When the Wall Street Journal Online ran an excerpt from Joe Queenan's new book One for the Books, the story of his life as a voracious reader, he insisted I read it. Not enough that he send me a link, he waited as I located the story and watched as I read, certain it would strike a nerve. He knows how I am about books. I love books. If I could find some career that required or allowed me to read all the time, I'd jump at it. Queenan is just as passionate. He is also just as opinionated about his books as I am. In fact, I notice that most people who love books are also strongly opinionated.
Reading is such an odd pastime, one that is best enjoyed in solitude, but one requiring some kind of outlet or sharing. I remember a column by a former Charlotte Observer book editor lamenting that her husband read but didn't want to discuss books with her afterwards. He did not, she declared "give good book." I heard Queenan interviewed about his book on NPR, and he was spouting his opinions--book clubs, he announced, are crap. (Okay, maybe I'm paraphrasing here.) He went on to point out specific authors whose works he considered beneath him. Yet he admitted that he read lots of horrible books, many sent to him by self-publishing (therefore unedited) authors. "I read those quickly," he said.
Okay, then, I wanted to ask, which is worse, wasting time reading books you know in advance are not likely to be worth your time or reading a little airplane or beach fare?
In a similar vein, I read one of those Ask.... columns in the New York Times magazine section. The question asked: whether or not one can count audiobooks when listing books read. His answer: No. Again, I beg to differ.
Certainly when I started my teaching career, I felt the written page was sacred. Then I encountered a student whose learning disability--reading--had profoundly affected his education. I suggested he try to listen as he read (insisting on the unabridged edition). Afterwards, I realized that his comprehension and retention was far higher than many of the less encumbered students who had read thoroughly but only the print text. Since then, I have become addicted to audiobooks, spending almost an hour a day just driving to and from work.
Since I'm also always reading a book as well, I sometimes can't remember a year later whether I listened or actually read a book. I think I've always been an auditory reader. In education classes, I learned that "subvocalization"--hearing the words aloud in my head--slows reading. Well, guess what? I hear every word on the page (in the specific voices, usually). That's the poetic effect of good writing. I probably don't do the same when reading more expository texts. (Thank goodness, I don't hear the voice of the Maytag repairman when I read instruction manuals or Roger in India at the manual printing factory).
I won't even go into the ridiculous notion that reading electronic books is somehow less authentic than turning actual pages. I've licked my finger to try to turn the virtual page too many times before I remembered I was reading electronically. I'll take my story fix, my word fix, any way I can get it. But if Mr. Queenan can be persnickety about his books choices, so can I. And that's fine, as long as we don't impose our limits on one another. Why, I'll probably read his book soon--not just the excerpts.