Reading the riot act
When I told Carlton that I had finally read "War and Peace" after 56 years, he was suitably awed. "Wow! Plowing through all those unfamiliar Russian names, keeping all those family relationships straight, slogging through all that Napoleonic war strategy is an achievement for any reader. Good for you," he said, "I never thought you were smart enough to get through it."
"Sure, I downloaded an unabridged audio book and listened to it as I drove to and from the gym and while I was working out. I think it was 80 hours long, so it took me almost three weeks to read it all."
Carlton looked as if I'd just said the French make the best soldiers.
"Read it all? You mean, you listened to it all. That's not reading. That's listening. It's not the same thing at all. Any fool can listen to 'War and Peace.'"
"What are you talking about? Reading or listening, the story is the same, the characters are the same, the plot is the same. What is the difference between reading 'War and Peace' and listening to it?"
"You poor, silly, pathetic little man," Carlton said. "But what can I expect from a man who drives to the gym. If you walked to the gym, you wouldn't even have to go to a gym."
"But if I didn't belong to the gym, I wouldn't walk there and pretty soon I would be so out of shape I would have to join a gym." That should distract him for a few minutes, I thought, but it didn't.
"Listening is not reading," he insisted.
"OK, so then it's better to read a traffic sign that says 'No Left Turns' than to have the person in the seat next to you tell you 'No left turns.'"
"Then why do you keep doing it? It drives me crazy. The information is exactly the same whether I read it or I hear it from a backseat driver."
"Is doing 50 push-ups the same as saying you did 50 push-ups?"
"Carlton, you couldn't do 50 push-ups if I hooked you up to a crane. What do you think, if I listen to a book I'll forget how to read? I like to play golf and sometimes I watch it on television. But just because I watched golf on television doesn't mean I'll never play again. It doesn't mean my brain will rot. It won't lower my IQ."
Carlton wasn't buying it.
"Listen to yourself. One audio book and you've already lost your ability to articulate an intelligent thought. That's because reading exercises the mind. Listening to a book is like having your brain hooked up to one of those old-fashioned exercise machines - the ones where you put a belt around your waist and it shakes your hips. It doesn't do anything, but it makes you feel like you've done something. Keep listening to books and soon you'll be down to one-syllable words."
"I'm listening to 'Moby Dick' right now, you ponderous pustule of pretension, you furuncle of festering foofaraw, you blathering bucket of banalities, you maggot-minded minion of Mamon, you ..."
"I don't have to stand here and listen to this."
"No, you'd rather stand there and read it. I'll write it down for you."
"I'd rather be right than clever. There's nothing like reading. It's the sign of an educated person. Carrying a book around, you connect with people. 'Oh, are you reading that? Do you like it?' Or 'I read that, you'll love it.' But look at you. Wearing headphones and carrying an iPod listening to books. No one will ever take you seriously."
"Carlton, for once, I hope you're right."
* Jim Mullen writes a weekly column. Reach him at info@stormlakepilot tribune.com