June 27, 2005

JIM DALE AGAIN (via The Mother Judd):

Sweatin' to the classics: Get off your beach blanket. These days, reading is an action-sport for manly multitaskers. (Leah Price, June 26, 2005, Boston Globe)

I used to wonder whether people who browsed Levenger's encyclopedia-sized catalog had time to read anything else, any more than homeowners who could afford incinerator-grade stoves ever have time to cook. Now Levenger's chief executive, Steve Leveen, is wondering that, too. His new book, The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life, says nothing about bookmarks, booklights, bookstands, Book Bungees, or even Booksuits (''the limber bookcover that stretches like a Speedo swimsuit"). Instead, it tells buyers how books themselves can change their life. Leveen writes with the fervor of a self-described ''born-again reader," an average Joe whose midlife crisis caused him to discover that reading makes life more ''electrified and zestful - like living in color rather than black and white."

Normally, a life-changing experience would require you to change your ways. Leveen dispels that fear: Far from being an eccentricity that will cut into your partying, your exercising, or your income, reading becomes the logical extension of the activities that you enjoy already. A library is a ''fueling station for your mind"; book groups are health clubs for, you guessed it, the mind; a good library works like a wine cellar; and like nobodies at a cocktail party, boring books should be quickly abandoned.

You test-drive a car before you buy it, so why not preview a book before you read it? In fact, if you replaced ''books" with ''men," Leveen's advice to ''take charge of your reading life and radically increase the quality of the books in the pool that you select from" could be lifted straight from Rachel Greenwald's bestseller ''Find a Husband After 35: Using What I Learned at Harvard Business School." Living down the road from South Beach, Leveen substitutes pages for calories: my mental spam filter flagged ''just three hours," ''no guilt," and ''transforming results."

So what's the secret? The answer is simple: audiobooks. ''Your Well-Read Life" encourages you to ''risten" while mowing the lawn, doing the dishes, or washing the car.

If you've never listened to audio books, your library likely has a bunch and they're on cd these days and unabridged. they're invaluable for car rides and cubicle jobs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 27, 2005 11:55 AM

I liked the tape versions. I can pop the tape out and then later pick it up where I left off. The cd version doesn't do this. It's like reading the same pages all the time.

Posted by: andy at June 27, 2005 12:07 PM

Listening to a well written book can be a delight. Jane Austin (for example) is much better aurally than visually. Other writers come across much better on the page. I particularly enjoy the lectures from the Learning Company for the equivalent of a freshman university course while I drive.

Posted by: David Rothman at June 27, 2005 1:03 PM

Umm, Orrin, do you really think you can get away with banning cell phones in the car while urging everyone to soak up Summa Theologica on the interstate?

Posted by: Peter B at June 27, 2005 1:25 PM

Heck, they can get hands free phones too.

Posted by: oj at June 27, 2005 1:48 PM

My Dad always used to tell me that I shouldn't listen to the radio or anything else in the car. "You should listen to engine noise for any change!" he said. Then my sister caught him with Steppenwolf cranked in his car and we decided that was one of those bits of fatherly advice we could safely ignore.

Posted by: Governor Breck at June 27, 2005 2:09 PM

Mr. Rothman:

You are right about the Learning Company lectures. I had such low expectations, but they are great. Perfect for my nightly dishwashing session. The history of American religion one was particularly good. The NYPL is pretty well stocked with them. I'm sure other libraries are too.

Posted by: David Hill, The Bronx at June 27, 2005 2:44 PM

Audiobook quality all depends upon the reader. I've heard some great books butchered by bad actors and some mediocre books brought to life by inspired performances.

Posted by: Shelton at June 27, 2005 3:59 PM

Not yet available as an audiobook collection: Penguin Classics Library (found through slashdot)

Posted by: Daran at June 27, 2005 5:01 PM

C-SPAN showed an audiobook being recorded once. I forget the book and reader, but it was kind of interesting in a very dull way.

Posted by: RC at June 28, 2005 4:45 AM