One of the best rewards of blogging is discovering a new or old friend in the comments section. Fun!

Since I spent 28 years interacting with undergraduates at Goshen College, I love encountering them and hearing about their lives. Several of them commented on the review of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress I wrote back in 2009.

One former student with whom I corresponded recently reflected on why he loved the book. He thought it might have something to do with the fact that he heard it read by professional readers as an audio book rather than read it as text.

In his own words: “One thing that occurs to me is that my consumption of the book as an audiotape listener (on the Indiana and Ohio turnpikes at that!) shaped my “reading” experience, making me especially receptive I think to the book’s transgressive humor and its pathos.  It was only several weeks later that I actually saw for the first time in a bookstore a copy of the actual paper and ink book.  I wonder how I would have experienced the book if I had read it in the traditional way, turning pages, thinking about the words in print, and all.”

Isn’t that a fascinating thought? Context is always an important part of experience, and we are affected differently by the sound of the human voice, especially a well-trained voice that resonates well with us. Some of us might also be more susceptible to sense impressions via our ears than via our eyes.

I usually read memoir as “book-books” as opposed to audio books or ebooks, although I own (and reviewed) a Kindle and use it occasionally (usually when I want to read a book immediately and save a trip to the store or a few days in the mail).

Do you enjoy all three kinds of books?  What difference do you experience in any one of the following?  

Tone. Tangibility. Durabilty. Searchability. Portability.

Do you have a favorite way to read? Have you ever “read” a book both as audio and text? Were the experiences different?

Shirley Showalter


  1. Tom DeWolf on April 22, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    I can’t bring myself to buy a Kindle… perhaps at some point but not so far. One major reason is that I love to jot notes to myself in my books, highlight powerful statements, bend down the corner of particularly moving pages, really consume the book. If it isn’t a book I want to keep on my shelf (or if I don’t know if I do) I like to get it from the library. There is something about the feel, the heft, even the smell of a book that makes it real. When I travel I love to listen to books on audio; particularly novels (presently finishing up the 3rd Steig Larson book on audio — great narrator voice!). I’m tempted by a Kindle for traveling — multiple books without having to carry them — but so far I resist the temptation!

    Or maybe I’m just old and set in my ways… ;o)

  2. Richard Gilbert on April 22, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    I agree with what Tom said, having bought a Kindle. You can underline, but you can’t dogear. And as a writer the first thing I do is dogear a book’s sections. I want to see how a writer broke her book into acts. I want to see them coming, I want to see their physical size, I want to think about them. I have been surprised, though, that I can get into a book’s content just as much on a Kindle. For me, it’s a supplement, great during exercise and trips.

    • shirleyhs on April 22, 2011 at 4:01 pm

      I use my Kindle as a supplement also.

      And thanks for the idea of dogearing the structure of the book. It took my a long time to really appreciate the importance of structure, and now that I am starting on a long work of my own, I find structure one of the most daunting challenges. I’ll use the Gilbert technique on my next memoir. 🙂

  3. shirleyhs on April 22, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    Let’s hear it for being old and set in our ways. If not now, when?

    One other option I forgot to mention is the iPad2, which tempts me a bit. My kids both have them, and I am sure they will find amazing things to do with them, including, possibly, reading books. Especially on trips.

    I’m with you about the underlining in books. I discovered when I left thousands of books behind on my last move, however, that underlined books are worthless to used book dealers. They would certainly be of interest to biographers, but I’m not holding my breath on that one. 🙂

  4. GutsyWriter on April 23, 2011 at 3:14 am

    I don’t own a Kindle. I attend too many conferences and author presentations where I purchase the book, that the Kindle wouldn’t seem right. I barely take the time to read all these books I buy, which is very sad. I’m too busy writing and trying to learn social media, and too tired when I go to bed.

    • shirleyhs on April 23, 2011 at 5:12 pm

      Good point. One reason I don’t use my Kindle very often is that I have shelves of books that I would like to read here in my house and have not had time to do so. Someone said–I forget the source of the quote, but the gist of it is–that you reach a point in your life when you realize you will never read all the books you want to read. Life simply isn’t long enough!

      All the best as you focus on the last stages of the manuscript process and the challenges of publishing. You are gutsy indeed, and you can do it!

  5. Gladys Van Der Woude on April 26, 2011 at 11:31 pm

    Several months ago I was having trouble getting into Undaunted Courage by Ambrose which I was reading for a book club. Since I had to do some distance driving, I obtained an audio copy of the book, and listening to the book for a few hours really moved the story along for me. I ended up alternating between text and audio for the entire book. Most recently, I listened to Mary Karr read her latest memoir Lit and really appreciated the tone she brought to the telling of her story. Usually, I select nonfiction, biography, or memoir to listen to while traveling. I haven’t tried an ebook yet, but I keep learning more reasons that people are choosing them. Perhaps someday.

  6. shirleyhs on May 18, 2011 at 10:34 pm

    Gladys, you seem to have run the gamut of ways to experience books! Thanks for describing your experiences of reading and listening! So many choices these days!

  7. […] not like about reading this way? If you are considering a purchase of a reader, you might find this previous post helpful. Maybe you have already read the book and want to give us a mini-review. That would be […]

  8. […] revisited the question in 2011 when I asked readers how much difference it makes to listen to an audio book v. reading a paper copy… I found that more people had purchased eReaders but that none of them were using them […]

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