22 December 2016

Adult Story Time? Being Read to vs. #Reading. #Audiobooks #SmartAssistants #DigitalLibrary

I am an inveterate reader. I was lucky enough to obtain a public library card at a young age and I made extensive use of it. As I have mentioned previously, I grew up materially poor (in poverty) but educationally enriched. Obviously, periodically lacking basic necessities like food, water and shelter made an impact on me. Poor childhood health care made an impact. But excepting daily sustenance requirements, the only thing I have sought my entire life is Knowledge.

To be honest, I didn't realize I was "poor" until I went to school and first encountered "rich kids". Prior to enrolling in kindergarten, I'd assumed with the naivety of childhood that being "working poor" was the standard, as it was all I'd known beforehand. I can't say I was much impressed with "the other side." Not being materialistic, the lack of having random things didn't matter to me, but "ownership" certainly seemed to be the end all and be all for many of my neighbors. (Don't get me wrong, I enjoy creature comforts and like having my toys, but at the end of the day it's just stuff and will never outweigh what truly matters.)

The other children with whom I went to school would often ask me silly questions. How'd I get so smart? (DNA and curiosity leads me to read.) Did my parents pay me for getting good grades? (As if.) Did I go home and read the encyclopedia for fun? (Sometimes.) Learning is fun. Not school, but the ability to learn. School is an often unpleasant institution. The majority of my learning occurred away from school immersed in books, often at the local library. Being self-taught also made me an oddity, as I would often know more about a subject than the person who was supposed to teach it to us in school. I'm not boasting, my expertise on specific subjects often resulted in my teachers turning over a class to me. For instance, I taught a mini-course on Greek Mythology in high school.

I guess it was difficult for other schoolchildren (not to mention the teachers and administrators) to understand me. According to what had been ingrained in them by a segregated, conservative, and patriarchal society, I was an anomaly or perhaps worse, an aberration --- a female child "from the other side of the tracks" who effortlessly outperformed everyone else by leaps & bounds. If since birth, you've been given to believe that you're special, that you're superior to others and that certain privileges are your God-given right (think Divine Right of Kings), then I suppose meeting someone like me is a rude awakening. Welcome to the real world, lad.

I did not apologize then, and I do not apologize now for being myself. My very existence does not require justification, regardless of what others were told. The very thought of which is ludicrous. And so went school. I ate the fruits of the Tree of Knowledge while surrounded by Philistines (Education is indeed a great leveler. It is not a perfect pill nor a magic wand, for our world is no meritocracy, though I wish it were, but Education is a boost that can make things more equitable.) In league with Descartes, I embodied Cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore, I am).

I might have been born and raised in a small (and often small-minded) town, but I knew that the world was not flat. No, the world was pregnant with wonder, for I had read it. The existence of books and the Knowledge contained within their pages sustained me, kept me sane. Trapped in a society that could not give me succor, I chose to inhabit a world of my own creation inside my head. Reading became such an integral part of my personal development, I could not imagine my "self" without it. This is still true today.

As a result, it is difficult for me to accept being read to. As a wee child, attending story time in school or at the local library meant that I would fidget. Impatient, my mind would wander. I wanted to hold the book myself, to turn its pages, to see the words. Where was the excitement in having someone else tell you a story when I could very well read it for myself? This mentality has carried over into my adulthood.

In spite of the popularity of audiobooks, I can feel no warmth toward them. The voice inside my head is a much better narrator than those people speaking various books aloud. I have tried to adjust my abhorrence of audiobooks through logic mentally chiding myself with statements like "Think of the multitasking advantage, listening to an audiobook means your hands are free to do other things." It hasn't exactly worked. I usually give up on listening to an audiobook within 10 minutes.

The only audiobooks I have ever been able to get through is the Harry Potter series, and I believe this is for two reasons: 1) I already knew and loved the stories before I attempted to listen to them and 2) Jim Dale's (the narrator of the American editions) retelling of them is very similar to the narrator inside my own head. Thus, I am able to suspend my knee-jerk reactions at having a story read to me. (I know this second part is true because I could not, in turn, cotton to the British editions of Harry Potter audiobooks. You'd think the British editions would be more authentic, considering it's Harry Potter, but I prefer the way Dale does them.)

I'm trying to embrace audiobooks more than I have in the past. Audiobooks will never supplant books in my heart, and I wouldn't wish them to do so, but I hope to use them as a supplement for times when I have other things going. Ever the geek, I do like the idea of asking a Smart Assistant like Alexa to read to me while I tinker in my lab or experiment in my kitchen. But this will take some doing. Right now it feels like ripping a part of myself away, giving up the privilege of reading in order to be read to. It flies in the face of my mile-wide independent streak. I keep repeating that doing this will allow me to be augmented in other ways. But so far I'm not buying it.

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