Sunday, March 09, 2008

An Unexpected Reading Experiment

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up the audio version of Marsha Pessl's 514 page book, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, and planned to enjoy it over the next three or four weeks of my daily commute to the office. I was unfamiliar with the book when I spotted it on the library shelf but it looked more interesting in audio than any of the others around, so I grabbed it and started listening to the first disc on my way home. I knew it would take me a while to complete the book because the audio version is 17 discs long, something around 19 hours of listening, I would guess.

I found out yesterday that the book must have been placed on the shelf by mistake because there is a list of people who have requested that it be held for them. That meant that I was unable to renew the book yesterday for another two weeks, about how much time I needed to finish the last nine discs in the set. I hate people who keep requested books longer than their allotted time, so I couldn't bring myself to just hang onto Special Topics and pay the fine when I finished it up...just didn't seem right.

But I caught a break when I spotted a copy of the actual book on the shelves, so all is not lost. This is a coming-of-age debut novel and the first half of the book is largely spent in character development and the set-up of a mystery revolving around a beautiful, but strange, high school teacher. The second half of the book promises to be a good bit different, I think, from the first half and now I'll know for sure.

But here's the "experiment" part. I've never read a book this way, half in audio and half in physical book form. I doubt that many people, if any, ever have and I'm wondering how the two halves will compare. Will I find that I enjoyed the first half of the book a lot more than the second half? If so, should the credit go to the reader (who is excellent) or to the writer who may have lost her way in the second half? Will the overall "feel" of the book remain the same? Will my opinion and rating of the book go up or down as I finish it?

I'm already finding it much more difficult to get into the "rhythm" of the writing than I expected it would be. The reader gives such a flawless, conversational reading of the author's words that I was surprised at the "density" of some of the writing. That rhythm is coming to me slowly, but surely, and my reading is going much better now, I'm relieved to see.

So my reading of Special Topics in Calamity Physics will be 248 "pages" of audio and 266 pages of reading, an almost perfectly even split, not something I'm ever likely to repeat...should be interesting (at least to me).

12 comments:

  1. I've read a couple of books that way!...1/2 in audio and half with the actual book. One of them was Willa Cather's Song of the Lark. I listened to half the book before I decided that it moved too slowly for me on audiobook (or that the narrator wasn't quite right for me) and switched over to the actual book. It was weird, but I don't think it took away from my appreciation of her writing.

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  2. I bought the audio version Ruth Rendell's End in Tears. I listened to it driving from Virginia back home to Pennsylvania, only to discover that the last CD was not there! So, I stopped at the mall, bought the actual book, and finished reading it.

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  3. This is an interesting turn of events. I've never done this before as I imagine most people haven't. I was talking to someone the other day who had listened to an audio version of a book and then later for a book club meeting "skimmed" over the print version. She seemed to think that there were actual differences in the text from the audio. I always assumed that the audio version was a strict reading of the text.

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  4. There might have been differences between what the reader heard and what she read. I tend to give more brain weight to the written word rather than hearing it.

    I've done this! I'd ordered a book from Audible, got about halfway through it listening to it, couldn't take the suspense (I can read a lot faster than the narrator can talk) and picked it up at a local bookstore to finish it off. (The Janissary Tree, if you care.)

    Do not start me on the rant that is the debacle of Daylight "Saving" Time. Spring Forward is a good book on the subject too.

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  5. Do you still have the voice of the tape's reader in your mind's ear as you read?

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  6. Interesting, Robin. It looks like more people have experienced this than I thought. I'm really surprised that someone "voluntarily" made the switch mid-book but I can understand not liking a narrator so much that you just couldn't go on.

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  7. Ouch, Syndi...that's even worse than my experience (and reason) for going from audio to book. But with Ruth Rendell I can easily imagine that you couldn't wait to find out how the book ended...great writer.

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  8. Lisa, I think it's all perception on the listener/reader's part because the books are supposed to be read word-for-word. It's just that an interesting narrator can make you more aware of some things you may have glossed right over in written form...all about tone and volume, I think.

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  9. Thanks for another reason for switching that I never thought of, Carrie. I only listen to audio books while driving alone but there have been a couple of occasions where I hauled the CDs back inside so that I could find out how a book ended...couldn't wait until the next day. :-)

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  10. That's a great question, Ted. Actually I'm trying not to lose that "voice" and its rhythm because I'm finding it makes the reading go a bit quicker and easier. I'm not sure it that's going to allow me to make the comparison I was aiming for when I started reading the book Saturday.

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  11. Funny you should bring this up, because just tonight I stopped at the library to pick up the print version of a book I've been listening to for weeks. I think I am just eager to be done with it. I figured I could keep listening for another few weeks, or just finish reading it in two nights. I'm all about efficiency these days.

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  12. Good point, Becky...I'm surprised at how many people have done this kind of split reading. I never considered it before being forced into it by my library.

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