I discovered something last week. It’s rather awkward to admit, but I think I read better when I’m listening. Listening to a book on CD that is – as opposed to reading the words on the page. I began my experiment with a 200 page novel: The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid. The novel takes place over the course of one evening during which the Pakistani narrator is telling the story of his life in New York City and the decisions he made after September 11. I read it for a book group and thought it was the perfect book for discussion: a vague ending, insightful, and a compelling look at how political events impact individual lives. All good. Until I got to our meeting and realized that I had read too quickly and missed some nuance. Over the course of the evening, several people mentioned that they had listened to the book on CD and how wonderful the reader (Satya Bhabha) was. The next day I went to the library and checked it out. Because my son goes to school about 25 minutes away, I have lots of car time. And as expected, listening to this novel was a completely different experience. I felt like I was in the cafe with the main character and the way certain sentences were phrased gave them an emphasis that’s difficult to translate to reading. If I lost track of the story or needed to concentrate solely on driving, I just hit the stop button.
I don’t think I have this problem during the summer months. It’s the school year that makes me a hurried reader. When I read at home, I’m usually juggling three books: two for classes I’m teaching and one I’m reading for myself. By necessity, I’m rushing. It’s fine for school because most often I’m re-reading novels. For example, I’ve read The Giver maybe seven times, so reading quickly is fine and usually just a way to prepare for the next day’s class. But this distracted reading style is carrying over to my own reading, and I’m missing things. I know there are opposing views about listening being counted as “reading” a book, but I don’t know. I’ve listened to three novels on CD over the last few weeks, and because every sentence is given the same weight, I can’t skim over anything. When the reader is good, it adds immeasurably to the experience.
Given the price of audio books, I’m becoming a more regular visitor to the public library. And I now look forward to every trip to pick my son up at school.