Readings: alternate formats

I spent a few days dog-sitting for a couple of friends this week, and discovered that walking dogs is great for catching up on podcasts. It was so great, in fact, that I pretty much listened to everything on my list and ran out of audio material. Luckily, I then remembered that I wanted to give audio books a second chance. Audio fiction never works for me — I get distracted for five minutes, and in those five minutes ten characters die and I get confused. So I tried non-fiction, and it worked pretty well. It’s as if someone is narrating knowledge into your brain as you go about some mindless task.

accidental universeI listened to Alan Lightman’s The Accidental Universe, which came out a couple of years ago and was very well liked by someone at work whose reading taste I trust implicitly. It’s a pretty short book, but Lightman manages to touch upon the latest theories in physics, conflict between science and religion, philosophy, and what technology might be doing to human interactions with the world and each other. The latter was the point where I actually disagreed and even disliked his view of personal technology and its uses. It even struck me as privileged, for want of a better word, to grump about increase in texting and people spending a lot of time online. Sure, it’s annoying when everyone you’re having dinner with is checking their phones every two minutes, but think about any of these: texting allowing easier communication where it was nonexistent or limited before (see deaf community); cell phones allowing people who otherwise would have trouble keeping track of time or organizing their day to have a more scheduled life; online allowing me to find people like myself. And honestly, maybe uploading ourselves to some virtual reality doesn’t sound so bad to those of us who are not comfortable with our bodies. I’m certain Lightman does not think personal technology is solely bad for us, but the way he presents his thoughts on it is rather one-sided.

Before this gets too ranty, let me say that it was a good book to read if you have, like Lightman, a wide array of interests that include both science and humanities and if you like to break your brain by thinking about what conditions brought about life on Earth so humans could sit around and think about what conditions brought about life on Earth.

In addition to branching out into audio books, I also got a couple of e-books to read. I have periods when I remember e-books exist, and then go months without touching a single digital copy (touching it with my uploaded body, duh). I forget e-books are a thing because I get so many physical books. I also forget that advanced copies as e-books are a thing, and a great thing at that because they don’t add to the mountains of reading material in my house. So my e-book downloads this week are as follows: All The Birds In The Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, Y. T. by Alexei Nikitin (out next April), and The Good Death: Exploration of Dying in America by Ann Neumann. None of these are out till next year, I’m afraid, so I feel like it’s a little early to even talk about whether I like these or not (I’ve read the first one on the list so far),

There are, as always, a whole bunch of books on paper in queue as well. Prepare yourselves, for I picked up my first Star Wars book in many years…


  1. It took me a while to warm up to audiobooks for the same reason you cite. And I’m a poor auditory learner. But they’re so convenient when cooking and driving, so I’ve kept at it. I’ve discovered that I’m a better listener when the narrator is a nonAnglophone female, and second best is British male.

    I’m totally with you about technophobia. I love and rely on technology, and I love having all these invisible books and music and recipes at my fingertips. And talking about books to strangers who live on the east coast 😉 I enjoy the technodoom-saying, too, but I’m completely addicted.

    1. That’s interesting that it differs depending on who the speaker is and what accent they have. It does make sense though.I feel like I would enjoy male narration more, but we’ll see.

      There’s also that audio version of Odyssey narrated by Ian McKellen that I feel I should get because… Ian McKellen.

      1. Same here. (Actually pushed The Moon is a Harsh Mistress to 3.0 speed. Just to get it over with.)

        So, it just occurred to me that you should probably do a post on the kinds of podcasts you listen to…

  2. Can’t live without my audiobooks. Took me several to really get into listening to this format, but now I can’t imagine cooking dinner, taking a long drive, doing some chores around the house etc. without having a story in my ear.

    Kinda cool that nonfiction could work better for you than fiction. I’ve never tried a nonfiction audiobook but I think a good subject that I’m interested in would be pretty awesome, and if I pretend it’s like a university lecture I’ll have no problems paying attention 🙂

    Also, speed definitely matters. I can’t listen to anything on regular speed. Usually 2x or even 3x sounds more natural to me, like how fast people would normally speak.

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