Listening To A Book

One of my bookshelves.

Much ink has been spilled on why people read. Of equal import, though, is what we read and how we interface with the world of letters. In an interview with Charlie Rose, on PBS, director James Franco, said, he reads a book a day. It’s not humanly impossible to do that. Speed readers, typically, devour a whopping 1,500 words a minute.

At what speed do you read?

Yet, Franco doesn’t really read, moving his eyes from the left to the right, word after word, paragraph after paragraph, and page after page. He listens to another read an audiobook to him.

As if listening, in itself, wasn’t faster than reading, he plays his books at twice the normal playback speed. The effect it’d create couldn’t be too acoustically pleasing, somewhat  like that of playing a 33⅓ r.p.m. record at 45 r.p.m. Even so, it lets him gulp one book in 24 hours.

Surely “there’s more to [reading] than simply increasing its speed,” to paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi. A book is not a packet of mini-pretzels, after all, intended to be wolfed down in a single go.

I read very slowly. I savor a book, making it last. I can’t recall a single instance, when I’ve whizzed through a book that wasn’t a textbook. Anne Tyler, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, wrote: “I read so I can live more than one life, in more than one place.”

A classic is a potent portal through which to soak up the zeitgeist of another era. But to be able to inhabit a different “life” and “time,” one has to immerse oneself deeply in the novel, a habit that calls for hours of reading at a leisurely pace.

In “A Study in Scarlet,” by Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes remarks: “The ordinary London growler is considerably less wide than a gentleman’s brougham.”

This statement is a gateway. Tear through it like a twister, and you’ll miss out on an opportunity to see through your mind’s eye, the everyday transport of Victorian England. When I’d come across it, I shut the book and forked out to Google to research a “London growler” and a “brougham,” just so I could visualize the terrain in which the adventure was set.


3 thoughts on “Listening To A Book

  1. I have become a “slow” reader over the years, but what I have lost in speed I have gained in memory. For instance, I now remember more vividly wheat I read; if the reason is speed or deeper engagement with texts, I know not.


  2. This is interesting too. I have been thinking a lot about how many books I will be able to read in my lifetime. I think I worked out an approx amount, if i live to be a certain age, at my current reading speed, and it was not nice to see the limit. So, maybe i must get audiobooks at double speed too, triple, quadruple speed, until my head explodes.. But I think, it is better to appreciate the words and not rush, savour as you say. I like the books as a portal metaphor too. I will think about that this evening. Nice post 🙂


  3. Stephen: Thanks for reading:)

    You know, I have absolutely nothing against audiobooks. I wish I would “listen” to books, in which case, of course, I’d finish a book far faster speed. The only problem, though, is that I wouldn’t comprehend what I read.


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