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February 07, 2007

Charlton's Latest

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Charlton Griffin -- who sometimes shows up in the comments here at 2Blowhards -- happens to be one of the very best producers and readers of audiobooks. I've listened to a number of Charlton's productions, and they've supplied some of the classiest and most pleasurable culture experiences I've had in recent years. So I'm glad to notice that Charlton has recently issued two more productions: R.D. Blackmore's classic Victorian romance "Lorna Doone," and -- a book I've long wanted to read -- the Satires of Juvenal.

These are downloadable files from Audible, meant to be listened to on an MP3 player or an iPod. I'm a big fan of the downloadable-iPod-audiobook thang myself. I've been listening to audiobooks on my iPod for about a year now and I love it. I've encountered few technical problems, the sound quality is excellent, and the convenience can't be beat. It seems quite miraculous to tote around entire long novels (or Teaching Company lecture series) on such a tiny device. Hey, maybe the iPod-playing-audiobooks is the e-book reader that many have been awaiting.

In any case, let me encourage those who have resisted audiobooks to give them a try. If you take to them -- and many, many people do (it's one of the few flourishing parts of the book-publishing industry) -- you may be amazed by what a great resource they are. Reading no longer has to wait until the end of the evening, when your vision is shot and your mind is dozey. Commuting time and exercise time become reading time as well. I get through many more books these days than I did in my pre-audiobook years.

Here's an additional benefit: In my experience, audiobooks don't clutter up the house like books-on-paper do. I don't know why, but books-on-paper accumulate while audiobooks don't. One reason may be that I'm simply more likely to read an audiobook I've purchased than I am to read a book. For another, once you're done with an audiobook there's no point in keeping it around. You can't thumb through it, after all. So if it's a digital file you might erase it. If it's on CD, you might give it to a friend. In either case, when you're done with an audiobook, it's gone. Books meanwhile gather dust.

Here's the website of Charlton's outfit, the well-named Audio Connoisseur. Charlton has made audiobooks of many substantial volumes of history and mucho great literature, so be sure to type "Charlton Griffin" and/or "Audio Connoisseur" into the Search box at Audible and have a look at the titles he has made available. Thanks to audiobooks you don't have to wait until retirement to catch up with the classics you missed as a kid. Charlton's Maugham and Maupassant are extra-special gems, IMHO.



posted by Michael at February 7, 2007


Audiobooks reign on the road trip. They're better than an iPod full of great tunes for making the hours and the miles disappear. But in competition with paper books, this is not a fair fight. I've known only one person who could read---and I mean be totally engrossed in--paper books while driving; and that was as scary as it sounds. Naturally, it almost killed him once on a long trip from Florida to Arizona. I haven't heard from him in a number of years, so maybe the habit finally did do him in.

Nonetheless: My point is that on its own turf, the paper book is best. My argument is not good, but I'm sticking to it.

Right now I am trying to "read" an audio Stephen King (Lisey's Story). I like King a lot, especially the very old and the very new stuff. The last few of his I've listened to on road trips. This one got me home from Georgia, but it was longer than the trip (16 disks!), so now I have a problem. How do I listen to this thing?

Point 1. I bike to work. I've tried to listen to earphones while biking in traffic, and it's about as dangerous as my friend's reading behind the wheel.

Point 2. I work with audio recordings, so I have to listen to other things at the office. (When I want to goof off at work, I read 2Blowhards.)

Point 3. I have two small children, and I'm in charge of them solo most of the time at home. I find it difficult (because I'm a man?) to zone out with headphones and still effectively answer their questions and keep them away from the stove. Listening without phones is not an option, since Stephen King likes for his characters to cuss.

Point 4. Related to Point 1, I tire quickly after the sun goes down and the kids are in bed. I'm in bed early to get up at 4:30am to bike again to work. But the after-kids-hour is the one I've got to do things I like, like write comments on 2Blowhards.

Why do I claim all this as evidence of the superiority of "real" books? Because the daily time I have for recreational reading is short, in total, and comes to me in tiny increments. Ten minutes here, two minutes there. With an audio book---note: the words are SPOKEN---I have to listen to its characters' conversations and musings and exciting events in real time. That's longer than I have! Simply put, I can read faster than you can speak.

For the time-challenged, the printed word will always trump the spoken story.

Posted by: Matt Mullenix on February 7, 2007 7:59 PM

Matt -- Those are some great snapshots of a reading life! Funny the different forms lives take, isn't it? I wish people writing about books would pay more attention to stuff like this -- the conditions under which we conduct our reading lives. They have their effects. Some people exercise, or have long commutes -- they often love audiobooks. Truckers adore 'em, as you'd expect. But if there's no time in your life when you can strap on the headphones for a stretch, they probably don't make any sense. My own reading challenge in recent years has been how burned-out my eyes are come 11 pm, which most days is the only time I find when I can settle in with a book.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 8, 2007 3:27 PM

"I wish people writing about books would pay more attention to stuff like this -- the conditions under which we conduct our reading lives. They have their effects."

Too true! I am ashamed to read so little and, frankly, so poorly as I do. A life could easily be dedicated to great books, and of course many have been. But as Steve B. points out, many with that kind of time are "richer than Gawd."

11pm? When's that?

Posted by: Matt Mullenix on February 8, 2007 8:09 PM

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