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  • Lauren Passell 1:30 pm on 2017/07/20 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Random, , , ,   

    DO NOT READ THIS POST: The 10 Biggest Book Spoilers, Ever 

    Warning: if you like to be surprised, stop reading right now. Get a glass of water or look at Buzzfeed or start working on your memoir.

    But if you’re curious about these books and their kick-to-the-stomach endings, then by all means, read on. (Because I’m not completely cruel, I’ve whited out the spoilers—just highlight the empty space to see the hidden words.)

    Don’t say we didn’t warn you…

    The Sinner, by Petra Hammesfahr
    One of the best examples of a “whydunnit” in recent years, German author Hammesfahr’s twisty novel (soon to air as a miniseries on USA starring Jessica Biel) is largely told in flashback after Cora Bender, a seemingly normal mother and housewife, inexplicably stabs a man to death while on a beach picnic with her family. Cora confesses readily and claims to have no idea why she just committed homicide—but a patient policeman thinks there’s more to the story, and slowly susses out the truth—Cora’s younger sister was born extremely ill, and her mother became obsessed with caring for her, forcing her father to share a room with Cora, resulting in a creepily close relationship between the two that comes as close to abuse as possible without crossing that final line. Her sister Magdalena isn’t as innocent as she seems—despite her frailty, she manipulates Cora and also has an intensely, inappropriately intimate relationship with her. When Cora is 19, she takes Magdalena with her to meet a boy and his friends, not realizing that Magdalena is near death and wishes to die. Two of the boys rape Cora while the third has sex with Magdalena—who dies during the act, a specific piece of music playing on the radio. When Cora freaks out, one of the boys hits her in the head with an ashtray, and to cover up the crime, they hold Cora captive for six months. Years later, when the music plays again at the beach, Cora snaps, and strikes out with a knife.

    Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
    In Ender’s Game, the survival of the human race depends on Ender Wiggin, the child genius recruited for military training by the government… But while you (and Ender) believe he is fighting in mind simulation, in truth, he’s been  manipulated into fighting a real war, and actually killing the enemies, called buggers. He moves to a new colony planet with his sister, where he discovers that the buggers have created a space just for him. They didn’t know humans had intelligence, and they want to communicate with him. They show him what the war looked like from their point of view, and Ender and the buggers meet a point of understanding. He vows to live with them in peace, starts a new kind of religion, and writes a Bible-like book about the buggers, signing it Speaker For The Dead, which is a perfect segue into the Ender’s Game sequel.

    Atonement, by Ian McEwan
    Atonement is about misinterpretation and its repercussions. Briony observes her big sister Cecilia and Cecilia’s friend Robbie flirting and assumes something shameful has happened between them. She accuses Robbie of rape, and Robbie goes to jail. The story then follows Cecilia and Robbie as they go to war, fall in love, and wind up together forever. But at the end of the novel, you discover that Briony is actually the book’s narrator—and she’s been lying to you, too. She did accuse Robbie of rape, and he was jailed, but C & R didn’t live happily ever after together, after all. They both died in the war. Briony just wrote a happy ending for them to atone for her sins. That’s what she says, anyway. I’m not sure I believe anything she says anymore.

    And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie
    Most Agatha Christie novels leave you gobsmacked (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, anyone?) But And Then There Were None is an absolute masterpiece of the whodunnit? formula. People invited to a party in a mansion keep on being murdered, but by whom? Well, if you’re sure you want to know…it was Judge Wargrave! Swaddled in a red curtain, he fakes his own death so that you, the reader, assume the murderer is someone else. But in a written confession at the end of the novel, you learn that he invited people to a desolate island in order to kill them one by one as punishment for the terrible things they’d done (and thought they got away with). Agatha, you sneak!

    Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
    In Gone Girl, husband and wife Nick and Amy tell the story of their tumultuous marriage. We read what we think is Amy’s diary, and it condemns Nick as a violent jerk. We start to believe that Nick is responsible for Amy’s disappearance and possible death. But in a series of twists, the truth is revealed—Amy and Nick are both liars. Nick was having an affair, and Amy has been alive all along, on the lam, trying to frame Nick for her death. What we thought was her diary is actually a cunning trap: it’s a piece of fiction Amy wrote for the police to find. Amy kills a friend and returns to Nick, pregnant with his child, claiming she was kidnapped. Nick takes her back even though he knows the truth. In the end, Amy says she’s getting ready to become a mom by writing her abduction story. She should hang out with Briony.

    Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
    Rebecca begins with one of the most mesmerizing first lines in literature—“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Things only get more interesting from there. The unnamed protagonist marries Maxim de Winter and moves into his home, called Manderley. She struggles to live up to the legend of Maxim’s late wife, Rebecca, who was seemingly perfect. Mrs. Danvers, the maid, almost gets the protagonist to kill herself in despair. But one day, divers find a sunken sailboat that belonged to Rebecca, revealing that Rebecca was murdered. Maxim then tells the truth: Rebecca was a wretched woman who had multiple affairs—one, with her cousin, resulted in her pregnancy. When Maxim found out, he killed her. In yet another twist, we find out that Rebecca was lying to Maxim—she wasn’t pregnant, but was actually dying of a terminal illness. In the end Old Danvers burns the joint down and disappears. As for Maxim and the protagonist? Happily ever after.

    The Dinner, by Herman Koch
    In Howard Koch’s The Dinner, two brothers and their wives sit down for a meal to discuss the horrific crime committed by their sons. The cousins have been caught on camera attacking a sleeping homeless woman in an ATM, throwing trash and a container of gasoline at her, and then burning her to death. Koch makes it clear that the family is bonded by a common sociopathology. The family argues over what to do. Serge, a politician, wants to come clean about the boys’ crime. Enraged by Serge’s stance, his sister-in-law Claire attacks him, disfiguring his face. Claire urges her nephews to “take care” of Beau, Serge and Babette’s adopted son, who witnessed the crime and is blackmailing the boys by threatening to reveal what they did. At the end of the novel, Beau is missing, and one of the cousins comes home covered in blood and mud. Wonder what happened to him?

    Harry Potter And The Deathly Hollows, by J.K. Rowling
    In J.K. Rowling’s seventh and final installment in the Harry Potter series, it’s revealed that Harry is a Horcrux, and must be killed before Voldemort can be. Viewing Snape’s memories in the Pensieve, Harry sees Snape talking to Dumbledore and finds out that Snape’s been his protector all this time. Snape loved Harry’s mother, Lily Potter, and spent his entire life spying on Voldemort for Dumbledore. Meanwhile, Dumbledore had been steering Harry to sacrifice himself for the larger good. Good and evil are blurred once again when Harry survives and learns that Dumbledore loved him, even if he expected him to sacrifice himself. Ms. Rowling, you’ve tricked us again.

    Rant, by Chuck Palahniuk
    This novel is an oral biography of protagonist Buster Landru “Rant” Casey, who has died. The reader gathers that Rant lived in a dystopian future where lower class citizens, called “nighttimers,” engaged in an activity called “Party Crashing,” a demolition derby where the crashers slam into each other in cars. The catch: if you crash in the right mental state, you’ll travel backwards in time. Rant disappears during Party Crashing, so his friends assume he’s time traveling. It takes some piecing together to figure out that Rant has been traveling back through time, raping his ancestors every thirteen years in an effort to become a superhuman. He isn’t one character; he is many. You can’t make this stuff up, but I guess Palahniuk did.

    Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
    Anna Karenina is about a lot of stuff, but the heart of the story lies with Anna and her downward spiral from captivating spitfire to insecure shell of a woman. The book is beautifully written. Much of its pleasure comes from the character studies and quiet plotting. Then, in one of the most shocking moments in literature, Anna throws herself under a train and dies and you are stupefied. One of my friends always says, of Anna Karenina, “if you only read one ‘old’ book in your whole life, have it be this one.” Agreed.

    Something Happened, by Joseph Heller
    You’ll spend more than 400 pages reading about not much happening, rolling around in the protagonist’s brain as he goes to work, cares for his son, and fantasizes about the secretary. I can’t tell you what happens, though. That would ruin the book completely. 

    Kidding, obviously. The whole point, here, is to ruin your enjoyment of surprising books!

    Slocum’s son is a weakling because Slocum never made him go to gym class. This son gets hit by a car. In sadness and despair, Slocum hugs him to death. I mean that very literally, not the new kind of “literally.” Slocum hugs his son until he dies from squeezing. 

    Even with the surprises spoiled, reading these books is still a worthwhile endeavor. You’re going to read all of them, right? What’s the best book twist you’ve ever read?

    The post DO NOT READ THIS POST: The 10 Biggest Book Spoilers, Ever appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Lauren Passell 1:30 pm on 2017/07/20 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Random, , , ,   

    DO NOT READ THIS POST: The 10 Biggest Book Spoilers, Ever 

    Warning: if you like to be surprised, stop reading right now. Get a glass of water or look at Buzzfeed or start working on your memoir.

    But if you’re curious about these books and their kick-to-the-stomach endings, then by all means, read on. (Because I’m not completely cruel, I’ve whited out the spoilers—just highlight the empty space to see the hidden words.)

    Don’t say we didn’t warn you…

    The Sinner, by Petra Hammesfahr
    One of the best examples of a “whydunnit” in recent years, German author Hammesfahr’s twisty novel (soon to air as a miniseries on USA starring Jessica Biel) is largely told in flashback after Cora Bender, a seemingly normal mother and housewife, inexplicably stabs a man to death while on a beach picnic with her family. Cora confesses readily and claims to have no idea why she just committed homicide—but a patient policeman thinks there’s more to the story, and slowly susses out the truth—Cora’s younger sister was born extremely ill, and her mother became obsessed with caring for her, forcing her father to share a room with Cora, resulting in a creepily close relationship between the two that comes as close to abuse as possible without crossing that final line. Her sister Magdalena isn’t as innocent as she seems—despite her frailty, she manipulates Cora and also has an intensely, inappropriately intimate relationship with her. When Cora is 19, she takes Magdalena with her to meet a boy and his friends, not realizing that Magdalena is near death and wishes to die. Two of the boys rape Cora while the third has sex with Magdalena—who dies during the act, a specific piece of music playing on the radio. When Cora freaks out, one of the boys hits her in the head with an ashtray, and to cover up the crime, they hold Cora captive for six months. Years later, when the music plays again at the beach, Cora snaps, and strikes out with a knife.

    Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
    In Ender’s Game, the survival of the human race depends on Ender Wiggin, the child genius recruited for military training by the government… But while you (and Ender) believe he is fighting in mind simulation, in truth, he’s been  manipulated into fighting a real war, and actually killing the enemies, called buggers. He moves to a new colony planet with his sister, where he discovers that the buggers have created a space just for him. They didn’t know humans had intelligence, and they want to communicate with him. They show him what the war looked like from their point of view, and Ender and the buggers meet a point of understanding. He vows to live with them in peace, starts a new kind of religion, and writes a Bible-like book about the buggers, signing it Speaker For The Dead, which is a perfect segue into the Ender’s Game sequel.

    Atonement, by Ian McEwan
    Atonement is about misinterpretation and its repercussions. Briony observes her big sister Cecilia and Cecilia’s friend Robbie flirting and assumes something shameful has happened between them. She accuses Robbie of rape, and Robbie goes to jail. The story then follows Cecilia and Robbie as they go to war, fall in love, and wind up together forever. But at the end of the novel, you discover that Briony is actually the book’s narrator—and she’s been lying to you, too. She did accuse Robbie of rape, and he was jailed, but C & R didn’t live happily ever after together, after all. They both died in the war. Briony just wrote a happy ending for them to atone for her sins. That’s what she says, anyway. I’m not sure I believe anything she says anymore.

    And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie
    Most Agatha Christie novels leave you gobsmacked (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, anyone?) But And Then There Were None is an absolute masterpiece of the whodunnit? formula. People invited to a party in a mansion keep on being murdered, but by whom? Well, if you’re sure you want to know…it was Judge Wargrave! Swaddled in a red curtain, he fakes his own death so that you, the reader, assume the murderer is someone else. But in a written confession at the end of the novel, you learn that he invited people to a desolate island in order to kill them one by one as punishment for the terrible things they’d done (and thought they got away with). Agatha, you sneak!

    Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
    In Gone Girl, husband and wife Nick and Amy tell the story of their tumultuous marriage. We read what we think is Amy’s diary, and it condemns Nick as a violent jerk. We start to believe that Nick is responsible for Amy’s disappearance and possible death. But in a series of twists, the truth is revealed—Amy and Nick are both liars. Nick was having an affair, and Amy has been alive all along, on the lam, trying to frame Nick for her death. What we thought was her diary is actually a cunning trap: it’s a piece of fiction Amy wrote for the police to find. Amy kills a friend and returns to Nick, pregnant with his child, claiming she was kidnapped. Nick takes her back even though he knows the truth. In the end, Amy says she’s getting ready to become a mom by writing her abduction story. She should hang out with Briony.

    Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
    Rebecca begins with one of the most mesmerizing first lines in literature—“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Things only get more interesting from there. The unnamed protagonist marries Maxim de Winter and moves into his home, called Manderley. She struggles to live up to the legend of Maxim’s late wife, Rebecca, who was seemingly perfect. Mrs. Danvers, the maid, almost gets the protagonist to kill herself in despair. But one day, divers find a sunken sailboat that belonged to Rebecca, revealing that Rebecca was murdered. Maxim then tells the truth: Rebecca was a wretched woman who had multiple affairs—one, with her cousin, resulted in her pregnancy. When Maxim found out, he killed her. In yet another twist, we find out that Rebecca was lying to Maxim—she wasn’t pregnant, but was actually dying of a terminal illness. In the end Old Danvers burns the joint down and disappears. As for Maxim and the protagonist? Happily ever after.

    The Dinner, by Herman Koch
    In Howard Koch’s The Dinner, two brothers and their wives sit down for a meal to discuss the horrific crime committed by their sons. The cousins have been caught on camera attacking a sleeping homeless woman in an ATM, throwing trash and a container of gasoline at her, and then burning her to death. Koch makes it clear that the family is bonded by a common sociopathology. The family argues over what to do. Serge, a politician, wants to come clean about the boys’ crime. Enraged by Serge’s stance, his sister-in-law Claire attacks him, disfiguring his face. Claire urges her nephews to “take care” of Beau, Serge and Babette’s adopted son, who witnessed the crime and is blackmailing the boys by threatening to reveal what they did. At the end of the novel, Beau is missing, and one of the cousins comes home covered in blood and mud. Wonder what happened to him?

    Harry Potter And The Deathly Hollows, by J.K. Rowling
    In J.K. Rowling’s seventh and final installment in the Harry Potter series, it’s revealed that Harry is a Horcrux, and must be killed before Voldemort can be. Viewing Snape’s memories in the Pensieve, Harry sees Snape talking to Dumbledore and finds out that Snape’s been his protector all this time. Snape loved Harry’s mother, Lily Potter, and spent his entire life spying on Voldemort for Dumbledore. Meanwhile, Dumbledore had been steering Harry to sacrifice himself for the larger good. Good and evil are blurred once again when Harry survives and learns that Dumbledore loved him, even if he expected him to sacrifice himself. Ms. Rowling, you’ve tricked us again.

    Rant, by Chuck Palahniuk
    This novel is an oral biography of protagonist Buster Landru “Rant” Casey, who has died. The reader gathers that Rant lived in a dystopian future where lower class citizens, called “nighttimers,” engaged in an activity called “Party Crashing,” a demolition derby where the crashers slam into each other in cars. The catch: if you crash in the right mental state, you’ll travel backwards in time. Rant disappears during Party Crashing, so his friends assume he’s time traveling. It takes some piecing together to figure out that Rant has been traveling back through time, raping his ancestors every thirteen years in an effort to become a superhuman. He isn’t one character; he is many. You can’t make this stuff up, but I guess Palahniuk did.

    Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
    Anna Karenina is about a lot of stuff, but the heart of the story lies with Anna and her downward spiral from captivating spitfire to insecure shell of a woman. The book is beautifully written. Much of its pleasure comes from the character studies and quiet plotting. Then, in one of the most shocking moments in literature, Anna throws herself under a train and dies and you are stupefied. One of my friends always says, of Anna Karenina, “if you only read one ‘old’ book in your whole life, have it be this one.” Agreed.

    Something Happened, by Joseph Heller
    You’ll spend more than 400 pages reading about not much happening, rolling around in the protagonist’s brain as he goes to work, cares for his son, and fantasizes about the secretary. I can’t tell you what happens, though. That would ruin the book completely. 

    Kidding, obviously. The whole point, here, is to ruin your enjoyment of surprising books!

    Slocum’s son is a weakling because Slocum never made him go to gym class. This son gets hit by a car. In sadness and despair, Slocum hugs him to death. I mean that very literally, not the new kind of “literally.” Slocum hugs his son until he dies from squeezing. 

    Even with the surprises spoiled, reading these books is still a worthwhile endeavor. You’re going to read all of them, right? What’s the best book twist you’ve ever read?

    The post DO NOT READ THIS POST: The 10 Biggest Book Spoilers, Ever appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Joel Cunningham 9:25 pm on 2015/11/30 Permalink
    Tags: , , Random,   

    The Weirdest Facts of 2016 

    What have you accomplished in the last year? Maybe you landed a new job. Maybe you moved states, or even countries. Maybe you got married, started a family, ran a marathon, won an eating contest. The chances are still very good that nothing you did was weird or wonderful enough to make its way into the record books—or at least, the only record book that really matters. We’re speaking, of course, about Guinness World Records, the annual guide to the odd events, impressive collections, and obsessive behaviors that reach truly singular status. Guinness World Records 2016 is here, and these are a few of the weirdest facts found within.

    The world’s largest gathering of Segways 
    Do you remember Paul Blart: Mall Cop? Do you remember that there was a sequel to Paul Blart: Mall Cop? No matter, because an April 2015 promotional event for Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 in New York City will go down in history as both the largest Segway riding lesson of all time and the occasion that saw the most people performing simultaneous 360-degree spins on a Segway. (Perhaps we should also add: remember Segways?)

    Longest marathon TV broadcast
    Between August 21 and September 1 of 2014, the FXX cable network aired a hair under 205 consecutive hours of The Simpsons—every episode of the series in existence up to that point, and the longest uninterrupted broadcast of a TV franchise in history. It’s a feat that, we can all agree, ranks with the best. World records. Ever.

    Most facial flesh tunnels
    Your tongue piercing is impressing no one these days. Especially not Joel Miggler, who, in November 2014, earned official status as the (presumably) living person with the most “facial flesh tunnels,” which are pretty much wha they sound like: holes that extend all the way through his face. Never fear, however: he says he has no problems eating or drinking. (“I can only take small bites though,” he adds.)

    Fastest mile wearing swim fins
    OK, so maybe you did make the record books for running a marathon, provided your name is Zachary Miller and you did it while wearing swim fins. Embarrassingly, Zach accomplished this feat in a mere 5 minutes and 48-ish seconds, whereas we have been running a non-consecutive mile for roughly the last five years.

    Hula hoop madness
    While we discussing our athletic shortcomings, Australia’s Marawa Ibrahim sure has us beat when it comes to hula hooping. In 2014, “Marawa the Amazing” and her team of 10 majorettes secured record status for most hoops spun consecutively (264). She also holds an individual record for the longest time hula hooping while on roller skates (2 minutes, 29 seconds). Our personal hula hooping record stands at however long it takes for the hoop to immediately drop to the floor.

    One of each, please
    This year’s record book includes entries for both the most edible layers in a sandwich (40, of marshmallow fluff, peanut butter, and bacon) and, to wash it all down, the largest cup of coffee (3,758.7 gallons). We’d ooh and ahh, but all this peanut butter has glued our mouths shut. Speaking of sandwiches, the most expensive sandwich in history was sold in October 2014 in New York City (of course); the Quintessential Grilled Cheese (including two slices of French Pullman bread made with Dom Pérignon champaign and dipped in edible gold flakes) cost $214.

    This year’s biggest books
    If it’s books you love (and of course it is), you probably won’t be surprised to learn that James Patterson was once again the world’s highest-grossing author in 2014, with income topping $90 million. Meanwhile, we’d be happy to stand alongside the likes of Blackie, the world’s wealthiest cat, who inherited a mere $7 million in 1998.

     
  • Joel Cunningham 9:25 pm on 2015/11/30 Permalink
    Tags: , , Random,   

    The Weirdest Facts of 2016 

    What have you accomplished in the last year? Maybe you landed a new job. Maybe you moved states, or even countries. Maybe you got married, started a family, ran a marathon, won an eating contest. The chances are still very good that nothing you did was weird or wonderful enough to make its way into the record books—or at least, the only record book that really matters. We’re speaking, of course, about Guinness World Records, the annual guide to the odd events, impressive collections, and obsessive behaviors that reach truly singular status. Guinness World Records 2016 is here, and these are a few of the weirdest facts found within.

    The world’s largest gathering of Segways 
    Do you remember Paul Blart: Mall Cop? Do you remember that there was a sequel to Paul Blart: Mall Cop? No matter, because an April 2015 promotional event for Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 in New York City will go down in history as both the largest Segway riding lesson of all time and the occasion that saw the most people performing simultaneous 360-degree spins on a Segway. (Perhaps we should also add: remember Segways?)

    Longest marathon TV broadcast
    Between August 21 and September 1 of 2014, the FXX cable network aired a hair under 205 consecutive hours of The Simpsons—every episode of the series in existence up to that point, and the longest uninterrupted broadcast of a TV franchise in history. It’s a feat that, we can all agree, ranks with the best. World records. Ever.

    Most facial flesh tunnels
    Your tongue piercing is impressing no one these days. Especially not Joel Miggler, who, in November 2014, earned official status as the (presumably) living person with the most “facial flesh tunnels,” which are pretty much wha they sound like: holes that extend all the way through his face. Never fear, however: he says he has no problems eating or drinking. (“I can only take small bites though,” he adds.)

    Fastest mile wearing swim fins
    OK, so maybe you did make the record books for running a marathon, provided your name is Zachary Miller and you did it while wearing swim fins. Embarrassingly, Zach accomplished this feat in a mere 5 minutes and 48-ish seconds, whereas we have been running a non-consecutive mile for roughly the last five years.

    Hula hoop madness
    While we discussing our athletic shortcomings, Australia’s Marawa Ibrahim sure has us beat when it comes to hula hooping. In 2014, “Marawa the Amazing” and her team of 10 majorettes secured record status for most hoops spun consecutively (264). She also holds an individual record for the longest time hula hooping while on roller skates (2 minutes, 29 seconds). Our personal hula hooping record stands at however long it takes for the hoop to immediately drop to the floor.

    One of each, please
    This year’s record book includes entries for both the most edible layers in a sandwich (40, of marshmallow fluff, peanut butter, and bacon) and, to wash it all down, the largest cup of coffee (3,758.7 gallons). We’d ooh and ahh, but all this peanut butter has glued our mouths shut. Speaking of sandwiches, the most expensive sandwich in history was sold in October 2014 in New York City (of course); the Quintessential Grilled Cheese (including two slices of French Pullman bread made with Dom Pérignon champaign and dipped in edible gold flakes) cost $214.

    This year’s biggest books
    If it’s books you love (and of course it is), you probably won’t be surprised to learn that James Patterson was once again the world’s highest-grossing author in 2014, with income topping $90 million. Meanwhile, we’d be happy to stand alongside the likes of Blackie, the world’s wealthiest cat, who inherited a mere $7 million in 1998.

     
  • BN Editors 5:00 pm on 2014/05/30 Permalink
    Tags: , , Random   

    The Great Audiobook Debate: Does Listening Count As Reading? 

    collageDo you have to use your eyes to get credit for “reading” a book? Do you get everything out of the experience you’re supposed to, or is it just one more apocalyptic sign that modern consumers of culture just can’t sit still and enjoy the finer things in life? Friends, writers, and fellow book club members Sabrina Rojas Weiss and Brooke Tarnoff debate this weighty issue.

    Sabrina: After years of living in shame, I’ve decided to come out and proudly declare something about my literary habits: I haven’t actually read about 70 percent of the books I say I have—because I’ve listened to them as audiobooks. I’m done feeling like this is cheating. No more using air quotes when I say I read War and Peace. When done right, listening to a book is just the same as reading it. Maybe even better in some cases.

    Brooke: I have the greatest respect for you and your literary chops, Sabrina, so I don’t want to come out and call you a reading cheater. But if the headphones fit…No, I’m kidding. Mostly.

    Let me start by saying that I think I’ve shed my irrational, exclusive loyalty to printed books. I love the feel and smell of a “real” book, but I’ve come to embrace digital literature. I like to think it’s not the format I react to when I shun audiobooks, but the experience. In a perfect world without distractions, sure, listening to an audiobook could give you the same experience as reading the words with your own eyes. But in our post-MTV-generation world, how many people do you know who watch TV without a tablet nearby? Who eat dinner with their friends without a surreptitious email check every 10 minutes? With a book, if your concentration breaks, you can easily reread that paragraph you accidentally skimmed. But if your mind wanders—or your phone dings—are you always going to rewind to find exactly the point where you lost the narrative?

    Sabrina: I did say “when done right.” And to me that means with the ability to rewind when my mind wanders. My mind wanders quite a lot when I’m physically reading a book, which often means that I get fed up with boring passages and put the thing down, never to pick it up again. But if there’s ever a slow passage in a book I’m listening to, I can easily power through it. This is how I’ve managed to get through the great, ponderous works of the 19th century.

    Here’s the thing: I know that all sorts of science has debunked the idea of effective multitasking, but it also never offered me an alternative. As a working mother, every time I sit down to read, I’m distracted by guilt that I’m not doing the thousand other things I should be. I, too, love the notion of “curling up with a good book,” but that’s a rare luxury. If I’m listening, though, I don’t have to stop the rest of my life, and I can keep up with crazy-long tomes like The Goldfinch. Plus, if I’m doing something mindless, like dishes or working out, I can pay even better attention to the words. My brain is funny like that.

    Brooke: Far be it from me to steer anyone away from exercising their brain while working out their delts—or their dishes, whatever—but speaking completely for myself, I’m not giving the book the attention it deserves if I haven’t chosen it in favor of the thousand things I should be doing.

    I don’t think every single word is vitally important, and I’d never suggest you’re not absorbing anything when you listen, but it takes away the element of lingering over perfect sentences, flipping back to check story continuity or a character’s physical description, reading a fight scene suuuuper slooooowly to catch the fast-moving details. I remember reading Michael Chabon’s first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, and pausing on particularly clever turns of phrase just about once a paragraph. (I also remember thinking I was some kind of special snowflake for noticing how great his writing was, but that’s a self-congratulatory horse of a different, predictable color.) As a reader who writes, it seems like a missed opportunity not to stop and smell the proses, over and over, until passages like this sink all the way in:

    “Love is like falconry,” he said. “Don’t you think that’s true, Cleveland?”
    “Never say love is like anything.” said Cleveland. “It isn’t.” ―Michael Chabon, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh

    Also, please forgive me for “stop and smell the proses.” I hope we can still be friends.

    Sabrina: OK, you caught me, Snowflake (so I’ll forgive you the smelly prose this time). I don’t rely on audiobooks when I’m reading a writer whose language is as (or more) important as his or her story and characters. If I’m reviewing a book or reading for one of my book clubs, I go for the text version as much as possible. I like to think of it as comparable to the difference between the big comic book blockbusters I want to see on the big screen and the talky movies I don’t mind watching on demand at home. Or the bands I like seeing live versus listening to on headphones.

    What do you feel about “lesser” works, then? When I’m not trying to tackle those big books, I like to do my guilty-pleasure reading on my audio device. No one can tell I’m listening to hot vampire sex scenes on my commute. And it really is a great way to tune out any less-than-literary prose, and just pay attention to the good stuff.

    Brooke: Who am I to decide what constitutes real literature? One man’s Frasier fanfic is another man’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. No, kidding. If such a man exists, he should be captured and studied for science.

    You make a fair point. Actually, you make a couple: I would pay people reading erotica in public to switch to audio. But I think your bigger point here is that every reader has to choose for herself how deeply she wants to connect to what she’s reading—and how she connects best. From an ideological standpoint, there are definitely books I’d feel comfortable handing over to my ears. But while you concentrate better while tackling chores, I drift off and lose focus—if I listened to Fifty Shades on an audio device, I’d NEVER know what childhood trauma caused Christian’s problems with intimacy. So…maybe I should have listened to it.

    Who wins this debate, Brooke or Sabrina?

     
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