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My First Audio Book

I am very old-fashioned when it comes to reading.  I read books, the physical kind, the ones that you hold in your hands, with pages that turn, with that particularly bookish smell.  I have absolutely nothing against ebooks as a general concept, and I think reading is reading, no matter how you choose to do it. But for me, it's always been about the printed words on the page, and not about reading on a screen.

Similarly, until last week, I had never listened to an audio book. I have friends who walk everywhere, and they love to listen to a book while they are out strolling with the dog or running errands.  I have other friends with long car commutes, and they say listening to books while driving is practically the only quality reading time they have. One friend lived in Connecticut when his children were growing up and owns a summer home in Maine. The drive between the two houses took nine hours each way. He, his wife, their three daughters and their dog read all seven Harry Potter books on those car trips.
All of that makes perfect sense to me, but listening to an audio book had simply never appealed, even when my husband and I planned long car trips with our own daughters. I was afraid of zoning out and missing key parts of the book. I was afraid to miss the experience of reading: the page turning, the flipping back to re-read, the whole "book" part of it.

And then I planned a solo, three-part small road trip around the state of Connecticut, mostly not on main highways.  According to Google Maps, the whole trip would take 4 1/2 hours, assuming no traffic (a big assumption), and for much of those 4 1/2 hours, I would be in places with spotty or non-existent cell and radio coverage. As far as I could tell, I had three options: (i) a stack of CDs, (ii) an audio book, or (iii) being alone with my thoughts.  I decided to try an audio book.  But which one?

Then I came across an ad for the audio book version of Sheila Nevin's collection of essays You Don't Look Your Age...and Other Fairy Tales. Sheila Nevins is the award-winning President of HBO Documentary Films, and she knows a lot of talented and famous people. The book was of some interest to me (I'm not quite at the age that Sheila is writing about, but I'm getting there), but what really got my attention was the list of actors reading each of the essays.  Here is a sample: Alan Alda, Christine Baranski, Kathy Bates, Glenn Close, Blythe Danner, Lena Dunham, Whoopi Goldberg, Diane Lane, Judith Light, Audra McDonald, Rosie O'Donnell, Meryl Streep, Marlo Thomas, and Lily Tomlin.  Again, that's just a partial list.  I think I'd listen to that group read the yellow pages. So I borrowed the audio book from the library, got in my car, loaded the first CD and set off.

By the time I returned to Wallingford, I had finished the book. And I liked it! Yes, there were times when I started thinking about something other than the essay I was listening to, and I missed a chunk of the story.  And, as with any collection of essays, there were some pieces I liked more than others.  But I loved the way these excellent actors brought their skills to what they read. I was, for the most part, completely engaged in listening to the book, and reading it this way certainly made the time in the car go by more quickly. I don't know if I would have enjoyed it as much if the readers had been less capable. I suspect (without any evidence) that a great reader can make a lousy book a good read, and that a bad reader can turn a good book into a poor read. Luckily, there are many, many audio books read by famous actors and other very skilled readers to keep the listening reader busy for a long time.
Apparently, there is a debate out there over whether "reading with your ears" counts as real reading. Personally, I think that's silly. I still strongly prefer to read physical books and am not yet tempted to try an ebook. But I am likely to read another audio book if a long car drive looms large, or if there's an audio book I kind of can't resist. Read what you like, as you like. Just read!


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