Call for Comments: How do you read?

From Wayne: I’m a reader. I read a lot. I learned to read early from comics and children’s books and have never really stopped. Books have been my most constant companions and best friends. I grew up in a very rural place, with few opportunities. We never lived in poverty, but we also never really travelled very far from the hollow. Except, I did travel, to other cities and worlds and planets and time periods and wherever books could take me. They were my TARDIS, bigger on the inside, a portal to other places. They still are.

A section of one of my many bookshelves

I’m a visual learner. I have a tough time paying attention to the spoken word. I would rather read an article than watch a video of the same story. I can absorb it at my pace, or scan it to see how much time I want to actually spend with it. A video traps me in their pace. I can’t really do audiobooks. A couple of minutes in and my mind wanders and the speaker becomes the voice of an adult in a Charlie Brown cartoon. The same is true of spoken word albums, and lectures, and yes… most podcasts.

The question has arisen of whether or not listening to an audiobook counts as having read the book. In spite of my preferences, I still say yes. We tend to privilege the written word, or at least we did until the overwhelming availability of other means of consumption. Even within reading we tend to privilege certain types of reading over others. There are always the lists of ‟Books That Must Be Read” if you wish to consider yourself well read. This brings us back to the ideas of high vs low culture. Is the experience of reading Moby Dick really more important than reading the new Reacher novel by Lee Child? Is reading anything better than not reading at all? Is even that assumption a mark of privilege?

We want to talk about reading habits on this episode. Do you prefer reading or listening? Why? Does it make a difference in the way we process information? What kind of things do you read? Should there be a ‟Must Read List” or should we just follow our interests?

Looking forward to reading what you have to say.

From Mav: I’m also kind of looking forward to this episode. Like Wayne, I read a lot…. in a very real way, reading is pretty much my job. But even before that, I just have always really enjoyed absorbing information, and reading has always been a big part of that. Unlike Wayne though, at least for me, reading is just one of those ways of absorbing content. I’m the guy who has an audiobook on his headphones while he goes running. I listen to podcasts when I mow the lawn. Even when I’m sitting on my couch reading a book, I quite likely have CNN running on the TV so I can passively absorb the news at the same time.

There was a Howard Stern show argument years ago… they were talking about some book (don’t remember which one… it doesn’t matter). And Gary, the producer, says “oh, I read that…” so they talk about it for two minutes and then some other producer comes in and says “Howard, I want you to know that he didn’t read that. He listened to it on tape” and then he was like “well, yeah, I listened to it on my drive over like two weeks” and then they argued about “well then you didn’t read it!” vs “I have all the same content as you!” Eventually someone asked “would you let your kid listen to an audio book instead of reading?” and he basically answered “no, my kid is 10…. he’s still learning. I’m 50 years old.”

Point is, people totally see it in a different way and we have a weird cultural privileging of reading in an “interacting with the page” kind of way… and some of that really is part of the experience… I know I feel different reading a physical book than I do reading a kindle book. There’s just something different about the feel of the paper vs the screen… the act of flipping the page…. even though it doesn’t substantively change the content… this is as opposed to reading a comic on screen… which actually does slightly change the content (it’s a visible space kind of thing… how much of the surrounding pages can you see. And listening to an audiobook does this too. It frees my eyes to focus on something else, but as Wayne says, it locks me into someone else’s pacing. Reading becomes more linear and time-based than it is when I am controlling the pages myself. It’s harder to hop around. There is a modification to experience.

And if we really want to go far, this also extends into the privileging books over movies or TV or whatever… they’re different experiences, but we (at least traditionally) tend to pretend that the books are somehow blessed with a natural betterness… but that’s mostly because they’re old technology. I know WE know this, but I expect a lot of listeners don’t know that once upon a time people said this about books….. the novel was garbage pop culture crap for the unintelligent (read, women) because smart people read poetry. And now we like to say that reading is somehow “more important” than movies… and novels are “more important” than comics. Not just different, but “more important!” Or at least that’s the insinuation. But is it right?

So that’s what we want to know? What are your reading habits? What do you count as literature and how do you consume it? What else should we be thinking about on this episode?

8 Replies to “Call for Comments: How do you read?”

  1. Funny enough… I’ve incorporated audio into my reading experience, when applicable. It stemmed out of reading books on a plane (one of the few times I’d choose to read books over other forms of entertainment) and so I needed something to drown out the noise. Since I chose to read a Dragon Age novel, I opted to load my MP3 player with a bunch of soundtracks from the game, and have all that music playing while I read through the book. It was a really cool and immersive experience, obviously this only works with books based off intellectual properties in other mediums (movies, games, tv, etc.)

    Sometimes, the things I’ve read, come with soundtrack recommendations, or sometimes they come with specifically crafted music (the comic Orchid had a track for each issue of the book, the Marlowe Kana series has a soundtrack for each volume of the book.) That’s always cool.

    As for audio books, I have the same problem as Wayne (same with podcasts too, it’s harder to focus nowadays when everything is trying to get your attention.) But, and this is probably financial overkill, there’s something to be said about reading a book while having it read to you. I recently experienced the Secret Diary of Laura Palmer while listening to the audio book recording performed by Sheryl Lee (the actress who played Laura Palmer.) It was, once again, a very immersive experience.

  2. Yes I read. All the books. I have 4 going right now – one for one of my book clubs, a hold that came up from the library, a nonfiction book, and I’m also in the middle of an Outlander re-read to get prepared for book 9 (currently in the middle of book 6). Physical books are good because when I’m reading in bed they don’t suddenly reorient themselves when I roll over. Ebooks have an edge over their physical counterparts when I’m reading an 800+ page tome (see: Outlander). Also they are easier to bring sufficient reading material on vacation!
    I didn’t do ebooks for a long time because my mind would tend to wander. But then 2 things happened – I realized it’s not that different from listening to podcasts, and I started knitting. Waaaaay easier to listen to a book while knitting than trying to read a few words, look at my stitches, read a few words….. yes it “counts” towards my Goodreads challenge for the year. I know what happened, I can discuss it at book club.
    What’s been fascinating to me is seeing how English class has changed from when I was in high school to now with my kids. Half the time the kids are reading their own choices. Another 25% they have 3 or 4 options to choose from (these units work kind of like mini book groups – the kids who pick book A discuss it, the kids who pick book B discuss IT, etc) the last 25% the whole class is doing the same book. There’s still some Shakespeare, Lord of the Flies… but there been a major modernization with The Kite Runner, dystopian lit. I think it’s great. My junior year we successfully talked our teacher into letting us DNF Billy Budd and move on to another unit because we hated it. Not that I remember what that next one was, but I guess we didn’t hate it quite so much. Billy Budd was nowhere near Sophie’s American Lit syllabus last year.

    1. They made you read Billy Budd? In high school? because they somehow decided they wanted to prove to you that Melville wrote something that people care about even less than Moby Dick?

  3. I have always loved to read. I like holding the book and reading, my mind wanders after awhile if trying to listen.My college years are in the far past, had to read Billy Budd and a lot of other things that were meant to educate me. When teaching I always had educational articles, stories etc to read. Now that I am retired I only read whatever I find interesting but I have a fairly wide range of interests. I read every day/night, usually 1 or 2 books a week plus newspapers and magazines. I am part of the group known at our local library as a hard core reader.

  4. Pingback: Mav

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