For the Love of Reading

Friday, June 19, 2009


Do you love reading or do you love books? “Sala’s Gift” author Ann Kirschner set out to answer that question by reading the Charles Dickens classic “Little Dorrit” four ways: as a paperback, as an audio book, on her Kindle and on her iPhone. And the winner is …

Comments [16]

SheDupree from San Francisco, CA

I totally read using my iPhone in bed. Your friend is not weird, Brook. At least not to me. I also "listen" to a lot of things on my iPhone, like podcasts of On The Media. Like Ann Kirschner says, it's just so convenient. It might be nicer to have a little larger screen, but it's so easy to carry around. I"m rather nomadic. I have a ton of books stuck in boxes in the basement, still waiting to be unpacked, and are rather irretrievable. But I can carry around 10 of them on my iPhone, and switch them out for other ones. Seems like a better use of trees? Although it is nice to be able to open something up, like a newspaper, or an art book, and enjoy a designed space, or layout. And a book doesn't disappear when a battery dies.

Jun. 25 2009 09:19 PM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

All such marvelous comments!

For me, I haven't the cash or opportunity to try Kindle, iphone, or the like but I will never regret listening to Sara Gruen's "Water for Elephants" with my then-92 year old mother. Days or even hours from death today, she had lost her vision and heard none to well either but we so enjoyed the circus atmosphere (we'd spent time in a carnival together with my father) and whenever the actor intoned, "I'm 90 or 93, I can never remember," we'd laugh together uproariously!

Seeing Ms. Gruen's words on paper, while wonderful, will never match the experience of her work in this format, enhancing it immensely but, also, entirely subjectively and as a trained actor.

Meanwhile, I am an adherent of Marshall McLuhan, whom I first sped read in bookstores in the '60s. The medium is the message and Fahrenheit 451 is first meant to be read before seeing the film.

Jun. 25 2009 01:09 AM
Rose Martin from los angeles

To Mr. Evans, and Susan (above), who respectively likened audio books to Cliff Notes and said that the books have no interior life when they are read to you, have you ever listened to an audio book?

First, to the Cliff Notes comment, most books are available unabridged. The act of listening to them does not compress, truncate or otherwise mutilate the story. The language of the text is no less powerful, interesting or informative.

And to both of you I ask, are the blind and visually impaired, who have been using audio books since they began, having lesser experiences when they hear (and not "read") books, because they cannot see letters on a page?

The original transmission of literature was oral. Homer was just a recite. He did not write the Iliad. It was passed down to him by generations of reciters, who told that story, among many stories, annually. The use of poetic rhythm and rhyme enabled him to remember it when it was taught to him, so that he could recite it to others, and eventually to the person who wrote it down.

Now that there are printed pages for reciters to read, and audio devices on which they can record their recitation, these readers do not have to memorize the books before they recite them; and we do not need to travel to the reciters to hear the stories. The value of the story is in the writing. The stories are not any less 'real' or valuable for their having been spoken aloud. For that matter, many audio books are read by their authors, and so are even more powerful in audio than on the printed page.

Do you prefer the On The Media in transcript? Is it better somehow because you can read it? Is it more informative or interesting? Or were you able to handle just listening to the sweet sounds of Brooke and Bob on the radio or podcast? I think I know the answer to that one . . .

Jun. 24 2009 10:10 PM
Catherine Yekenevicz from West Bend, WI

I read books on my iPAC Pocket PC (a PDA) using the Gutenberg Project's free books (downloaded from I always have it with me, and it's backlighted so I can read in the dark, on a plane (how about reading program notes at an opera??). I have tried audiobooks on my PDA but I tend to fall asleep with the earphones in my ears, so I'm always backtracking. When driving long distances, I pick up a book or two on CD from the library and listen to them, maybe twice, on the trip. I need to stick to adventures with definite plot lines because there are a lot of distractions on the road, so listening to Canterbury Tales doesn't quite work. Now that I am downloading books onto my PDA, I read many more books than I would have on paper. Plus I can enlarge the type - something very frustrating with small print books.

Jun. 23 2009 04:11 PM
Mike Vuolo, OTM Producer from New York, NY


Thanks much for the comment. We also read Kirschner's essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education and ordinarily cite sources at the beginning or end of an interview. However, since we ID'd her as a CUNY dean and the author of "Sala's Gift," we thought that an additional attribution over the air would sound cumbersome. Instead, we linked to the piece from our website.

And although our interviews are edited for both time and content, they are NEVER scripted and the guests do not receive a list of questions or any other material from us. For more on our editing process listen to this piece by reporter John Solomon:

"Pulling Back the Curtain,"

Thanks again.

Jun. 22 2009 04:36 PM
susan from nyc

Hi Brooke. Can you hear me? Can you hear me? No perhaps not because I am WRITING to you. But you could "read" this message. Please reading is not listening to a book on tape. It is listening. Please let's all say it like it is. I hate the spin people put on things to soften not offending those who feel perhaps aplogetic for not actually reading. I don't care really. Listening to tapes they are fine but don't call it reading. When you read there is a whole entire interior world that the reader is only privy to which brings up associations, conjures up what the reader believes the charactor sounds and looks like. That is not to be missed. Knowing how to read is a gift. I am not a teacher so my adovcacy for reading is entirely personal.

Jun. 22 2009 10:12 AM
Ava G

Naomi (and other Kindle/iPhone-less) - your current cell phone might be able to use the books from

I have been using their site for a couple of years now and alike Ann Kirschner I find that having my books with you without having to remember to take them is so convenient.

Check them out on the web, if you have internet on your phone then a couple of clicks from will install a book as an app.

Jun. 22 2009 03:08 AM
Rick Evans

Listening to an audiobook is reading? Surely she jests. Does she accept book reports based on audiobooks or the movie? At least Cliff's Notes are based on real reading.

Jun. 21 2009 07:10 PM
Brian from Brooklyn, NY

I thought, one, that the piece starts off discussing what’s the best way to read a book, but quickly defined “best” in terms that sounded like “most efficient” -- which to many people is not the same thing.

And nothing against audiobooks (I’m in the middle of a good one now) but it was a complete mystery to me why listening to one was referred to as reading. Does anyone considered themselves ever to have read On The Media?

I also wondered about the difference between hearing a reading of a book one has read before, versus meeting a narrative that way for the first time.

Finally, for a great essay on the question of reading today, look for “Hamlet’s Blackberry: Why Paper is Eternal,” by William Powers. Some interesting thoughts in it about the relationship between reading (and comprehension and memory) and the physicality of ink and paper. It’s not a Luddite piece, but very interesting about the printed page. Powers asks:

“What if paper somehow influences or shapes the information that newspapers and other paper media produce? It’s a strange idea, one that requires us to imagine paper not just as a container of content, but part of the content itself.... Perhaps paper itself endowed newspapers with some meaningful quality that cannot be replicated in the digital medium as we currently know it.
What would this special quality be? To answer that question, it’s necessary to think hard about the way people interact with paper – not just newspapers, but paper broadly defined, as a medium for conveying all kinds of information. What exactly does paper do for us? How does it make us think and feel? Does it “know” things about us that other technologies don’t?”

You can Google the essay title and easily find the PDF online and then read it on a screen or print it, as you like.

Jun. 21 2009 01:43 PM
Naomi Rhodes from New York City

One week before your story on reading "Little Dorrit" 4 ways, I finished reading the book for the first time. In the traditional way, I read LD in the form of a trade paperback. I've been on a Dickens kick for over a year now enjoying my trips back to the 19th century in the form of 900 page books.

I've been longing to buy a Kindle for just this reason. Carrying around a 3 lb. book on a NYC subway or bus is not easy. In Dickens, with the abundance of characters who inhabit his novels and who sometimes appear briefly at one point and then not again until perhaps 300 pages later, it is a challenge to keep them all in mind, or to remember how they are related to each other or to the hero. Some editions have a list of characters and a brief explanation of who they are, but other editions do not. With a Kindle I could search for their names on screen and see the first time they appeared in the book and quickly return to where I was reading. With a paperback, I have to go rambling through looking backward to refresh my memory.

At some point I will buy a Kindle because I believe it will suit my reading needs perfectly, especially if I make my way through the enitre Dickens oeuvre.

Jun. 21 2009 11:27 AM
Cleveland Johnson from New York City

I was admiring this interview -- as I do many interviews on public radio -- how intelligent and, well, perfect, the conservation unfolded. Then I remembered reading a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Ann Kirschner on this very same topic. The interview follows the article -- its structure, content, and examples -- in PERFECT lockstep. As a show about the media, could you please do a piece someday on the extent to which these kinds of interviews are SCRIPTED??? I must admit to my growing skepticism that many of my favorite, most articulate commentators may be nothing more than talented script readers. Would love to know more...if you're telling!

Jun. 21 2009 11:08 AM
Robert from NYC

I'm coming out here: I've got thru 3 college degrees MusB, AB, MA, but the reading was--and is still-- a drag for me. I'm sorry it is, I don't want it to be I want to love reading like those avid readers I see all the time around me. They seem to thrive on reading and I admire and am jealous of them. But for me the act of read--the ACT of reading--is a burden. I cannot sit for more than a page at a time (on a good day) without looking away or doing something else just to get away from reading for a while. I love books and I have tons of them. I think as I got older that I figured that I have attention deficit which causes this "burden" of reading, and other problems. I love to be read to and were I rich I would pay people to read to me. So be it paper or electronic the "act of reading" is for me a burden. [I walk away with my head bowed in shame.]

Jun. 21 2009 10:53 AM
Eric C from

Put me in the book/iPod category. I love books, but the iPod is so convenient.

Also, i have no idea why people would hate on audio books, especially anyone who listens to NPR. Radio/audio is a wonderful medium. I don't own a TV because anything I think worth watching is better listened to.

Jun. 21 2009 09:43 AM
fred from usa ca

one crucial aspect of audiobooks was missing.
people process speech better if its faster than normal speech. the problem with audio books is that they are read so very slow, multiples slower than a person can comprehend, multiples slower than average reading speed which is why an unabridged book is a thick stack of cds. time stretching audio fixes this. but sadly it is not widely implemented or poorly complimented. the ipod does allow 25% increase in speed on audiobooks but its almost no difference, you need at least 2x before it becomes satisfactory. this applies to podcasts as well. i was hoping the kindle would have time stretching, especially on its computer generated reading voice, but it probably doesn't, and the publishing companies have basically neutered the feature to protect their audiobook market.

the free solution i've found is to use
foobar+soundtouch dsp for batch conversion into mp3 or mp4 allows up to 200% increase in speed and encodes quite fast. on an e2200(low end cpu) it encoded mp4 files at 80x real time, so it doesn’t take long to chew through material. even faster for mp3.

gomplayer is free and allows 10% increment speed change on the fly for stuff you playback on the pc. including video. up to 4x, i find 2-2.5x is enough lol. one things for sure, they need to add this in more hardware/software. the ipods 25% increase is not even worth bothering with. you need quite a bit more than that. narrators seem to be reading at the lowest common denominator speed, mind numbingly slow for most adults.

Jun. 20 2009 04:53 PM
Tom Colgan from Bellerose, NY

There's nothing wrong with audiobooks and including them in this survey was enlightening. However, when Dean Kirschner insists that listening to one is a form of reading she's just wrong.

While audiobooks are a wonderful format for listening to a work, they are not an example of reading. It's like saying that listening to a musical piece on your i-pod is equivalent to playing an instrument. It's just not.

Jun. 20 2009 10:46 AM
Charles Cates from Austin, Texas

I think it's comparing an apple to an apple pie. Both great, just different method of delivery. I buy books I've read before, books I plan to read, and books I know I'll never get around to reading.
I listen to audio books while in the tub, driving, or cooking.
And if I ever get a job again (I'm a laid-off typesetter with a life spent in printing & publishing) I'll try both an iPhone and a Kindle for newspapers and magazines on the go.

But getting a job would cut down on my reading time.

Jun. 19 2009 06:32 PM

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