Friday, October 28, 2011

Consumption vs. Reading

This is a copy of an email that I sent to music and entertainment pundit, Bob Lefsetz:

A few months ago you wrote of the book, “Ten Thousand Saints” by Eleanor Henderson. After reading your positive review I put the book on my Evernote “Books to Read” list. (Yes, I am one of these guys who make lists of what I want to do, when I did it, and what I thought of it).

A few weeks ago I found myself having to drive from LA to San Francisco and decided that I would download Ten Thousand Saints from Audible/itunes onto my ipad and listen to the book on the drive home up I-5. When I went to itunes to download it, it looked perfect at 5 hours and 40 minutes (I later learned that was only part 1 and there was another 5 hours plus in Part 2).

After all these years of audio books being available, having friends who were investors and on the Board of Audible at their beginning, and having bought and disposed of plenty of devices to listen to them on, and having many instances where they would be great diversions and entertainment like marathon long training runs, I had never listened to an audio book and Ten Thousand Saints was to be my first.

After paying the same as what I would have paid for a first-run hardback version of the book, it took a while for the book to download. Not as long as movie or TV episode, but not the nearly instantaneous download that I have become to expect from an e-book on my Kindle or ipad. I was glad that I had downloaded the book from my hotel room the night before with high bandwidth and hadn’t waited until I was in the car on 3G.

After receiving the book, the first thing that told me I wasn’t reading a book was hearing that the book was going to be “performed” by Steven Kaplan, not “read”. That one small word changed the tone for what I expected. He said, “perform” so I expected a performance and of course, now a good one. Not having taken in an audio book before ( as you can read, I am struggling with what to call what I have done. I haven’t read the book but I have done more than listened. So, let’s say I have “consumed” the book) I can’t tell you whether or not is was a good performance or not. Let’s just say, he did what he was supposed to do and I got the story.

What I also don’t know is if my consumption was as good as your read. There were certainly many times that I had to “rewind” (scroll back) to listen over to what had been said. A traffic jam warning outside of Bakersfield messed up a chapter for example. Distractions had me re-listening at least a dozen, if not more times throughout the book.

I never felt like I got to know the characters like I would have if I had read the book. I never got my own picture and voice in my head of any of the characters like I think I would have if it had been my mind’s voice talking to me.

The other perplexing thing to me about the audio book is when do you consume them if not in your car? I ended up finishing part two while on multiple plane rides, but even then I found myself doing email on my laptop at the same time. I never multi-task when I read a book and if I do have music on at the same time, the book comes to the foreground and the rest fades away. With the audio book I found just the opposite. It was easier to not concentrate on the book and it too easily became the background.

I also don’t recommend trying to listen to an audio book before you go to sleep. When you wake up you have no idea where you fell asleep and the book is still talking to you. At least with a paper book or an e-reader it can’t turn the page on its’ own.

Bob, like you, I like to stretch myself with technology and was there at the Napster and BitTorrent moments, and still here (feeling better about respecting copyrights and creators) at the Spotify, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu times.

But call me now old fashioned, but to get the most from a book I think it’s about using my eyes and not my ears. But maybe, I am selling it short and before I give up on the multi-sense consumption I need to try adding the new scored soundtracks to my e-reader.

At the end of each year I publish on my blog the books that I read for the year (somewhere in the upper 20’s to low 30’s on average). The last few years I have put next to the titles, a “d” for those that I read digitally. This year, I will add the “c” for the consumption of an audio book. But, I predict that unless someone who I really respect tells me I have it all wrong, or I end up having to drive across America anytime soon, that this will be the only “c” on my list.

Thanks for the recommendation. I just hope I didn’t miss out on a good book that was actually great.