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>I thought we were over this

>But apparently not. Where I think listening to instead of reading a book-club selection might get you in trouble would be if another member challenged you to point out textual evidence for whatever point you were making. When the book under discussion is He’s Just Not That Into You, however, maybe that problem doesn’t come up.

Jon Scieszka discusses his wife’s book club in the September Horn Book, saying that more often than not the book is peripheral to the discussion, which centers more on what’s going on in the members’ lives. What we used to call a kaffeeklatsch. And that’s why guys tend to not like them. We tried one once at the Horn Book–the book was Sapphire’s Push–and it was not very successful. I blame the book, though.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. >I’m startled by the people quoted in the article who actually changed their behavior because others scorned their choice for reasons these gate-keepers were never asked to articulate. As a (sometimes too) fast reader, I find that I retain more details if I listen to a book, since that’s a word by word experience. I don’t always listen to books that I’m going to teach (I’m an English professor), but only because I expect I’ll need those page numbers and because I’m not sure I would get on the Nordic Track if I wasn’t listening for fun rather than profit.

  2. >I’m a female reader, and I have no desire to be in a book club, for a lot of reasons. My reading is eclectic and solitary, and when I want to find out what others think about a book, I look for reviews after I’ve read it. Even online discussions tend to be very superficial, although on ChildLit they get more intensive — but I’m rarely reading what”s current! You don’t find too many folks at once discussing Melvin Burgess’s “Lady: My Life as a Bitch or Jamie O’neill’s “At Swim, Two Boys,” a number of years after they came out! Let alone William Dean Howells, one of my pleasures!
    On the subject, though, of audiobooks — to me, while I love to read for myself, I also love listening to books well read, especially on long trips, and I think the experience of listening to a book is every bit as “valid” or worthwhile as reading silently. Listening requires sustained attention to plot and character development and can even enhance one’s appreciation of the language. (Certainly, people need to be able to read and to read critically, but that’s the business of schooling, not of book groups. ) That’s my rant. Thank you, Roger, for your always-worth-reading blog.

  3. Andy Laties says:

    >I listened to POSSESSION (by A.S. Byatt) over the course of a series of cross-country drives, and then, I bought and devoured the printed book.

    Then I listened to the entire audio version again over the following month.

    The two types of experience were quite different but mutually reinforcing. (The MOVIE however was terribly disappointing)

  4. >There is an interesting article in Booklist Online by Mary Burkey, Sounds Good to Me: Listening to Audiobooks with a Critical Ear.

    The woman aghast at a librarian who listened to a book will probably be disturbed to learn:

    “Booklist recently recognized the audiobook format by sponsoring the American Library Association’s Odyssey Award for Audiobook Excellence. The award committee, comprising ALSC and YALSA members, is in the process of evaluating titles and will announce the first Odyssey Award winner at the 2008 Midwinter Meeting.” (Burkey, M., Booklist)

  5. Alkelda the Gleeful says:

    >I’m generally not into audiobooks, but I loved listening to the full-cast recording of His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. That said, I don’t begrudge anyone else listening to them, and think that yeah, it “counts” that they read the books if they listened to them. Would they be able to write literary essays based on audiobooks alone? Probably not, but I suspect that’s not the point anyway.

    I wish I had found access to audiobooks when I was a child going on long car trips with my family. I would get queasy if I read in the car, and so I would impatiently wait for the next rest stop so I could take out my book for 10 minutes.

  6. Anonymous says:

    >Funny–I can only listen to books I have already read. It’s not that I think listening is inferior to reading or anything like that; I simply zone out or even fall asleep when I listen to reading.

    Having admitted that, I love to listen once I know the story. Currently I am listening to the newest Joey Pigza (read by the author) and am loving it. I think I have listened to Me Talk Pretty One Day three or four times and it never gets old. Oh, and I love The Trolls on audio.

    Audio books, usually repeat performances of The Trumpet of the Swan and Charlotte’s Web, Shiloh, and other books that Everyone in the Car liked, were the theme sounds of our yearly trips from Nashville to New England every summer.

  7. Anonymous says:

    >I agree with “jane” in that I don’t care to join a book club either. My reading, too, is eclectic and solitary, and I also have found book reviews great for getting other points of view. Book clubs, however, seem (at least, in my experiences) to have been formed by certain readers in order to champion their particular points of view at the expense of being open to what other members might have to say. It’s too bad, because we could learn a lot from one another if we would be as willing to listen as we are to talk!

  8. >I think the only book I attempted to listen to on tape was “Cosette,” the horrible unauthorized sequel to Hugo’s “Les Miserables.”

    My utter shame at having associated my library record with that monstrosity has kept me silent on the issue until now. Thank you, Roger.

  9. Anonymous says:

    >The Jane Austen Book Club is a novel length description of the kaffeeklatsch nature of a book club. Ironically, the audio version is not to be borne. Go to and listen to the Jane sample — aakk! However, likening audiobooks to Cliff Notes is a bit High Church for my taste — seems the fussbudgets in the NYT article favor form over substance. –m

  10. Anonymous says:

    >Listening to stories came before reading!

    Furthermore, there was a time when printed books were scorned, as opposed to hand writtens ones. Imagine being hassled in your book club back in the day because your book came from a press vs from a scriptorium.


  11. >I actually was the co-founder of a book club a couple of decades ago. For the first few years, it didn’t matter what we read, the discussion always ended up being about religion and sex.

    Things went downhill from there. Yes, after a brief and superficial discussion of the book at hand (which some people never finished reading–listening to an entire audio book would have been far preferable to that), the discussion almost always turned to what was going on in the members’ lives–mainly their kids. And it would go on for another hour to an hour and a half.

    The group met at a library and was open to the public. Needless to say, new people (especially men) rarely came to more than one meeting.

    I quit about nine years ago. I’ve been part of far more interesting discussion groups on-line.

  12. rindawriter says:

    >Book clubs! BORING! Because yuu can only listen and talk and eat. Now, at quilt guild meetings, we get to listen, talk, eat, and sew and be goofy any time we want to in the meeting…and likely, we discuss books just about as much as anyone does in a book club….yes, yes, yes, the President has to “yell” at us from outer space now and again approve something…or other…just makes it more fun.

  13. >Audio or print–what’s the difference? It’s the same exact words. And you still use your imagination to create the pictures. If someone NEVER read a book and only listened to audiobooks, I might worry they were missing out, but as far as any one particular book, who cares? Those book club people sound like the worst kind of snobs–the kind who are snobby over absolutely nothing.

  14. >I suspect that people who speak out against audio books might find reading a bit of a challenge. For them reading an entire book is an Accomplishment, and so listening to one is cheating (as it would be if a third grader did the required reading that way). To people who read books all the time, this makes no sense at all, because listening and reading take the same amount of effort.
    Of course, the single best way to make reading easy is to READ, so maybe in a few years these naysayers too will be doing half their reading on tape during the commute.

  15. >That’s brilliant, Sara! I think you nailed it. For me, actually, listening is a little harder.

  16. >Oops. I mean SaraH. Sorry.

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