Some critics — the always tiresome Harold Bloom among them — claim that listening to audiobooks isn't reading. I couldn't disagree more. In some ways, audio perfects reading....King lists a Top Ten and lavishes praise on the number 1 choice: Philip Roth's "American Pastoral," read by Ron Silver. I don't need any more convincing. I'm going right over to Audible.com to buy it. And I'm going to check out Stephen King's new book, even though he doesn't mention it. It's gotten high critical praise, you know. I'm buying it. (It's read by Mare Winningham.)
The book purists argue for the sanctity of the page and the perfect communion of reader and writer, with no intermediary. They say that if there's something you don't understand in a book, you can always go back and read it again (these seem to be people so technologically challenged they've never heard of rewind, or can't find the back button on their CD players). Bloom has said that ''Deep reading really demands the inner ear...that part of you which is open to wisdom. You need the text in front of you.'' Here is a man who has clearly never listened to a campfire story....
There's this, too: Audio is merciless. It exposes every bad sentence, half-baked metaphor, and lousy word choice. (Listen to a Tom Clancy novel on CD, and you will never, ever read another. You'll never be able to look at another one without gibbering.) I can't remember ever reading a piece of work and wondering how it would look up on the silver screen, but I always wonder how it will sound. Because, all apologies to Mr. Bloom, the spoken word is the acid test. They don't call it storytelling for nothing.
I love audiobooks, and not just because sometimes I want to rest my eyes and sometimes I want or need to walk somewhere. I love the meaning and feeling the reader gives to the book. If you're wondering which audiobooks I've been listening to lately, here's my current set of books, my reading list, if I can say that:
"The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid," Bill Bryson
"Don't Get Too Comfortable," David Rakoff
"Napoleon," Paul Johnson
"A Spot of Bother," Mark Haddon