Friday, August 3, 2007

In Praise of Listening

I was pleased to see another library-friendly item in the Style section of yesterday's New York Times. This one, if you follow the link in today's title, is about the "controversy" regarding listening to, rather than reading, books. Somehow, some members of some book groups insist, to listen to a book, rather than to read it, is to cheat.
After I laughed aloud, I felt a shiver of subversion. By denying the author my bifocal-assisted saccadic movements, I was Doing Something Naughty. At my age, this is a bigger thrill than you might imagine.

Then I felt annoyance. We are not talking about Cliff Notes. We are not even talking about the Reader's Digest Condensed Version. We are talking about a full text version, every nuance and graceful phrase included, only taken in auditorily rather than visually.

I don't like Book Cops. I am glad not to band together with them in judgmental little groups, though I never imagined that book groups would include book cops. Reading groups, I suppose, exist to reinforce reading, and though I think they are a dandy idea, it saddens me to hear that some people use them to feel superior to others.

We aren't a nation of great listeners, and to me, that's a pity. In my impressionable years, I had the good fortune to have an English teacher who taught values along with English. She emphasized listening, that most neglected of the language arts, or so she told us. I was so inspired by her example that I threw myself into paying close attention to what people had to say, developing a skill that has led to great personal and professional growth over the years. Later, as a reading specialist, I learned from students with disabilities, that lacking a sense of voice in print often lay at the foundation of comprehension problems.

Listening is a way in which we can help each other to be heard, quite literally, and perhaps made less lonely, to boot. Listening is giving the voice a rest so that we can hear the voices of others. And with excellent writing, often the most awe-inspiring aspect isn't the story being told as much as it is the authorial voice, that enabler of the magic fusion of art and idea.

NPL's audio collection is a fine one, growing all the time. Lots of busy people find time to experience books through their ears--as they drive, as they complete mostly manual tasks, as they prepare for sleep. Many children are availing themselves of the tome-like collection of Harry Potter CDs, and to me, they are not cheating. They are discovering the voice that sings in print.

1 comment:

Jen said...

Hear, Hear! Your post is perfectly put.