Sunday, April 03, 2011

Books worth reading (or listening to)

As many of you know, I have come to prefer audiobooks to books one actually reads with the eyes. I spend about two hours each weekday in the car getting to and from my job. I used to love sitting in a chair or laying in bed with a book. Between the life-sucking commute and the general chaos of life, and the temptation of less mentally-involving pursuits (computers and video programming), I found that I was only 'reading' one or two physical books a year. However, I have been listening to at least twenty books a year. This is not a phenomenal number in comparison to some of my more bibliophilic friends. Still, that's probably more than the average American reads.

One of the more humorous aspects of this admission is that I have been the moderator of a book group for nearly a decade. Since we meet monthly (excepting July), we discuss eleven books per year. We have some basic criteria for the books we choose. First, the book should be easily available in paperback, though we sometimes will read a book recently released in hardcover if enough people are strongly interested in it. Secondly, we prefer books that are less than 400 pages in length. Any longer than that and it's proven to be difficult for most of us to get through the book in a month's time. We primarily read literary fiction, since it lends itself to discussion more easily than popular or mass market fiction. In addition, over the course of a year we typically pick up one classic book, something non-fiction, and one science fiction or fantasy themed book. That last one was initially in acquiescence to the tastes of the moderator, but the group as a whole now embraces the choice. We have had some really good discussions around the SF books we've read over the years.

Unofficially, we also try to make sure that the book is available in audio so that our poor beleaguered moderator can consume the book in the way most convenient to her. About once a year, we want to read something that is not available in audio format. I usually manage to get through the book by reading it while I'm on the exercise bike in the morning. Usually I keep up with current events by reading magazines while I exercise. So, if I have seemed under informed about a popular topic, let's shift all the blame to my book group's inconsiderate choice of book for a month. It couldn't possibly be that I spent more time reading MacWorld than The Week that month, or that I really just wasn't paying attention when Pakistan and India finally decided to go to war over Kashmir.

When I travel, I usually pop a book in my suitcase for the trip. I like having a page to look at while I'm on the airplane. It helps distract me a tiny bit from my discomfort with the entire idea of air travel. Over the years, I have tried to pack lighter and lighter for my trips. My body just can't carry heavy bags around any more, plus there's something kind of freeing about not hauling around a major pile of stuff while you're traveling.

As I was embarking on a recent trip, I was nearly done with the book that I was reading. I debated whether to take a second book with me. I decided to just pick up something at my destination when I finished, since I couldn't justify the space and weight of a second book in my luggage. As I was boarding the plane, I walked by passenger after passenger with their hands lovingly gripped to their thin little ereaders. A few of my friends evangelized on the wonders of their ereaders, but I didn't see the point for myself since I really didn't consider myself a 'reader' any more. I had become a 'listener'. After that trip, my subconscious mind got busy mulling over the various issues of reading, time, travel, and the like.

I am about to leave for my first ever overseas vacation. I'm going to Paris. Since I really don't want to carry anything unnecessary with me, what reading material to take has been a critical issue. Also, I will be on an airplane for at least seven hours in each direction. That's a lot of reading time (or sleeping time if I could manage to fall asleep on a plane). Those ereaders were starting to look more and more attractive as I thought about this trip. So, I gave in and bought myself a Kindle, primarily with the thought of using it when I traveled.

I decided that I would try to read something on the Kindle before the trip, to get used to the ereader experience. The best time to try it out seemed like bedtime each night. Decades ago, I would read at bedtime. Over the years, various things broke me of the habit. Back problems made it difficult for me to find a comfortable position to read in the bed that I shared with my husband. Plus, neither of us liked the other one reading in bed when we were trying to fall asleep. However, when the husband departed with the bed, I got a new highly comfortable bed. Low and behold, I actually could read in bed comfortably and without annoying anyone else. This turned out to be a boon on another level, since reading at bedtime seems to have significantly reduced my bouts of insomnia!

In the last month I have finished two novels on the Kindle. I am still listening to at least one book a month as well. My 'to read' list on Good Reads is growing as I expand my repertoire, adding books that are only available in ereader format. Whenever I stumble on a book now I look at what formats it's available in. My format of choice is still audio, with ereader format as a backup. I am still loathe to acquire books with actual pages in them unless absolutely necessary. If for no other reason than my house is full to the rafters with physical books, many of which I keep meaning to get around to reading. I'm trying to fit some of those into my bedtime reading habit, now that I have one.

When choosing new books to throw into the mix there are lots of criteria to consider. One criteria from my book group weighs heavy on my when I am considering a potential book: length. Even if the book isn't something I would recommend to the group, I need to make sure that I have time to read the book group's selection every month. So, I'm not willing to commit to a book that will take me more than a few weeks go get through, not even as a bedtime book. I'm too new to the ereader game to commit months to one book. I relish the idea of consuming multiple books in a month with my new toy.

When it comes to the printed word, I like my book group's guideline of under 400 pages. Audiobooks are a bit different. It depends on how much can I 'read' in 2-3 weeks? Considering the length of my commute, I look for books that are under twenty hours in length. That usually allows me to listen to two books a month, one for the group and one for just me.

I get all of my audiobooks from I used to buy them on CD, but it's so much easier listening to books on the iPod and not having to worry about remembering my place on a CD if I need to take the CD out of the car's player for some reason. So, I guess that's another limiting factor, since not all audiobooks are available there. Some are just on CD. Some are still just on tape!

When I dropped by today one of the featured selections was Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. I had heard that HBO had done a miniseries of the book, so I was curious. Since I don't get HBO maybe I would listen to the book instead. Wrong! The book is 34 hours long. Beyond my limit. This reminded me of a couple of other books that I had nixed for audio length reasons. Stephen King's Under the Dome is also just over 34 hours. Diana Gabaldon's The Outlander is around 32 hours.

When I am old, not only shall I wear purple, I shall read or listen to really long books!