Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Proust Mows the Lawn

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.


Matthew Lickona said...

My brother-in-law likes to say, "I saw that book," meaning, he saw the movie based on the book.

You listened to the entire Civil War trilogy? Whoa. That's a book that makes me long for maps.

amy said...

It is a backwards time that we live in where the spoken word (which is represented by the written word) is considered a paltry copy or substitute for the written word, thus giving the written word primacy over that which it represents...

On another note, what a true idea that the places and times we hear a book read aloud, as well as the people we read it with, become part of our memory of the book. I was fortunate that my mother read to me and that I found friends to read aloud with as I grew older. Here are some of my associations, in no particular order. "Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIHM"- an airplane going to Louisiana as a child. "Brideshead Revisited"- college dorm commons, by the fireplace, during a rainstorm. "The Iliad" Book I- in a car driving up the curving road to the High Sierras. Book II- Under a pine tree in the Sierras by a lake. "The Hobbit"- in a cabin in the Sierras. Some collection of Norse Myths - the a few weeks before my friend got married in the lawn behind her parents house. The first chapter of the Gospel of John, in Latin, in the dorm commons listening to John Paul II's funeral mass, live.... OK, this list is getting too long and it could go on. Thank you for the walk down memory lane.

Darwin said...

To be fair, I don't think I would have got the same criticism about listening to a person read aloud. Listening to an audiobook does have, for some, the taint of being electronic entertainment rather than "real reading". Still, at times when I couldn't otherwise read at all, I'd often far rather listen to an audiobook than the radio.

Being real aloud to in person is one of those great joys, in that it makes the experience of reading interpersonal. My dad was a really good reader, and read us all sorts of things throughout the years I was growing up. To this day I find myself using his character voices at times when I read the same books to my kids.

HBanan said...

I love audiobooks and reading, but I actually have strong memories of where I was when I listened to and read different books in print. Most of those memories are of my parents' living room.

I think only people for whom looking at a page of text is a chore would make the distinction between proper reading and "just listening." For me, listening is a great pleasure, but it also takes a lot longer than just reading the book myself, so I actually am impressed at those who take the time to listen to an audiobook.

Lauren said...

I love audio books. I have so little time to sit down and just read. I do have trouble listening to books that are very intellectually rigorous or complex. I've pretty much given up on one on the history of geometry. I can't wash the dishes and try to picture 4D space at the same time. I'm currently listening to Watership Down, which is read by the same actor that read the C.S. Lewis Space Trilogy. Last family road trip we listened to Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin. I think you guys would really like it as it discusses how the human brain works in contrast to other animals. Fits in well with your interest in evolution.