Audiobooks vs. Humans:  Do You Read Aloud?

I must confess, I do not listen to audiobooks.  Years ago, I rented an audiobook of Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar, and thought I would listen to it while I washed the dishes.  I opened the box and was astonished to find 25-30 cassette tapes.  I spent only 10 minutes each night on the dishes,  so I made little progress with the tapes.  Eventually, I read the book myself.  It was faster and more enjoyable that way.

Although I am not a fan of audiobooks,  I do remember fondly the days when my husband and I read books aloud to each other.  We would walk to a scruffy urban park and sit beside a dead lake.  Neither of us ventured into the lake.  We were not suicidal.  Instead, we amused ourselves by reading to each other.  We enjoyed the humor books of Betty MacDonald, who is best known for The Egg and I, a comic memoir about life on a chicken farm. 

Of course our fondness for Betty MacDonald got us into trouble at the library.  One day we received an overdue notice for Anybody Can Do Anything.  “We took this back ages ago,” we insisted.  The cross librarian (yes, they used to be cross) had records, but we had our memory. The system had made a mistake, we said. We were a sweet young couple, so she couldn’t really find fault, though she looked as though she wished to banish us.

Months later we found Anybody Can Do Anything under the couch.  “How did this happen?”   The cats couldn’t have done it.  They sit on books, but they don’t move them around. We didn’t do it.  We don’t kick our books, so knew we were innocent.   The whole thing was a mystery.  Every old house has a ghost, yes?  It must have been the ghost. Laughing, we returned the book to the library.

We have known people who make their way though Trollope or George Eliot by reading aloud.  We tended to read aloud lighter books.  When you’re sitting by the lake under a scruffy tree, I Capture the Castle makes a charming read.  “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink,” Cassandra Mortmain, the narrator, writes in her vivid diary. She describes her family life as practice for the days when she will write novels. The fascinating Mortmains live in a chilly, dilapidated castle: there is even a moat. Her father is a blocked writer; her stepmother, a former artist’s model; her older sister Rose has practically never seen a man so she flirts a inappropriately, batting her eyelashes like a character in a romance, and alienates her prospects; and only the younger brother, who is still in school, seems normal.  But life becomes more interesting at the castle after an American woman and her two eligible adult sons befriend them. It helps that they love Mr. Mortmain’s book (which is compared to Ulysses).

Kurt Vonnegut is good to read aloud.  For one thing, his books are blessedly short, and are also very funny.  John Dos Passos’s U.S.A is a great book, but perhaps better read to oneself.   My husband read half of it aloud to me when I was hooked up to IVs in an infectious disease ward. I was comforted by his voice but so groggy I didn’t take much in.  Still, we kept up the custom even at the hospital.

Some years ago, Edward Gorey in a Christmas interview at Amazon recommended Sylvia Waugh’s morbidly comic novels, The Mennyms series.  To quote Goodreads: ” A family of life-sized rag dolls live quietly and happily in a British village, secure that everyone takes them as human, until a letter from their landlord’s relative in Australia threatens their existence.” We read all five of them aloud. They were published as children’s books, but they are definitely for adults – we think so! Edward Gorey had excellent taste.

When did we stop reading to each other?  We truly enjoyed it, but it became difficult to fit in everything once we got “real jobs.” And yet what a good habit it was, and it brought us so much joy. 

Audiobooks are wonderful in their way, but it is not quite the same.

Winners and Losers: Kurt Vonnegut on Imaginary Political Parties

On October 13, 2019, I was in agony about my country. I wrote a post called “Does Voting Matter? One Can But Hope.”

I said,

I have felt increasingly ambivalent about the power of my vote. That is to say, I feel powerless. I elected precisely two politicians in the last election (2016). The state has gone red, and my vote no longer counts….

[But] I will vote next year, whether I like it or not.  The world is a mess.   I no longer have the option of not voting.  One votes in case it counts.

And now look what has happened this time! I did vote. And it’s chaos, though my state at least promptly counted the votes. Very late deadlines for some state mail ballots (surely a way of sabotaging voting by mail ), results from some states not expected till next week or later, Biden keeping his cool, Trump not, and the rest of us either eating cookies for three meals a day or trying to breathe deeply (“Be grateful for this moment…”)…

Let me leave you with a quote from Kurt Vonnegut’s essay,  “In a Manner That Must Shame God Himself,” from Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons, a brilliant collection of essays, magazine pieces, and speeches. Vonnegut imagines the thoughts of visitor from another planet on  the American people in 1972.


“The two real political parties in America are the Winners and the Losers. The people do not acknowledge this. They claim membership in two imaginary parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, instead.

“Both imaginary parties are bossed by Winners. When Republicans battle Democrats, this much is certain: Winners will win.

“The Democrats have been the larger party in the past–because their leaders have not been as openly contemptuous of Losers as the Republicans have.

“Losers can join imaginary parties. Losers can vote.”

Have a happily bookish weekend!

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