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If my email is any indication, I would say the use of audiobooks seems to be ticking up. Of course, like any author, I am thrilled when people read my wok in any form. But audiobooks have clear tradeoffs. On the upside, they simply allow people who are otherwise busy, or can’t sit still, to listen to books. Three decades after my mother started listening to Books on Tape while commuting four hours each way from Savannah to Atlanta to get her MBA, listening to books while driving seems to be more popular than ever. Also, I would say those who listen to the recordings of WALKING THE BIBLE, ABRAHAM, and WHERE GOD WAS BORN that I made, feel an increased intimacy with the author.
JANICE RASPEN, a librarian at an elementary school in Fredericksburg, Va., came clean with her book club a couple years ago. They were discussing “A Fine Balance,” a novel set in India in the 1970s by Rohinton Mistry and an Oprah’s Book Club pick, when she told the group — all fellow teachers — that rather than read the book, she had listened to an audio version.
“My statement was met with stunned silence,” said Ms. Raspen, 38.
Finally Catherine Altman, an art teacher, spoke up.
“I said that I felt like listening to a book was a copout,” Ms. Altman said. “I’m not like a hardcore book group person — a lot of times I don’t even finish the book. But my point was that she is a librarian and I thought it was pretty ridiculous. I’m a painter and it would be like me painting by numbers.”
The perennial disagreement in book groups has been over authors, with the single-malt drinkers arguing for F. Scott Fitzgerald and the chardonnay drinkers for Anita Shreve. But the latest schism in the living room lit-fests is not over whom they read, but if they read.
Is it acceptable, they debate within and among themselves, to listen to that month’s book rather than read it? Or is that cheating, like watching the movie instead of reading the book?