I’m listening to a book-on-tape called Team of Rivals (written by Doris Kearns Goodwin), which tells the story of Lincoln’s appointing a number of his adversaries to his cabinet (because there was a crisis, and they were the best people around.) It’s illuminating, hearing about a president working successfully with his opponents, the events suggesting strategies that might not be unuseful during the current highly polarized political times.
I’m also learning about the Civil War from Team of Rivals. One thing I learned is that, early in the conflict, Grant was continually passed over for promotion, because of concerns about his excessive drinking.
Coincidentally, I am simultaneously reading The Complete Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, in which the writer mentions that he was continually passed over for promotion, and he had no idea why.
He should have read Team of Rivals.
None of this relates specifically to the theme of today’s conversation. It just seemed like an interesting introduction. I am hopeful you agree.
The theme of today’s conversation is this. It is hardly a major issue, but it is, nonetheless, a burr under my admittedly thin-skinned, temperamental saddle.
Having revealed that I was reading Team of Rivals, a friend of mine asked me,
“When you talk about a book you’re reading, do you mention that you’re reading it on tape?”
My immediate reaction was this:
“I don’t fool people.”
Almost instantly, I was unhappy with my response, which seemed to have been triggered, at least upon primary evaluation, by some shame-induced feeling of guilt. Which I now see as entirely inappropriate.
“I don’t fool people”?
In what way exactly would I be fooling someone by not clarifying that the book I was reading was a book-on-tape?
“Well, mate, you’re not exactly reading then, are you?”
So what, faux English person? Is my selected mode of absorbing the contents of a book somehow less of an achievement, because I am not physically turning the pages? And perhaps not moving my lips?
What exactly is the distinction, such that one process is a more respectable accomplishment than the other? The question – and, more importantly, my knee-jerk defensive reaction – suggests that reading the book is somehow superior to listening to the book on tape, a subterfuge I might therefore want to conceal, the way someone might conceal the fact that they’d made the brownies from a mix, leaving the – mistaken? dishonest? deceitful? –impression that the brownies were instead made from scratch.
I pay for a book-on-tape, just like I’d pay for a book. It may even have cost more, though, in truth, I have never compare the two prices.
I always buy the unabridged versions, so it’s not a question of cutting any corners.
It’s not like I read the review of the book and then claim that I’ve read the whole
thing. Books-on-tape are not Cliffs Notes. They’re the full-length contents of the book.
And, though I’ve never put a stopwatch on them, it’s not outrageous to believe they both take a similar length of time to complete.
The reason I buy books-on-tape is because I do a considerable amount of treadmill work, and books-on-tape are a welcome companion, as I traverse the tedium. I can’t read books on the treadmill. My eyes bounce.
In retrospect, then, to the question, “When you talk about a book you’re reading, do you mention that you’re reading it on tape?”, the appropriate answer – which came to me when the heat was off, and the question remains, why did I feel it was ever on? – the appropriate answer, I believe, would have been this:
“I usually do, but what difference does it make?” Adding, if I’m drunk, or simply looking for a fight, “And by the way, what exactly are you insinuating?”
This is the response of a person who has nothing to hide, because there is nothing, in fact, that needs hiding. Though the unspoken implication of the question suggests otherwise.
In retro-retrospect, perhaps my original answer was correct.
“I don’t fool people.”
Offering my own unspoken implication,
“And I’m not crazy about your suggesting that I would.”
Yeah. In retro-retrospect?
I think I did all right.