I just finished reading Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird.
Or, should I say, I just finished having Sissy Spacek read it to me?
I love books. Always have. Some of my earliest memories are of a bookshelf in the basement apartment my folks rented in San Francisco. The bottom shelf was where my books were. I must have been four years old, because I can remember asking if I was allowed to take my books with me when I started Kindergarten at age five.
Books and stories have fed my head, all along the way. While other kids were playing Little League and learning to ride bicycles, I was exploring time travel with Meg Murry in A Wrinkle in Time, and setting up housekeeping on a deserted island with The Smith Family Robinson. Without a doubt, I spent more time in libraries than play yards. The librarian at my high school once suggested that I “give other students a chance” to check out a Willian Saroyan volume I had borrowed and renewed for 2 or 3 semesters. (By the way – I did what he asked, waited a few weeks, and checked it out again when no one else had).
Mid-20th century American authors are some of my favorites – Jack London, Saroyan, Steinbeck, Sinclair Lewis – but I’m also a huge fan of classical novelists like Victor Hugo, Dumas, and Verne. I marvel when an author turns a phase in such a way as to make me stop and think, “THAT was beautiful.” I’ll stop and read the passage over and over, not unlike the way a wine connoisseur will turn the juice over his or her tongue.
You get my point – I love books.
Or, do I love content?
I have found my ability to read for long periods of time has diminished over the past few years. My attention span is shorter than it once was. My eyes fatigue sooner. Reading used to be effortless. It no longer is. I now have to work at reading. What gave me immense pleasure, is now somewhat of a chore. The desire to read remains, but the frustration of turning as few as three of four pages before laying the book down has replaced the desire with shades of disappointment.
Enter Audible books.
On a whim, I installed the Audible app on my iPhone and responded to a promotion giving me two free books. I chose the classic To Kill a Mockingbird and The Martian, a current best-seller. Previous experience with “books on tape” had me expecting a less than fulfilling outcome. Happily mistaken; I was hooked from the very beginning. Sissy Spacek’s delivery was artful, but it didn’t get in the way. Just enough drama to keep the text flowing. Far from the dramatic readings you’d find in Public Speaking classes at the local community college.
What’s more – I was able to listen for what seemed like great lengths of time. As long as I kept my eyes open and paid attention to the voice in my ear, the story unfolded right before the eyes in my head. Finishing the first, I kept going with The Martian. This was a bit more of a challenge because there’s a lot of technical information related to space travel. The lead character does a lot of math to support his activities. The good news is, my brain would drop down into a “coasting gear” when the narrative resembled a Calculus lecture. This was a plus. Had I been using my eyes to read these passages, there’s a better-than-good chance I would have put the book aside.
So – the question stands:
Am I reading or listening?
Does it matter? I am absorbing content that was created by an author. The writer’s ideas are flowing through my head. I am on track to consume far more material that I otherwise could or would. Purists might accuse me of taking an easier route. But, what’s the most important element. Is how you do something more important than having done it?