Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Pleasures of Recorded Books

I am listening to my second excellent recorded book in a row. The first was David Remnick's underrated "The Bridge," perhaps the best biography of President Obama available. The second, that I am now only halfway through, is Jonathan Alter's "The Promise," about Obama's first year as President. Alter's book includes one gripping and plausible scene after another, helped along tremendously by the hundreds of interviews he did with people close to Obama who apparently were surprisingly ready to open up about their experiences. My favorite scene so far shows Obama in complete mastery of the dismal economic crisis in a meeting during late September of 2008 when things looked blackest and when President Bush and Obama's presidential opponent John McCain silently deferred to Obama's far greater knowledge and more confident and well grounded insight.

This post today, however, is not so much about the contents of these books as it is about the pleasures of listening to recorded books, especially as a resident of New York City. Like many other people, reading is my favorite way to occupy myself when I am commuting. But when the subway is jammed or when a long walk is necessary to get to where I want to go or when the bumpy shuttle ride from the Ferry to Wagner College rules out conventional reading, then recorded books are a perfect way to pass the time. There is something quite wonderful about immersing oneself in the world of the book you're hearing and thereby to filter out most of the noise and the aggressive hurriedness of the city. To a certain extent, you can usually still take in the most interesting sights around you, including how people are occupied or how folks are dressed, though snatches of overheard conversations are pretty much inaudible.

In general, though, what I love about these books is the opportunity to read something worthwhile when I all I would have as an alternative are my own thoughts. I know, I know, I am giving up something valuable when I don't spent the time allowing my mind to wander and taking a few moments to reflect about the day. But more often than not, these books strike me as much more interesting than my thoughts, and, at the same time, ironically enough, give me something especially powerful and substantive to reflect on, when I finally give myself the chance.

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