Monday, October 10, 2011

"Counterfeit Reader?"

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.


Lord Lillis said...

What's the difference between reading a book versus a book on tape? You actually answered this question a few posts back: how would the "longest laugh" part of the "Major Dad" pilot played if I had heard it on the radio?

All art forms have their nuance and subtleties. Were I drunk or looking for a fight (not likely, I get melancholy and start singing Elliot Smith tunes when I drink) my retort would be "if the author wanted you to hear the book he would have put it on radio!" Who the reader is and how they read the book add material that is not on the printed page and may or may not be appropriate. Richard Thomas reads "Team of Rivals" - would you have enjoyed the book as much if the author, with her glass cutting squawk, had read it?

Zaraya said...

Dear Mr. Pomerantz; maybe you have been given an opportunity to coin a new word or phrase to describe this. I offer up that you're "gleaning a book". That would be picking up the information contained in the work bit by bit, but by other means than reading a printed text.


Max Clarke said...

You can read a book with your eyes or your ears, doesn't matter which.

I've had an Audible account for years, and listened to dozens of books on my iPod while driving or walking or riding BART in the San Francisco Bay Area.

A book is a form of "information technology," and a book on tape is just as valid as the book.

Most recently, I've been listening to the Roger Ebert autobiography, Life Itself.

YEKIMI said...

I could never listen to a book-on-tape (or CD or podcast or whatever you want to call it). I NEED to feel that paper, pages turning, even the smell of it. Once I have read it, it's stuck in my mind almost forever. If I pick up a book I think I haven't read all it takes is one or two pages and I can remember that I HAD read the whole thing as if I had finished yesterday even though it may have been 30-40 years since I had last read it. The only voice in MY head I want to hear is mine while I read the book, not some author or hired gun. Believe me, I have tried to listen and it just doesn't work for me.