“And then Etta punched me in the jaw, knocking one of my earbuds into my wineglass.”

Trouble is brewing across America as Book Clubs turn into Fight Clubs.  Observe:

JANICE RASPEN, a librarian at an elementary school in Fredericksburg, Va., came clean with her book club a couple years ago. They were discussing “A Fine Balance,” a novel set in India in the 1970s by Rohinton Mistry and an Oprah’s Book Club pick, when she told the group — all fellow teachers — that rather than read the book, she had listened to an audio version.

“My statement was met with stunned silence,” said Ms. Raspen, 38.

Finally Catherine Altman, an art teacher, spoke up.

“I said that I felt like listening to a book was a copout,” Ms. Altman said. “I’m not like a hardcore book group person — a lot of times I don’t even finish the book. But my point was that she is a librarian and I thought it was pretty ridiculous. I’m a painter and it would be like me painting by numbers.”

…Is it acceptable, they debate within and among themselves, to listen to that month’s book rather than read it? Or is that cheating, like watching the movie instead of reading the book?

This article gets big points for using the word "enthusiast," as well as referring to "the hairy eyeball" – which should be in quotes (right?) but in the article is not, lending it even more oomph and a nice literal image.

I suppose it’s an interesting little issue, though.  I listened to Kevin Brockmeier’s The Brief  History of the Dead and Paul Auster’s The Book of Illusions and have not cracked either book (though I do own the Auster) – and am on record somewhere in support of audiobooks.  If my choices are to listen to bland FM radio, histrionic AM radio, or an audiobook (which would mean that I’ve misplaced my music CDs, or they’re all scratched; likely the latter) I’m going to go with the audiobook.  It’s a 40 minute commute.  Sometimes it’s nice to have nothing on.  Okay, maybe twice a year.

I always try to think of them not as a substitute for reading, but as an alternative.  You wouldn’t go to a reading and say later that you’d spent the evening reading that short story, would you?  So, I suppose I haven’t read either of those books.  I’ve listened to the audiobooks.  Nothing wrong with that, right?  Maybe not so good for a book club, though.  Book, after all.  Not audiobook.  Go join an audiobook club.  Can’t say as I have a lot of sympathy for this woman, either:

Zella Ondrey, who lives in Hazleton, Pa., is open about her listening experiences. Ms. Ondrey, 44, who moderates a book group at a Barnes & Noble, listens while traveling for her job as a vice president at the Haworth Press, a publisher of academic and professional-development books (none of which are available in an audio format).

She recently listened to an abridgement — the only audio version available — of “Ahab’s Wife: Or, the Star-Gazer” and admitted as much to her group.

The book, like “Moby-Dick,” to which it alludes, is heavy on description. “Apparently some of the detail it went through — like 15 pages describing a lighthouse — was rather boring,” said Ms. Ondrey, adding that while others in the group were not riveted they seemed to consider themselves more virtuous for having waded through it the old-fashioned way.

“I was frowned upon because I didn’t go through the same machinations,” she said.

Yeah, well, you’re the moderator


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