Audio Dunces & Morrie

Taking ques from dug (1,2,3,4) and The Junkie (1,2,3), I decided to try an audiobook.

Year ago we listened to a Harry Potter audiobook (yes, on cassette) on a family drive to California and we all enjoyed it. But this audiobook would be for my 25 minute commute.

I selected A Confederacy Of Dunces. This book has been on my list for a while, and when I saw it was available on CD at my local (Orem) library, I checked it out.

I used to listen to The End in the morning (the Chunga show is fairly amusing) and scan stations for good songs on the way home. But I grew tired of this routine (and the lack-luster music these days).

Then I switched to NPR. It was a good change. A wide breadth of news topics, good reporting, intriguing and off-beat stories - interesting content and less junk.

Then came Hurricane Katrina and NPR dutifully covered this unarguably big story. And they kept covering it after all the other news outlets had moved on - OK, I admire NPR for sticking with an important story. Then they continued with way too many Katrina stories for way too long - when one would come on I'd look incredulously at the radio and say (sometimes out loud) "More Katrina? Are you kidding me? There are other things going on in the world." My favorite listener comment during this time was: "All Things Considered? More like All Things Katrina Considered."

Then NPR covered the Financial Crisis ad nauseum, and my NPR love affair was over. I still like NPR, I just can't count on it for day-in, day-out listening. I need to mix it up.

Which bring me back to the audiobook. It was a new experience, so that alone made it interesting. A Confederacy Of Dunces is a good story with inventively odd characters (Ignatius J. Riley is a hypocritical blow-hard that is surprisingly entertaining as the lead). I liked how new characters were introduced slowly and skillfully woven in. The writing is excellent. And the narrator, Barrett Whitener, does a good job bringing the characters to life with a variety of voices - it was like listening to a one-man play.

Overall the experience was positive, but there were some problems:

With a book I control the pace - I can read slow to really soak in the words, or read faster to keep the story moving, or skim to get the general gist through parts I don't like. With an audiobook the pace is set. Sure, I would rewind if I'd been distracted or wanted to hear a part again, but this disturbs the flow of the story more than reading at a varied pace, at least for me it did.

With the audiobook my retention was lower. With a book I'm seeing the words and saying them in my mind and this double exposure makes the words and ideas more memorable. With only listening they didn't stick as well (and I'm at least slightly distracted by driving). Perhaps others don't have this problem, but I do.

So for me I'm going to select audiobooks that are good stories with lighter writing. Several times listening to A Confederacy Of Dunces I wished I were reading it instead. I wanted to soak in the skillful writing (I'm considering reading the book to see how much I missed). Fortunately I think there are plenty of good books I would enjoy as audiobooks. I just need to use this experience to inform my selection.

I also finished reading Tuesdays With Morrie. This is a short book with a big punch. Here's the bottom line: Can we learn something from an exceptional, self-actualized person who focused on connecting with people throughout his life and is now confronting his imminent death with dignity and a desire to teach us what he's learning from the process? I did.

I'm now reading Quantum Zoo, a book about quantum physics and relativity. This will not be a quick read.


Mike J said...

I love NPR too but some times it's a little too much. The middle east stories usually do me in. That's when I turn on the podcasts.

MOCougFan said...

I'm with Mike and Podcasts. I like them better.

I love listening to audio books when I'm doing a long solo ride. Esp if it's flat and long. Eragon and related books make the ride better.

If there are other riders I might have one ear in with music on it. But solo's are great for audio books.

Ski Bike Junkie said...

I agree that the retention is lower with audiobooks than reading. But if the choice is between audiobook and not reading at all, I'll take audiobook. I've covered at least 10x more literary ground since I started reading audiobooks than I would have otherwise since I just don't have that much time to read.