One of my recent pleasures was to revisit Melville’s “Moby-Dick” this summer for the first time in 32,264 years, since a senior in high school (then it was the rare cave-painting edition). […]

  4. […] broached the subject of audio books in the most detail in this post from last August. I publicly admit that I indeed listen to books on tape (or, more recently, CD) […]

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