Culture Crash 19-09: Audiobooks

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine what’s new and old in entertainment.

How do you pass the time on your commutes? Do you tune into the radio? Put on a podcast? Or maybe you listen to an audiobook?

Audiobooks are undergoing a bit of a renaissance right now, and their newfound portability is a main reason why. For a long time, listening to an audiobook meant shelling out big bucks or sitting on a library wait list to obtain a huge, unruly set of tapes or disks. You’d put them in, one after the other, and listen to books on tape for long car rides or an arduous flight.

But now, audiobooks can be the most convenient way to read- or at least, consume- a book. Gone are those days of cassette after cassette, now audiobooks can be purchased from Amazon’s Audible service or, most likely, borrowed for free through your library subscription via a web app like OverDrive. Once you’ve gotten your audiobook, you can save it right to your phone and click play whenever it’s convenient.

Personally, I love driving to the sounds of a good book and experiencing an old favorite through new eyes or being able to easily tear through a good thriller.

One big question in the mind’s of many an audiobook listener is which works best for them: are they listeners who want to get the biggest bang for their buck on a mammoth of a book, or to zip through some shorter books on your commute. For example, you can really invest weeks worth of commutes on nearly 48 hours of listening to Stephen King’s The Stand or 21 hours of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Or, you could pick up some shorter like Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, which clocks in under 9 hours and can easily be finished in just one week’s commuting time.

Much like reading a real book, I find that different seasons and moods predispose me to different audiobooks. Do I want a funny, light memoir like Amy Poehler’s or a dark, scary horror novel? It always just depends.

Regardless of your inclination, it might be worth it to try listening to an audiobook when riding the train or driving in heavy traffic. It might just make your commutes feel more productive. And if you’re looking for a recommendation to get you started, Bryan Cranston’s narration of Tim O’Brien’s Vietnam War classic The Things They Carried is one of my favorites.

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I’m Evan Rook. 

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Culture Crash 18-20: Should We Really ‘Save Barnes & Noble?’

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture.  What’s new and old in books, film, and entertainment.

When Barnes and Noble first rose to national prominence, it was feared to be an industry-killer. The chain currently operates over 600 stores across the country and that’s after considerable cuts in the recent decade.

Like all massive chains, criticisms came about how it was price-slashing the little guys. Independent bookstores, once a staple in most communities were made a rarity thanks to Barnes and Noble and its now-defunct competitor, Borders.

The disdain for these corporate behemoth booksellers was so widespread, it became a plot point in the 1998 Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan romcom, You’ve Got Mail: his family owned a chain of bookstores, she ran an independent shop. You get the picture.

Now, though, times have changed. Amazon has already ousted Borders and is working on Barnes & Noble. In a New York Times editorial earlier this month, it was argued that we, as consumers, need to “SAVE BARNES AND NOBLE!” The title even had an exclamation mark.

The argument is, of course, that Amazon is getting too big. They can make unfair demands on publishers, they can dictate prices and they can really control which books succeed and which don’t just by featuring certain titles on their homepage. On the flip side, Amazon has done a pretty good job of promoting reading and they still push book sales, even though their business has grown beyond it.

And now the debate comes down to readers: Should we support Barnes and Noble to maintain a rival for Amazon, or do we let capitalism run its course? Amazon’s prices are usually lower, so why should consumers take a hit just to keep another massive corporation in business?

Some will say that we shouldn’t support either Amazon or Barnes and Noble, but rather that we should support the few independent bookstores we have left istead..

And as for which side is right- well, who’s to say. But no matter which side you fall on, it feels funny to see an attempt to rally book readers around Barnes and Noble, the villain in this saga for so many years.

I’m Evan Rook.