Every so often, when I say that I'm currently "reading" a book, and then talk about it in such a way as to reveal that I'm listening to it as an audiobook, my interlocutor will say, "Oh, you mean you're listening. That's not really reading."
I don't hold that listening to an unabridged audiobook is such a different experience that one can't claim to have really "read" a book if one has listened to it, but there are some differences in the experience. One of these, I was thinking on today, since I was starting in on Swann's Way (superlatively read by Simon Vance, who has just the voice for Proust, though perhaps this I feel this way only because I am so attached to Vance's reading of Dance To The Music of Time, which is in many ways similar to Proust, but which thus far I prefer) while I was mowing the lawn. As Proust's narrative slides forward and backward in time, spurred by sights, sensations or events which remind him of others, I found myself thinking on the way in which listening to audiobooks over the last few years while working, driving or walking has attached specific bits of story to very particular places.
In our house back in Texas, there was a place that it was tricky to mow, under the children's slide, which I necessarily always associated with a letter written by Winston Churchill's wife Clementine, and recounted in John Lukac's The Duel: The Eighty-Day Struggle Between Churchill and Hitler. Refinishing the back windows of that house I would always associate with the Union capture of New Orleans as recounted in The Civil War: A Narrative. A particular stretch of our lawn in the new house I always associate, when mowing it, with Levin's disdain for local councils in Anna Karenina and a hilly bit of the front yard always recalls Clemenceau's request to be buried standing up and facing Germany, as recounted in Margarent MacMillan's Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World.
Reading in print form, although I do usually have a book with me in case I have time to read, never seems to be so strongly associated with a single place, to the extent that, even several years later, I recall the place and the words invariably together.
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