To Read Or Not To Read, That Is The Question

I read a lot. Or let’s put it this way: averaged out over the years, I have read a lot. It kicked in pretty hard when I was in third grade. That year I read “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien. The next year I read the complete “Lord Of The Rings”. And I’ve never looked back since. By the time I was in junior high and all through high school, I was devouring books. Sometimes one every couple of days.

Things slowed down a bit in college. At least in terms of pleasure reading. But of course I had to do so much reading just for my classes that it more than made up for it. Unfortunately when I entered into the mythical realm of “real life” in January of 1996 and had to get a job, things slipped to nearly a crawl. Every six months or year or so, I would get the urge and for a month, maybe two, I would read many books. But in between those frenzied periods. I wouldn’t read anything.

That isn’t to say literally “nothing”. Just no books. I remember all the efforts that educators placed on reading before I went off to college. They would often say things like “Read everyday. Read anything. Even if it’s a newspaper.” In those years since 1996. I’ve done more than my share of reading everyday–mostly in the form of the internet. Often news, much of it computer-related, but always something. Read everyday.

And I would still have my “fits”. Those periods when something would spark and I’d voraciously consume another round of pressed sheets of bound cellulous. One sticks in my mind. October 2000. I was staying in a hotel in New Hampshire attending my friends’ wedding, and visiting my family in Boston.

Late one night I was flipping through the channels and I wound up on a broadcast of “Interview With A Vampire”. I stayed up late watching the whole movie, even though I’d seen in many times before. And that was all it took. When I got back to Los Angeles, I promptly went and re-read all the Lestat novels and tracked down all the ones that had come out since my last reading. I think I even got in a few bonus H.P. Lovecraft books before my literary zeal wore itself out.

Things changed for me in September 2002. That was when Cameron and I set up the deal we have with Fox Studios. Suddenly I found myself driving an hour across town from Burbank to Century City every morning and another hour on the evening return. I quickly found myself wishing for something to fill up the time. I don’t mind driving. In fact I quite enjoy it. I just felt that I could be doing something even more constructive with the 10 (sometimes 14) hours I spent in the car every week.

In my dream world we would have voice activated computers installed in every car that would be tied into our own personal “data-space”. All my files–documents, pictures, MP3s, movies, everything–would be in this “space”. It would be accessible from any computer anywhere. I would be able to work with those files even from my car. But my dream world doesn’t exist and I digress from my story about reading.

In September 2002 with 10 hours to fill every single week, I signed up for an account at and started to enjoy the world of books on tape. Or in the case of Audible, books on MP3.

There has always been a part of me that feels that listening to a book is somehow cheating. You’re taking the easy way out. It’s like Cliff Notes or something. You’re not reallly putting the effort into the event and aren’t getting the true enjoyment out of a good book if you aren’t reading it. Well I quickly got past my internal objections by telling myself that I’ve read so many physically real books over the years, that I’ve earned the right to listen to 10 hours worth of literature every week. I’m glad I did.

Since that time I’ve “read” (translated: listened to) a lot books. It’s great. When I’m really into one I can’t want to get back into the car so that I can continue the story. Over at my page at Amazon, I’ve created a few lists to keep track of the books I’ve read. Most of the recent ones I’ve actually held in my hands since I’ve had the time, what with not working much recently. But many of the early ones I “read” via my iPod in the car. In fact right now, I’m listening to “The Callahan Chronicals” by Spider Robinson during my commute and actually reading a collection of the first four Lankhmar books by Fritz Leiber when I’m at home.

And today I discovered this place when it was announced on MacSlash that they now offer AAC files for download. Telltale Weekly: The Spoken Alexandria Project is an effort to put audiobook versions of 50 public domain texts online a year. They’re very inexpensive now, and will be offered for free after 5 years under a Creative Commons license. It looks like a great site.